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.


Why hasnt Trib covered this? Are they MIA again? Do they condone the probability of theft from the misfortunate?


They won’t report until they absolutely have to. Too much connection and back slapping to report anything negative about government wrongdoing and then they spin it like CCN and its posters created the problem. Just ask

“sewer gas”(aka Bob Cuddy) himself!


I do remember now that during the radio show, charging for forks was brought up, but “Sunshine” testified that the practice was discontinued a long time ago.

I don’t know what all is going on with that organization and I’m in no way defending them, but some of the allegations seem a bit petty. After all, how could .25 razors and ..50 socks translate into THOUSANDS of dollars as was insinuated? Do the numbers.


Harley, socks are a commodity among the homeless. Whenever I have a case of socks, they’re gone as fast as the homeless can put their hands out and say “thank you so much, I really need those” and they do say that. Keeping their feet warm and dry is a health contingency for them. They are made to leave the shelter at 7;AM every morning, comes rain or shine and they have no where to go except walk around and try to stay protected from the elements. .

Likewise, many do shave daily and you would never know they’re homeless and that’s what they bank on. The reason is because they spend as much time as possible staying warm and dry by visiting establishments where they can blend in reading a newspaper and nursing a cup of coffee. For the most part, only the severely mentally ill or those who are barred from the shelter walk around looking like Grizzly Adams, although many have bad teeth or no teeth because social services will not repair a cavity or anything else. They will only pull your teeth out for you.

Lets say the shelter only sells $20.00 of items a day (although it’s probably more). That is $600 a month or $7,200 a year. People are simply asking where the money went and why it was collected to begin with. Particularly since Biz say’s this practice doesn’t even occur!

AND what happens to the gift cards and cash donations? Since the homeless don’t receive the gift cards , who does and how are they used? If we don’t ask, who will ?


as opposed to 7am in the afternoon?


I agree completely that the money should be accounted for, so there’s no issue with that.

There’s just ton’s of speculation going on so I’ll do a bit myself.

Perhaps the charge for the second fork is simply to encourage the folks to clean/wash their used one and save it to use again rather than just throwing it away after one use ( I do that all the time when I’m camping). I know that they are inexpensive items, but I’d also think that the supply donated is not unlimited.


Harley: I was wondering the same thing.

In my mind, I heard Sunshine infer that you got the razor/socks/fork free if you did “Thing X”. And you had to pay, if “Condition Y” applied.

I took it to mean free goods if you did your chores, or whatever, and a charge if you opted not to do the chores or meet the condition.

I can see a limited amount of sense in this, if you are helping people sort out the value of their time and their money. Not saying that’s the case, but it seems plausible.

In any regard, not accounting for the money is wrong. As is dating Adam Hill. So let’s find Torres’ “third strike” and move on.


So if you are in a wheelchair or have 3 babies and can not “do chores” beyond keeping your own chair/bed sorted. you should pay to eat? No socks for you…The food is free but if you forgot/don’t own a bowl and spoon give us some change?

Irony much? These are the people at the lowest low of our society and we are charging them for a second disposable spoon? We don’t want them panhandling but we want there change?

What a first world problem: What is the correct fee to charge a homeless person for a spoon that was donated (they will pay if they want to eat)?

From the donator /grant stream: Do you think the nice person from Edna valley who brought in socks, coats and whatnot, would have still done so if they knew there gifts/donations were being charged/bargained/lets play favorites for?

For most of the corporate grants of supplies often have restrictions like the Walmart local giving guidelines

Funding Exclusions: Salaries, stipends, tips and rewards. Capital campaigns and endowments (defined as any plans to raise funds for a significant purchase or expense, such as new construction, major renovations or to help fund normal budgetary items) for example.


ITA. Dee Torres is required to account for the funding received for homeless services. To not do so is indicative of fraud.


The big salaries are shocking. While one cannot expect those in the non-profit sector to work for next to nothing, nearly $190,000 in pay and benefits for the head of a county-level anti-poverty agency is grotesque and inexcusable. Money intended for the poor is being siphoned off into such bloated salary packages.

Oh, and the median HOUSEHOLD income in SLO Co is in the low $50s — use that for comparison.

I’m more and more concerned that so much of the non-profit sector is following in the greedy footsteps of the for-profit sector, and is being run by people who don’t have traditional non-profit values. Heck, French Hospital is another local example of a greedy “non-profit” institution claiming to do God’s work while gouging sick people and insurance companies. And the head of the American Cancer Society, which is largely funded by $25 donations people think are going for cancer research, makes $1.6 million a year.

This just isn’t right, and people who agree it isn’t right need to speak up, not here, but directly to those responsible for setting such salaries, namely the boards of directors of the non-profit sector. If the sector fails to take note and continues on its merry way, they can expect a lot of us to become a whole lot less generous.


Nothing will change, but it as at least nice to know.


Things won’t change as long as Dee Torres gets her protection from an elected county official, County Nincompoop Adam Hill. It really looks to me like she is dragging him around by the short hairs, so he is going to continue to protect her as long as she can keep him subservient to her.

However, now that they are engaged, perhaps Adam Hill’s eye will start to wander again. Once he finds a new leg-waving user like Torres for a new affair, then Dee Torres will be cast aside. Maybe Bruce Gibson will be tired of his floozy by then and she can jump on board the Gibson train for a ride.


Lets not forget Cliff Anderson who after being in case management since 09 has no money to pay his rent and will be homeless again if Capslo/familyties can’t get it’s s#it together.

‘Biz’ Steinberg You could have defused all of this so easy by returning Cliff his money and providing a simple accounting that any $100. financial software written in the last 15 years can do.

But no you help cut off social security, food and soon Cliff’s home as you call in the lawyers, proving the point about mistreating the most vulnerable members of our community.



If items were sold to the homeless then SALES TAX has to be collected. No ifs, ands or buts.

This issue needs to called to the attention of the California State Board of Equalization. They will take your money any way they can get it!


Good point, Harry.

It was the IRS that brought down Capone, no? After murders, extortion, and all the other crimes Capone committed, it was problems with his income tax filing that did him in.


The bigger problem here appears to be those salaries. Healthcare, government, and big business is where you consistently make salaries like that when you have taken no risk of your own and have no advanced skills. $96,000 for a human resources director??? Get real.


Funny, the county’s human resouces director makes $148k plus platnum benefits.

Maybe CAPSLO should pay more to get better employees? CAPSLO has over 1000 employees and operates in 11 counties.


Maybe CAPSO has too many freaking employees.


Niles, has hit it on the head, its great that so many people are on here and know about the problems that arise with many things that Karen and Dan put out in print, but more needs to be done, contacting the people mentioned is a good start, but let me take this a step further, look at the big picture around us, us being the taxpayer, the Govt continues to lie to us, pass the school tax and save the schools, so the taxpayers voted for it, guess what that ,money didn’t go to the schools it went to the general fund so that like monies we not taken from schools, then they pass a ” Fire tax” , now the BOE passes a 3 cent gas tax on us again,the air resorces boards run rampant with phoney rules and regulations, who in the hell do we complain to to stop all of this, our legislators turn a deaf ear to us when we e-mail or call, our board of supervisors just sit there and look like monkeys,see, hear and do no evil, even with two of them that are dispicable, people there are a lot of battles out there to fight and we the people are not winning, I write,call and meet with these people they all assure me they are diligently working on it but we see no change, maybe we the people need to quit paying taxes,fees and the rest of the baloney that goes on. WE are getting hosed every time we turn around.

The people listed in the salary report should hang their heads in shame for making over a hundred thousand dollars a year they really care about helping the homeless and down and out.


The best hope is Debbie Arnold. She has already shown that she is willing to shake up the status quo. As to Hill and Ashbaugh, they are knee deep in incestuous relationships with CAPSLO and are probably working overtime on damage control.

To the voters in D3 and SLO. You are destined to reap what you have sowed. Too bad you continue foist these people on the rest of us. Lessee: Settle, Pinard, Delany, Marx and now Hill and Ashbaugh.


We just don’t have good people on our side. I am forced to support Arnold and Waage just to get a modicum of accountability. I’d feel better about Arnold in charge of the $60 million than Biz. And don’t get me started on 40 year welfare queen Raye Fleming.


Anyone counting on Debbie Arnold and Frank Mecham to look at this corruption in CAPSLO needs to complain to both the Editor (Sandra Deurr) and the Publisher of the Tribune about Bob Cuddy’s (Adam Hill’s puppet) attacks on these two supervisors. Go to the columnists section and see what Cuddy is doing. His last attack on Debbie Arnold blamed her for the decorum in the BOS and remarks made against Gibson. Outrageous, and also a diversion from the CAPSLO problem.

Demand that the Tribune cover this story — the CAPSLO fraud against the homeless– and make Cuddy apologize to Arnold and Mecham for his last opinion column.


Maybe Cuddy isn’t Adam Hill’s puppet….maybe he’s Dee Torres’ puppet.

She has an interest in keeping Adam Hill where he is because he provides the kind of local power that can stymy any attempt by county officials to do a real investigation of what is really going on at CAPSLO.


as opposed to stymie?

Niles Q

Everyone is wasting their time complaining to Biz or here on CCN. You all need to direct your complaints to the board of directors, especially trhe ones that are elected officials. Here’s the list of those who must answer to taxpayers and voters:

Christine Johnson, John Ashbaugh, Mary Ann Reiss, Debbie Arnold and Brian Stutevant.

If you want somnething done about this. If you want an audit or an investigation, then I suggest you focus your anger on these five people. The other board members are all private citizens, and frankly I don’t recognize any of their names.

Back when I worked for the old Economic Opportunity Commission (EOC) the precurser to CAPSLO 1988-92 we had a board member get caught up in a big scandal.I can’t remember his name but i can picture him clearly — think Boss Hog of the Dukes of Hazards, you know the type polyester pants, silk shirts, cowboy boots and hat…

The guy was a full time professor at Cal Poly, had a paid full time position with EOC and two other full time jobs. He was making bank, basically being paid for no-show jobs until the IRS came asking for an explaination as to how a man can have four full-time jobs? The guy had to quit EOC (probably the lowest pay) and I think he got intto trouble at Cal Poly too.

I recall it was in the old T-T, so should be on microfiche at the Poly library if anyone wanted to look it up.

And back when I was with EOC (in the weatherization program) we were sent to Orcutt Road one day to clean out a portable building that had been donated for a homeless shelter. I remember it was a real mess with old furniture including a fridge that had rancid milk in it and made us all gag when the door flew open and the milk spilled out.

They said at the time it was a temporary building but it’s still in use to this day.

With a budget of $59 million plus, you’d think they could have upgraded by now. Looking at the salary list, I guess I can see why not.


Arnold and Sturtevant are the only options, and they may have bigger fish to fry and may be told that they should leave this one (massive institutionalized waste) alone if they know what’s best for their agenda.


I won’t argue with your other points but the ~$60M budget is for all of CAPSLO’s activities. I don’t know what the exact amount of the Homeless Program is but I will bet it is less than 10% — probably 5% of that. The money they put into Homeless Services themselves is probably pretty well tracked. It is the stuff these articles are about that is questionable (or worse.) I also have done work for CAPSLO and recently enough to still have connections there. Unfortunately, my contact with the Homeless Program was minimal so I can’t say for sure what is going on there.


What makes you think Christine Johnson, John Ashbaugh, Mary Ann Reiss, Debbie Arnold and Brian Stutevant are NOT benefitting from the fraud going on at CAPSLO, or are not now complicit in the fraud simply because they turned a blind eye to it to keep their political power base intact?