Workers say CAPSLO charges needy for donated items, doesn’t track cash

March 1, 2013
Dee Torres

Dee Torres

Keeping them homeless


(Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series about San Luis Obispo County Homeless Services and the nonprofits managing the program. See CAPSLO’s top salary makers at the bottom of this story.)

Four women who worked for Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO) have come forward to say that the organization sells donated toiletries and other goods to the needy and homeless but keeps no records of where the cash goes.

The women, who have a combined six decades of employment at CAPSLO, and a half-dozen other former and current staff members say that Homeless Services Coordinator Dee Torres required workers to charge homeless people seeking services to pay for the items that had been donated by businesses.

Only cash was accepted. And, current and former employees said at the end of each day, an envelope with cash from sales, cash donations and gift cards would go into a box for Torres. No one interviewed for this story knows where the money went.

The sales brought in a lot of cash, said Corina Salazar, who worked for CAPSLO for eight years.

“We charged the clients right and left. There was so much money and stuff going through there,” Salazar said.

Torres pressured workers to charge for the toiletries, 30-year CAPSLO employee Estela Bonds said.

“Dee made us sell razors and other things and if we didn’t she would get mad at us,” Bonds said.

CAPSLO CEO, Elizabeth “Biz” Steinberg, denied that there was proof of the practice.

“There is no evidence of this ever occurring,” Steinberg wrote this week in an email to CalCoastNews.

Torres did not return emails from CalCoastNews seeking comment.

Wal-Mart and other companies donate toothbrushes, razors, toothbrushes, socks and clothing to help the homeless.

The items, given for free, are then sold – disposable razors for 25 cents, socks for 50 cents.

Current and former employees said they were not permitted to simply give donated items to the homeless clients for free. Workers weren’t allowed to purchase necessities for the homeless.

Torres fired Bonds after she used her own money to purchase formula for a client’s baby, Bonds said. She had previously been written up for giving a woman diapers.

When CAPSLO can’t fit any more donations in its storage shed, Torres has ordered subordinates to dispose of older items in the trash rather than provide them to the homeless at no cost, said Joette Sunshine, a four-year employee of the nonprofit.

“[Torres] would throw things away before she would give it away for free,” Sunshine said.

Some donations are in the form of gift cards, including some from McDonald’s, Sunshine said. Those cards rarely wind up in the hands of the homeless, she added.

“Typically, the only time gift cards would go to the clients is when they would do chores for Dee,” Sunshine said. “She provided a couple of five-dollar McDonald’s gift cards to clients who helped her count the homeless.”

Elizabeth Steinberg

Elizabeth ‘Biz’ Steinberg

Steinberg criticized CalCoastNews for its reporting.

“It is unfortunate you even mention things like this behind the cloak of ‘sources,'” she wrote in her email to CalCoastNews reporters. “If any of your anonymous sources would like to state their specific claims, [Jim] Famalette (CAPSLO’s COO) will meet or talk to them, and review their claim.”

Peggy Fowler, who worked for CAPSLO for 20 years, says that Steinberg was well aware that Torres had, at times, charged homeless people at the Maxine Lewis Homeless Shelter for items such as plastic ware.

“Biz said she wanted them to stop selling plastic ware and it stopped for a while,” Fowler said.

Employees also voiced concerns over the number of homeless people being tossed out of the shelter for breaking rules such as entering the Prado Day Center on foot through the driveway, raising their voices or having unruly children.

“One man showed up a few minutes early and was suspended for another 30 days,” Fowler said. “Suspended clients would be refused food and services. This just exacerbates the issues. Those on parole who cannot leave do not get a meal increasing the likelihood they will get into trouble.”

Several employees said they informed Steinberg of Torres’ alleged mistreatment of the homeless. Those complaints generally resulted in problems for the person making the complaint.

“People have gone to Biz but they just get in trouble,” Bonds said. “I put a complaint in writing to Biz about Dee’s unprofessionalism. She kicked a woman out [of the shelter] who had two babies. Biz is a nice person; she just doesn’t have time, and she just looks the other way.”

Employees also contend clients on case management regularly complain that monies given to their CAPSLO case managers are not returned in full. These clients are required to provide CAPSLO between 50-70 percent of their non-Social Security income to be held in order to secure a bed in the shelter or an overnight parking space.

“Clients complained all the time that they could not get their money back from CAPSLO,” Bonds said. “There were people who were crying about not getting their money back. Dee would say the clients are liars, and we were not to believe them.”

CAPSLO accepts cash or money orders from clients on general assistance or who have a job.

About 40 percent of adult homeless work at least 20 hours per week.

While numerous clients have claimed that they are asked to leave the money order payee line blank, Steinberg says that is not the case.

“Family Ties is used by some clients and some save self-named money orders with CAPSLO,” Steinberg said in her email. “All are given receipts, and the funds are verified. Clients are encouraged to save funds in order to eventually secure housing.”


CAPSLO top salaries

Keeping Them Homeless, the series.


In typical San Luis Obispo county wide fashion it takes those hugely over inflated salaries to bring in the “best and brightest” to perform their duties in an unbelievable incompetent way!


How many first months and security deposit for housing could be made with one years salary of Ms. Steinberg? Now that would actually be helping the homeless…..


Enough “anonymous” sources for you now, Biz? Stop putting your head in the sand! These people need help and, clearly, they won’t be getting it from Dee Torres. SHE MUST GO!


I bet the NON ANONYMOUS sources are deemed “mentally incapacitated” by the magic psychiatric wand that Family Ties and CAPSLO use all too frequently.


I’ve also heard from numerous ex-CAPSLO employees that Torres pulls the gold teeth of homeless who don’t buy toothbrushes (makes sense) and has been selling homeless babies to infertile SLO high society and banking the profits with Family Ties. I’ve got proof. Call me.


You are disgusting and obviously part of this problem.

Ted Slanders

Birds of a feather, flock together. Those of similar unscrupulous and cunning actions seem to congregate together. Albeit, Adam Hill’s documented vengeance and misdealings doesn’t even bother Dee Torres, and in turn, Adam is probably not even bothered by Dee’s documented nefarious actions towards the homeless.

They’re the perfect scandalous couple.


OMG, this has to be the best response statement of the day!

Ted Slanders


The check is in the mail.


Thanks I need it for a bed tonight…


Perhaps Adam Hill and Dee Torres should apply for the Mars expeditions now looking for a couple to send to Mars on a 5 year expedition…just sayin…


Imagine terminating a warm hearted 30 year employee for using her own funds to purchase formula and diapers for babies! For SHAME on you Dee Torres. How do you sleep at night? You indeed are a wicked old witch from the west. You and your 4 letter f word spewing boyfriend make a great couple.


Thank you CCN.

Tyranical behavior is allowed to happen when “cronyism” flourishes. Ms. Steinburg, it is time to right the ship.

The homeless center is an important part of the community. Many of CAPSLO’s past and present employees are dedicated to helping the homeless but your ship is listing and you need to put in right.

Get your hands dirty, listen to your former and present employees to find out the truth. Don’t cover up your findings, clear the air, fix the problem and put safeguards in place.

Please don’t appear to do right – DO RIGHT!


As a person who volunteers with a local organization from SLO and A-Town to assist the homeless in this county, I find it highly questionable that items donated to the homeless such as toiletries and socks would be SOLD for cash to the needy. If the businesses wanted to donate cash to CAPSLO then they would do so. They are donating items directly for use by the needy and certainly they never intended that only those who could pay would be the recipients.Something has to be done about this unethical, careless behavior and fast.

I am going to meet with the director of a long established 501(c)(3) named “Homeward Bound” today. This organization is run by the First Assembly Church of SLO and I’m going to encourage them to ramp up their homeless program and tap the resources who donate to CAPSLO for the homeless so that we can get these items to the needy for free, like it is supposed to be. The FA church isn’t far from Prado and owns a very large structure and campus. Stay tuned, You’ll all be hearing more from Homeward Bound and it’s plan to step up, ramp up and serve greater needs.

To add insult to injury, the very idea of throwing these excess unsold donated items away rather than give them away is as careless as it gets. Something is very wrong with whoever is imposing those directives.

As to those who say they don’t know what is done with the money after Dee receives it. You certainly can’t say that it is unaccounted for unless you kept track of how much was in the envelopes and what the date was. Then it would be a simple matter of auditing the revenue accounts to determine if these funds were deposited into the CAPSLO account. Without that information, you can’t accuse her of anything except carelessly and HARDHEARTEDLY managing the donated items to begin with.


Exactly! The mere fact that they will only accept cash means that the money is untraceable. If Dee Torres can’t prove where the money and gift cards have gone, maybe we have the answer to where the money for the catered meals at their meetings comes from.


I doubt that Biz put CCN on hold while she checked the revenue accounts herself and asked Dee where the deposits were for the sold donated items. Likewise, Biz probably believes that no items are being sold and is unaware that the practice has continued. I’m not saying one way or the other what has occurred with the funds because at this point, no one knows. We are simply waiting to find out, just like we’re waiting to find out more about Niesen and the status of her trust funds,no? It’s already bad enough as it is without concluding that the mean old witch stole the money to boot.


Keep in mind, Biz is the CEO over CAPSLO, she is dedicated and extremely overworked. Biz puts her trust and faith in her program directors. She supports decisions and trusts the directors are dedicated to their programs providing excellent service to the clients they serve. Biz can’t be at every program all the time, she is knowledgable of the operations but not involved in the daily happenings. Biz does visit the programs but I’m sure while she is present Dee is on her best behavior. I believe Biz will look into all the allegations against Homeless Services and I don’t believe she is taking things lightly, behind her soft expression is a very serious and sincere individual. I’m sure she is losing sleep over all this and don’t think for a minute she is turning her head to wrong doings or burying her head in the sand. She will act on allegations that can be proven and if they can’t be proven, I would bet changes in procedures will still happen and Dee will be watched under a microscope!


I hope you’re right and I am willing to wait a little to find out. But it may be too late to undo the damaged public trust — at least completely.


Wow, government supported and encouraged corruption. This whole “cartel” needs to be broken up. Homelessness is not a problem, it’s an industry for these vultures. At least “biz’s” nickname is accurate. Nice job CCN.


There’s no Biz ness like CAPSLO business

Like no business I know

Everything about it is like appealing

Everything that traffic will allow

Nowhere could you get that happy feeling

When you are stealing that extra bow


Pulitzer material.


How can it be “Pulitzer material” when The Tribune deems it unworthy of any mention?


Excellent question … to ask over at the Trib../

1 2 3 7