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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MaryMalone

QUOTING THE ARTICLE: ” ‘[Torres] would throw things away before she would give it away for free,” ‘Sunshine said.”


Well, if the entire Adam Hill/Dee Torres liaison has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that Dee Torres doesn’t give ANYTHING away for free.


MaryMalone

“Biz is a nice person; she just doesn’t have time, and she just looks the other way.”


Soory, those two phrases, separated by “and,” are mutually exclusive: one cannot be true if the other is true.


A “nice person” does not “look the other way” while her cohorts are abusing their power to commit fraud and victimizing the downtrodden.


“You may choose to look the other way

but you can never say again that you did not know.


― William Wilberforce


JQ Public

Is Ms. Dee Torres at work today?

Anybody know for certain?


JQ Public

No, MaryMalone. I don’t talk like that. It is not decent and it doesn’t further the public debate. I am offended that you posted this kind of language in response to my post.


rogerfreberg

Oh this is getting so confusing. So who is Adam Hill’s girlfriend? Is it Biz or Dee? Was it Katcho’s girlfriend that was second in the county or some law enforcement guy?


Was it city money diverted to Heritage Financial or was it CAPSLO?


I don’t watch soaps… but I hear its similar.


MaryMalone

Except, in this case, the victims are real, and they are those in our community who have the least power and, therefore, the least ability to make it stop.


freshair

Innocent hungry people can be written up at the Prado Day Center, receive a suspension notice and denied access.


Someone can start yelling at you or hassling you while you’re in line for lunch and you’ll both get written up and given a Conflict Resolution form to fill out.


This is a common occurrance with those involved with having been in jail or having some other issue that inclines individuals to retaliate toward others who have not been in trouble. This places the burden on both parties to resolve the issue themselves rather than staff getting involved.


Management decides from there what to do. If the parties can’t resolve their issues then suspension notices are issued. Management thus washes it’s hands from any responsibility.


The Grand Jury complaint form is eerily similar..http://slocourts.net/downloads/grand_jury/forms/gj_complaint01.pdf


JQ Public

I understand. That’s not good enough.


The meals come from private sources. The bulk of CAPSLO funding comes from taxpayer sources.


Before benefits to the public fromtaxpayer funded sources are reduced or denied there must be “due process” including possibly a right to a hearing before a neutral hearing officer. Those delivering services cannot be a neutral hearing officer. However whether or not a full evidentiary hearing is required, some form of review by a neutral fact finder would be required.


If CAPSLO is not providing these services then the complaints of denial or reduction of services should be made to the County because the County is giving pass through taxpayer funding to support social services programs. The fact that it is pass through funding does not eliminate the due process requirements for the beneficiaries.


MaryMalone

Yeah, just we need is to put Adam “floozy-monger” Hill and the Board of Supervisors in charge of dealing with complaints.


MaryMalone

Sufferin’ Jesus. This is like working for a local government agency.


shelworth

Anybody a good organizer? Maybe a flash-mob of several thousand people protesting on Prado Road would speed up an official investigation.


freshair

The food that is served at the Prado Day Center is run by People’s Kitchen,

http://www.slopeopleskitchen.org/. Anyone can come to eat lunch there, but only clients may use services located at the Day Center, including the toilet. Suspensions include eating lunch there as well

The People’s Kitchen should be located off campus at some other location.


SLOBIRD

This site was originally built to feed the homeless that were eating in Mission Plaza at the Old Mission hall. The City, Chamber of Commerce, Church Coaltion, volunteers and business community came together and this facility was built, services expanded and then along CAPSLO, Dee Torres, Adam Hill and the mess we have today dividing our community. Shame on CAPSLO when this all stated for not coming forward and being transparent, Adam Hill and his Nazi style emails and rants to members of this community who disagree with him , City of SLO for sending the Police to CAPSLO harassment tactics of the homeless, and anyone not wanting to resolve this entire mess without a full public investigation of CAPSLO, Family Ties and the clients.


Cindy

Harley, I can answer your question. The chores are done by clients who don’t want to be thrown out at 7:AM in the morning. That is a fact, if they do chores, they don’t have to go out into the cold and rain, at least not immediately.


I left you a post at 9:36 this morning. How about if YOU answer my question?


Harley

Cindy, I just went back and looked at that post again and again I don’t see any question to me to answer.


I’m simply trying to get some facts (if they are in fact, facts) about how the places are operated. As far as going there myself? Not a chance. I do my utmost to avoid going to SLO for ANY reason if there’s anyway I can avoid it and I paricularly stay away from down town and the Prado Road area’s.


It just appears that this whole series of articles and the posts about them have a “lynch mob” look to them.


ironyman2000

as opposed to 7am in the evening?


Harley

Just for giggles and grins, let’s for one second assume that the money/gift cards/etc. are all accounted for and that everything is being used for the benefit of the clients. All’s well with the world and the universe so far, at least with that issue.


Now, would there be the same big uproar over the clients being charged a nominal amount for the items in lieu of performing a chore or two around center if that’s the case?


I really know nothing about the day to day operations of the place so I’d like to know. Who cleans up the sleeping quarters, bathrooms, kitchen and eating areas?? Who is it that takes out the trash and sweeps up? Who keeps the grounds of the place free of trash and reasonably tidy?


Is all that done by the clients themselves or is it all done for them by paid employees?


SLOBIRD

You obviously need to take a trip to the site of interest, i.e. Prado Day Care Center or Maxine Lewis Night Shelter. Since it seems apparent you don’t have much confident in these postings, maybe you should take a tour of one or both of the facilities ad talk with clients, volunteers and staff without the presence of management. See and hear for yourself. Just a suggestion!


Harley

So you can’t answer my simple questions?


MaryMalone

SLOBIRD did answer your question. I will summarize it for you: “Do your own research.”