Homeless man demands $115,000 from CAPSLO
October 9, 2013
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
A homeless man demanded $80,000 last month from the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO) for turning him away from a homeless shelter because he had a service dog with him.
In two Sept. 23 letters, Jeff Stone demanded the $80,000 and $35,000 for bed bug bites that Stone said resulted in a MRSA infection. MRSA is a drug-resistant Staphylococus bacterium. The two claims totaled $115,000 from CAPSLO, a largely taxpayer-funded nonprofit that operates the Maxine Lewis Memorial shelter in San Luis Obispo.
Keeping Stone out of the shelter because of the service dog seems to violate fair housing law, said Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles Directing Attorney Barbara Schultz.
“If an individual with a disability has a bona fide need for a service animal, the shelter that refused him was violating federal and state fair housing laws by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation,” Schultz said.
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice adopted guidelines clarifying and refining the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). State and local governments, businesses and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go under the Act, the guideline to the law reads.
Stone claims CAPSLO homeless services staff denied him a bed at the Maxine Lewis shelter on or around June 13 and again on June 17. Stone told CAPSLO staff that his dog was a service animal and even provided a letter from a clinical therapist when demanded to do so, he said.
CAPSLO Chief Operating Officer Jim Famalette has since denied both of Stone’s demands.
But CAPSLO has stopped disputing the fact that Stone’s dog is a service animal.
In the response to Stone’s compensation demands, Famalette said that CAPSLO records show that Stone initially claimed his dog was a companion animal on June 17. Stone did not request a bed on June 13 or 14, he said.
Stone contends CAPSLO management changed its story after San Luis Obispo police officers arrived on June 17 and let him into the shelter.
Stone also got a written statement from a man staying in the shelter who said he witnessed staff deny Stone a bed on two different nights, he said.
“On June 13th or 14th, 2013, I witnessed Kim, the evening shelter manager at the Maxine Lewis Memorial Homeless Shelter in San Luis Obispo, CA turn Jeff Stone away from getting a bed for the night after Jeff told her he had a dog,” the CAPSLO client said. “Kim told Jeff Stone that it was the shelter’s policy not to allow any animals into the shelter.”
The witness also described the conversation between Stone and shelter manager Della Wagner on June 17.
“I heard Della ask for proof that the dog was a service dog,” the man stated. “I saw Jeff Stone hand a letter to Della. I heard Della tell Jeff Stone that his dog wasn’t a service dog, but some other sort of animal.”
After denying Stone entrance to the shelter on June 17, Wagner ordered Stone off the property on orders from CAPSLO Homeless Services Director Dee Torres.
Stone called the police and officers let him into the shelter, he said.
Stone stayed in the shelter for much of July. On the night of July 12 and morning of July 13, Stone suffered several bed bug bites on his stomach and right arm, he said. The bites swelled and became very red. Stone checked into the French Hospital Medical Center emergency room a week later, and a lab test determined that he contracted MRSA from the bites, he said.
CAPSLO responded, saying that bed bugs do not transmit disease, citing the county’s public health department.
“There is no documented evidence that bed bugs transmit communicable diseases,” Famalette wrote.
But, Stone’s MRSA case marked the second time in one month that a homeless man contracted the drug-resistant bacterium from beg bug bites that occurred in the Maxine Lewis shelter.
Bed bugs bit then-homeless man Joe Olinde in the shelter around June 20. Olinde visited a Community Health Centers doctor, and the physician reported back to him that he had contracted MRSA from the bites, he said.
In 2011, Canadian doctor Marc Romney and research professor Christopher Lowe conducted a study on patients from an impoverished area of Vancouver who entered a hospital with bed bugs on their bodies.
Romney and Lowe tested five bed bugs that the patients brought in and three returned positive for MRSA. The other two tested positive for the drug-resistant bacterium known as VRE, they wrote.
“These insects may act as a hidden environmental reservoir for MRSA and may promote the spread of MRSA in impoverished and overcrowded communities,” Romney and Lowe wrote in a letter published by the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal.
Stone told CalCoastNews that he is in communication with attorneys and is considering filing a lawsuit against CAPSLO. In his September letters to CAPSLO, he also demanded full-page apologies from Torres, appearing daily in local newspapers for a week.
Torres did not respond to requests for comment.