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.


Dave Congalton needs to have a show with these named sources on it. I for one would love to hear more of what they have to say especially the 10 and 30 year employees like Ms Bonds. I can understand why current employees would be concerned about using their names but wouldn’t it be nice if Dave could have a show where he gets Biz on the line and she assures all the employees that they can come and speak before a special board who will guarantee that no retaliation will pursue as a result of their honesty.


Karen Velie will discuss this story today on KVEC 920 AM at 5:05. You can listen online at


Karen was just on KYNS 1340 and discussed this story, very informative, It seems she is on every Friday at 12pm to talk about her stories. Thanks Karen.


Every story that CCN has reported on this site, for the last 5 years, has always eventually proven to be TRUE. There have been rare occasions that insignificant facts have been incorrect (like when a homeless man claimed to be a vet) but the small inaccuracies have never, NOT ONCE had anything to do with the TRUTH and FACTS behind the wrong doings that CCN was reporting.

This BS about lack of credibility is continuously disseminated by county and city officials who don’t like being exposed. Those officials ( like Adam Hill for one) should be tarred & featured and run out of town.

It’s long pass time to TAKE NOTICE.


Sorry CCN, that would be almost 6 years that you have been the public watch dog.


No swamp gas?


Dear Biz,

These are not anonymous sources being quoted in the article. These are individuals called out by name. I am sure you will claim “sour grapes” because some of them are former employees but ask them if they will testify under oath….and will you and will the others in your organization. Lets hope it comes to that. You appear to be a nice lady who should be looking after her grandchildren and has been played like a cheap guitar by Dee and probably Mr Hill as well and others in our community government. I would like to see a copy of the write up Estela Bonds said she received when she gave out free diapers. That would be a smoking gun of sorts. Dee appears to have that same streak of Petty Tyrant personality that her pansy boyfriend Adam Hill has.

JQ Public

By the way, when CAPSLO does not charge for overnight shelter or parking services, to require that someone give up any portion of their income in exchange for a guaranteed spot is a contract. The homeless person promises a percentage of that income for the guarantee.

Contracts are enforced by judgements. The laws on enforcements of judgements have limits on how much of a person’s earnings can be taken to enforce such a promise. This contract exceeds those amounts and is therefore in and of itself an unlawful contract.

Some sources of income are exempt from the enforcment of judgements laws. The contracts that require those funds to be turned over to enforce the contract is also an unlawful contract provision. For example, requiring someone to turn over SSI or SSA funds. The exception would be if the person getting the funds was authorized by the Social Security Administration to be a Representative Payee.

The amount of 50% to 70% is by itself draconian and violates public policy. Therefore, that is also unlawful.

Guaranteeing a spot in the shelter or for parking may not be unlawful, but what is being demanded in exchange is in all probability unlawful. The CAPSLO Board of Directors and Ms. Steinberg should put a stop to that practice today!

JQ Public

The people who gave information to CCN and the people who have not given information, but have some knowledge need to have the strength, courage and social responsibility to put their information in writing and swear to it under penalty of perjury. The people that know things should take a piece of paper, write out what they know and at the bottom put the following statement. Then sign it below that statement. It does not have to be notarized or witnessed by anyone else.

Here’s the statement you put at the end of the document just above your signature line.

“I declare under penalty of perjury, under the laws of the State of California, that the information written above is true and accurate to the best of my belief and knowledge.”

People making statements can add to them or clarify them later. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It does not even have to be an first hand experience. If you have information that somebody else told you but it could be important; say that too and say where and when you heard it. It doesn’t have to be totally complete either. If you don’t have a way to type it or do it on a computer, take a pen and paper and hand write it. If you don’t have an envelope, fold it over.

The statements need to be done now. Don’t wait for someone else to be first. That’s happened already with people talking to CCN. Somebody has already gone first. This time, it is more effective if everyone does it at the same time.

It won’t get done unless you have a due date. Have the statements done and delivered by Wednesday, March 6th. Get them done over the weekend and mail them Monday if you want to delivery by mail. If you have the money, mail the letters certified, making the recipient sign for them and return receipt so you have proof that the recipient got the letter. Regular mail or even hand delivered is okay too.

Make several copies of the statement. Send one to Ms. Biz Steinberg. Send one to CCN if you want. Keep one for yourself. Send one to the City of San Luis Obispo and to the County of San Luis Obispo. You can also send a copy to the attorneys for those governmental entities. They will keep copies in their files. Send one to the District Attorney’s office if you want. Send one to Social Security if there are facts in your statement that pertain to anyone receiving those funds.

You can talk to anyone you want to before doing the statement. Just make sure your statement is what you remember. If you don’t see or hear it first hand, put in the statement how you learned it.

JQ Public

It is time for Ms. Biz Steinberg to become directly involved and not delegate responsibility to anyone. She can call a meeting of her resource people, but as CEO she needs to take charge of this herself.

It is time to stop ignoring this because of any perception that CCN is not a credible news source.

Likewise, it is time to stop ignoring this because of attacking the credibility of the people who are providing the information to CCN, whether homeless, representing the homeless, former employees or somebody who may have a diagnosis of illness or disability. Those issues of credibility can be sorted out later after the information is gathered and verified. It should not be an excuse not to gather the information.


Biz Steinberg is now in the business of covering up all wrongdoing with an arrogant attitude ““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.”

Instead of saying that she was surprised and would look into each and every allegation and make things right, she says “they will review their claim”. How condescending and arrogant.


call it “petty cash”. just like how our foreign aid is used.


The $200,000.00 of tax payer’s money that the SLO City Council recently gave to CAPSLO didn’t even cover Steinberg’s and Famalette’s salary and benefits for one year!


But the $60 million or so in other revenues easily do!