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

March 1, 2013
Dee Torres

Dee Torres

Keeping them homeless

By KAREN VELIE, JOSH FRIEDMAN and DANIEL BLACKBURN

(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.


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Harley

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


RE: the above headline.


I listened to the interview on Dave’s show yesterday. I don’t have any comment on the “doesn’t track cash” part, but more than once, “Sunshine” said that they were instructed to “sell” razors or socks to the clients if they weren’t willing to perform some “small chores”.


Seems reasonable to me. Perhaps they were only bing asked to clean up after themselves and others??? Also, razors and socks were the ONLY things mentioned that were being sold unless I missed something..


Harley

Oh yeah, if I recall correctly, the price was .25 for a razor and .50 for a pair of socks.


Given that some will do chores so that they don’t have to pay for them, I don’t think anyone is going to get rich off of that little enterprise.


Harley

Ok folks, instead of just clicking on “dislike”, why don’t you respond with WHY you dislike?


I can remember my Grandmother telling me about when she lived in Oklahoma (near the railroad tracks) during the depression. They constantly had “hobos” and “bums” showing up at their back door looking for a meal and a place to sleep.


Those needy and homeless were MORE than happy to do a few chores around the place to earn a meal and a night or two’s shelter a back yard shed


I fail to see the difference. Giving the homeless a chance to “earn” some of the handouts they get seems reasonable to me..


SLOBIRD

You fail to mention the plastic utensils (fork $.25, knife $.25. spoon $.25, extra plate $.25 DAILY) being sold for meals. If you find nothing wrong with charging for free donated items or throwing away older unused items, or disappearing gift cards and donations then you become part of this disgusting problem. Community members, politicians, board of directors, etc. that think a “few minor infractions” on the homeless are not so bad for the general overall good this organization does in other areas, so it is no big deal, just make some minor changes and this will all go away, after all, these are mentally ill, drunk, lying homeless This is sick that you people support the “common good” and refuse to accept the seriousness of these allegations, because after all, Biz Steinberg is such a nice person. She is incompetent and unable to perform or manage her staff or responsibilities and according to reports it has been this way for quite awhile. Nice is no longer going to work for this large out of control corrupt organization. Who gets to fire this wicked person who turns a deaf ear to multiply complaints by dozens of staff current and past, volunteers and clients. When will this stop?


racket

Harley, I caught that, too.


leatherpink

I have to be honest, whether these homeless are being charged for plastic silverware or for toothpaste and etc small things if they are donated items, sure charge them.


Why?


When you add all the freebie’s these homeless people are getting and not paying people back, the City, the County and the State, they get so much for free and them to complain about paying for small donated things, really that get everything for free, they don’t realize what they are getting from taxpayers. Such as free bus rides everyday, free food from Prado and Orcutt homeless shelter (breakfast, lunch and dinner), free dental care, free social health care at CHC near Sierra Vista, free fast food coupons, free daycare, they can panhandle for free and not pay a tax for panhandling, free adult education classes at the old San Luis junior high school, they can drink downtown for free and not get citations for drinking in public and etc. If CAPSLO is charging, sure, they have to pay for something for once.


Just admit CAPSLO, you charge for donated items and you made a mistake. End of story, while I am not a fan of the homeless, thats all CAPSLO has to do and just apologize for it and let them do there business. I have no hard feelings if they charged the homeless people or not, the question is, what else do the homeless people pay for for to contribute to society? Maybe just sales tax. who knows but what funds do they spend on goes back into the City, County and State? Probably nothing or very little


liberalgirl

By the way, once CAPSLO has been tackled and cleaned up, perhaps the grand daddy of them all, Social Services, under the helm of Lee Collins, could be taken on?????? This is a BIG cesspool of all kinds of wrongs and mistreatment of the people it is supposed to serve.


Can we dare to hope this might happen??????


thinkaboutit

A lot of likes for this comment. Somebody please enlighten me? What kinds or wrongs and mistreatment are happening at Social Services?


thinkaboutit

No comments about this?


If Social Services is such a “cesspool” and the “granddaddy of them all”…above and beyond CAPSLO, shouldn’t you be citing verifiable violations…and shouldn’t this be the lead story?


SLOBIRD

There is a big different between non-profit organizations and government cesspools. We all know that we cannot change government waste. The politicians need all the money they can get for the votes to be re-elected. If you want to know about waste check out Dr. Coburn, U.S. Senator, who has a listing on the Internet annually of the waste programs (studies for cow burp, why politicians are vague about responses, etc.) sponsored by government. We have no control over government and obviously even our voting is questionable. Prop 30, the savior for our schools should be a perfect example of government mistrust, follow the money.


But, we do have control of the insight and intervention regarding non-profits like Family Ties and CAPSLO. I don’t think people want CAPSLO to go away but rather a management style that is professional, honest, and transparent. The program is great but the management and its practices are unfair and we need revamping as well as the people responsible for them . As for Family Ties, I think we can all agree Lisa should be fired, charged, and forever go away.


thinkaboutit

Thanks for taking the time to post your comment, SLOBIRD. Yes, there should definitely be accountability in all organizations.


What I’m wondering about, though, is liberalgirl’s specific remarks about “all kinds of wrongs and mistreatment of the people” under Collins’ leadership at Social Services. Whether it’s Social Services or anywhere else, I think it’s the responsibility of someone making such public allegations to substantiate them with examples so that we can be clearly informed of the abuses and to initiate any needed investigations. I think that’s fair. Anyone else?


liberalgirl

Please be successful in cleaning house and revamp the program to help the people it was created for. Please do all of this at NO CHARGE to the homeless population.


Wouldn’t this be nice?


Maxfusion

Ladies and Gentleman welcome to the California bureaucracy. This isn’t just this cabal of thieves, it’s the entire state. Arrogant, self absorbed, little dictators of the “social services” industry. Does anybody with a rational mind believe these top tier thieves deserve 200K a year? For what, to “administrate” another feel good program that won’t make a piss ant’s difference in the final analysis. Give me one good forensic accountant and access to their personal accounts and I’ll find you the missing money. Remarkably nothing in the way of criminal proceedings will come of this in the good old gals, liberal network of San Luis County. Welcome to your brave new world, and now pay up suckers.


myword

Again, it is the pettiness and tyrannical behavior that is so shocking. Homeless barred from services for going in the center’s wrong gate, charged for freely donated razors/forks/socks – In what world is this okay? And where does the money go?


BIZ clean house – I would begin at the beginning.


Citizen

Biz Steinberg has led the circling of the wagons to protect her organization without even investigating the charges of corruption. She’s the problem, not the solution. You can’t run an organization with no oversight. What the heck does she do all day to earn $160,000 a year. She ignores complaints and hires Lisa Niesen without checking her license and credentials?


MaryMalone

Biz, by her complacent attitude about what is going on, is not the person to put in charge of any house-cleaning at CAPSLO.


It has to be an IRS, State Controller or federal (FBI and/or SSA would be good) forensic audit if there is any hope of it being an audit looking for fraud and misuse of public funds.


obispan

Release an audit and put it all to bed. Any criticism of CAPSLO is met with “but they do so many important things”. And this is true, but these are 30+, and a couple 40+ year pros at “privatized” management of public sector dollars without accountability. Ka-Ching.


south

So 5 employees are costing $650+K. Wow, nice work if you can get it eh? Not saying they are not worth it, but if indeed the program is as messy as it appears, I would venture to say that anyone or any grant issuing entity should definitely evaluate as to where their money is going.


Steinberg’s salary is close to or equivalent to a general manager for a city in this county. In fact it is the same as the County Health Agency Director! Hope she is worth it.