Dee Torres-Hill competes with CAPSLO while still on its payroll

March 26, 2015
Dee Torres-Hill speaking on behalf of CAPSLO.

Dee Torres-Hill speaking on behalf of CAPSLO.

By KAREN VELIE and DANIEL BLACKBURN

Months before Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County (CAPSLO) demoted Dee Torres-Hill from her position as its homeless services coordinator, she was soliciting donations for a new homeless services organization from wealthy developers who were dealing with her husband, San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill.

Hill, in turn, lobbied on behalf of developers donating or pledging to support Torres-Hill’s fledgling nonprofit, called the SLO Housing Connection. The SLO Housing Connection provides homeless services that appear to duplicate many CAPSLO services, including case management, shelter and employment services.

Gary Grossman

Gary Grossman

In fall 2014, while Supervisor Hill aggressively attempted to persuade members of the San Luis Obispo City Council to vote in favor of a land use change needed by developer Gary Grossman to develop large parcels near the airport, Grossman made a $50,000 donation to Torres-Hill’s SLO Housing Connection, Grossman said in a letter sent by his attorney Marshall Ochylski . The council then voted 4-1 in favor of the airport land use change.

Torres-Hill is still employed by CAPSLO and is performing many of the same duties she had at CAPSLO for the SLO Housing Connection. She is on medical leave from CAPSLO. A doctor determined she was unable to continue working at CAPSLO, according to court records.

The lawsuit claims that CAPSLO retaliated against Torres-Hill because of her perceived disability.

Supervisor Adam Hill

Supervisor Adam Hill

In 2012, former and current CAPSLO employees and several of Torres’ ex-boyfriends said she routinely took gift cards intended for the needy and homeless for her own use. At the time, CAPSLO administrators denied most of the allegations, but admitted to questioning Torres-Hill about selling items donated to the homeless and not accounting for the revenue.

CAPSLO officials now have completed their investigation into the allegations, but will not comment on their findings because of the lawsuit.

On March 12, 2014, CAPSLO demoted Torres-Hill and cut her pay, in what was announced as a “restructuring” because of financial concerns. Torres-Hill then took a leave of absence. On June 2, 2014, Torres-Hill returned to CAPSLO, according to court records.

Former employees of CAPSLO say Torres-Hill had threatened several times over the past decade to start her own homeless nonprofit with the assistance of supervisor Hill, and to battle CAPSLO for revenue and county-approved grant monies.

On Oct. 2, 2013, the SLO Homeless Connection’s Facebook page was born.

The new nonprofit board includes President Mary Parker, Treasurer Antonette Higgins, and Torres-Hill’s 20-year-old daughter Sofi Torres. According to the SLO Homeless Connection website, Sofi Torres “has volunteered with the homeless for 15 years.”

And though the site does not identify any SLO Housing Connection staff, Torres-Hill appears to be the only one meeting with clients.

In early 2014, developer Grossman was asked to tour the Prado Day Center, he said in an email to CalCoastNews. Shortly thereafter, he started meeting with Torres-Hill and Parker to discuss donating to the SLO Housing Connection.

Neither Hill, Torres-Hill nor Parker returned detailed requests for comment.

On Oct. 28, claiming to be a whistleblower, Torres-Hill filed a lawsuit against CAPSLO that says her employer retaliated against her for expressing safety concerns. In addition, the lawsuit says that CAPSLO retaliated and discriminated against Torres-Hill based on her disability. The disability was not explained.

SLO Homeless Connection Treasurer Antonette Higgins has denied getting any donation from Grossman.

“We have had only one donation of $1,500, only one from a Christmas mailer,” Higgins said. “My sister-in-law is county counsel, so we know what we are doing.” (San Luis Obispo County Counsel Rita Neal said she is not related to Higgins.)

At present, Higgins said, no one affiliated with the SLO Homeless Connection is getting paid to work for the nonprofit. Higgins did not appear to be concerned about Torres-Hill’s work for the SLO Housing Connection while on medical leave from CAPSLO.

“What she does on her own time is her business,” Higgins said.

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86 Comments

  1. Ben Daho says:

    Lets look at reality. People can read. They see “San Luis Obispo is the happiest place to live”the weather is nice. A few bridges scattered here and there and a Mission. If you were homeless, where else would you want to be?

    (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
  2. JMO says:

    I know someone who used to volunteer often at Prado. I have done so myself a few times. It is common knowledge that there is a homeless circuit. The homeless talk about it among themselves. SLO is a popular spot on that circuit, but during wet and cold winters other places are more popular. “See you in Coachella” or similar sentiments are commonly heard amongst the “clients”.

    Another thing, volunteers come and go. After a while all except the most ardent homeless supporter ends up quitting volunteering at Prado. The only consistent ones working there are the ones with a rather handsome paycheck. Like one nice young girl who was volunteering because of a requirement of a Cal Poly class (is that really volunteering?), after I showed her the ropes and she worked for a few hours signing people in, she asked me with a serious look on her face, “Why can’t these people go out and get a job?”. No no. You don’t ask that. They are called “clients” for a reason.

    (16) 22 Total Votes - 19 up - 3 down
  3. agag1 says:

    I am shocked that Dee Torres has no comment for this story.

    (17) 25 Total Votes - 21 up - 4 down
  4. Pelican1 says:

    Uh uh. I know what you’re thinking. “Did he fire six shots or only five?” Well to tell you the truth in all this excitement I kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow you head clean off, you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?
    Oh, wrong movie. If you were homeless, wouldn’t you want to live in SLO….well would you?

    (-5) 13 Total Votes - 4 up - 9 down
  5. CentralcoastRN says:

    The bottom line is this (and I KNOW what I am talking about)

    The reason SLO County residents are seeing a sharp increase of homeless just lying about, under bridges, etc is that homeless case management has changed in recent years.

    40% or more of homeless persons have co-occuring mental health and/or substance use issues. In days gone by, these homeless could still be worked with. They could come eat, shower, come to Prado during the day as long as they weren’t disruptive. NOW they cannot. Case managers must go look for people under bridges, on the sides of roads, on park benches.

    What changed was the policies regarding case management.

    I can’t even comment on Dee Torres or Adam Hill, I just don’t see them as any kind of solution. They are a distraction. Maybe ask the people who go out and actually work with this population on a daily basis what THEY think would help.

    (22) 34 Total Votes - 28 up - 6 down
    • justbeware says:

      The sharp increase in homeless can also be attributed to the steady stream of buses that continue to bring them to the area.
      SLO has become the dumping ground for the problems a lot of others don’t want to deal with.

      (7) 33 Total Votes - 20 up - 13 down
      • Mike Byrd says:

        If you look at the reports on homelessness that have been prepared you might be surprised to discover how many are longtime local residents. People don’t just come here to be homeless.

        (1) 19 Total Votes - 10 up - 9 down
        • justbeware says:

          The homeless DO come, just to be here!

          (6) 24 Total Votes - 15 up - 9 down
        • isoslo says:

          Many lie and say are they are local as they feel it puts them in a better situation to get benefits. Also caseworkers know that the citizens are more supportive of homeless that are local, so they have a monetary reason to lie. So I do not trust that particular statistic.

          (8) 22 Total Votes - 15 up - 7 down
        • obispan says:

          Yes they do and I can only think of one local who may or may not actually be “homeless”.

          (5) 11 Total Votes - 8 up - 3 down
  6. ajdury says:

    I only listen to audio of area meetings, and that’s via my phone and earbuds.

    Having listened to a small slice of Tuesday’s BOS, I couldn’t help but notice how audible Mr. Hill was, while not talking at all.

    He sure doesn’t sound healthy to me.

    (9) 21 Total Votes - 15 up - 6 down
  7. mkaney says:

    Alright so… I think that there is reasonable doubt that she did all the things she has been accused of. If those things were above and beyond a certain level, that wouldn’t give me much confidence. I have not seen enough evidence to say one way or the other personally. At this point I think it is most PRUDENT to approach things with a bit of caution given the accusations, but not necessarily condemn her. I imagine that CAPSLO is in the same situation. Also, the level of behavior she is accused of does not rise above the standard of behavior I see in general from people, often those who point fingers and yell the loudest. So look into your consciences before you cast the final judgment.

    With that said, I have been told that ALL of her staff including herself are volunteers and no one is taking home any money from this, at this point. So that motivates me to not be unreasonable and self righteous. Furthermore, there are much much bigger fish to fry in this area, and that is the executive management of CAPSLO. We are a small area and there are limited people that work on this issue, so my suggestion is to keep your eyes on the real prize because if we can ever get our hands on any detailed information about the management and internals of CAPSLO, I suspect we’re going to have a field day.

    (4) 24 Total Votes - 14 up - 10 down
    • OnTheOtherHand says:

      While I doubt CCN will get much cooperation from CAPSLO given their history of biased reporting with regard to them, most of CAPSLO’s finances are pretty open and can be accessed. You might be surprised at how careful they are about accuracy in recording their finances. You might also be surprised about how much they actually do in the homeless programs they operate.

      At worst, in the case of Torres, they did not keep track of minor donations and left themselves vulnerable to claims of theft (which Torres may or may not have actually done.) That situation was corrected shortly after the claims of theft were made. Did they cover up for Torres? I don’t know and I suspect that it depends upon your definition of “cover up”. They do have legal obligations in regards to the actions of their employees and may have had to keep things quiet because of them. CAPSLO may not be perfect in their efforts to help others (who is?) but it is not from malevolent intents.

      (-6) 24 Total Votes - 9 up - 15 down
      • mkaney says:

        There is a different between making finances available and financial transactions available. You can hide a ton of money in education and conferences that actually went to personally benefit executives. Most of the time, in order to uncover a culture of corruption you have to be able to have the raw data on financial transactions.

        Quite honestly, I do not believe that the leaders of CAPSLO are truly interested in helping people. At least that is not their primary motivation. I believe that their interest in this area is based upon the fact that they can make more money personally than they can in any other business. The CFO didn’t exactly make a great name for himself in his former industry. And he didn’t exactly become a monk and turn to a life of service afterward. He used his connections to get himself a ride aboard a federal funding gravy train (Community Action Partnerships are basically a federal franchise program). I’m sure they see helping people as a benefit, and it makes him feel good, but it’s not why they are there.

        Wherever a federal gravy train goes, people will hop on board. The result is the implementation of ineffective bureaucratic agencies and non profits that are run by people who excel at dealing with their true master, the federal government, not the people in their communities. It results in inefficient resource allocation, reduces people’s power in their own communities, gets in the way of innovation, and creates opportunties for corruption. This model was started by Johnson, but all the Presidents and both the parties create their own basket of them.

        So to be able to get quantitative proof of any such problems with an organization like this is helpful to convince the local voters to elect people who will support solutions that work for that community, even if it means giving up some federal dollars. It also helps to prevent other McFederal style franchise operations from mucking up our economy and our local government,.

        (6) 8 Total Votes - 7 up - 1 down
    • justbeware says:

      Mkaney,
      If you were told that none of the staff was taking any money at this point, that raises a couple of questions in my mind.
      1. Did that info come from Antonette Higgins, the treasurer who stated the SLOHC had only taken in $1500, yet Grossman acknowledges donating $50k?
      2. Many new business owners go without pay until things get going, and they can then afford to pay themselves a salary. Is that the case with Torres?
      3. How reliable is your source?

      (5) 11 Total Votes - 8 up - 3 down
    • Mike Byrd says:

      I’ve no idea what she did or didn’t do. Since I’m not sitting on a jury in judgement I don’t have do decide who is or isn’t telling the truth. But what I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around is, if a person is too ill to do her job, how can she do essentially the same job for a competing organization while she’s on medical leave?

      (15) 25 Total Votes - 20 up - 5 down
      • IronHub says:

        Mike, her current lawsuit alleges in at least several paragraphs that she is medically capable of doing the same kind of work that she did at CAPSLO, just NOT at CAPSLO. This was a planned-for contingency..

        (6) 14 Total Votes - 10 up - 4 down
  8. hijinks says:

    Everybody seems focused on Torres. But what about Grossman?

    http://www.pe.com/articles/homes-665759-dirt-home.html?page=1

    (9) 23 Total Votes - 16 up - 7 down
    • mkaney says:

      Awesome awesome awesome find and you are correct on where the focus needs to be. Thank you

      (6) 16 Total Votes - 11 up - 5 down
    • OnTheOtherHand says:

      Hmmm, let’s see now. Just speculating here, but with Grossman interested in developing land in the SLO airport’s flight path, maybe he is thinking he can pass off any resultant illnesses due to sleazy subcontractors by blaming it on pre-existing chemicals in the soil from the old tank farms there should push come to lawsuit.

      Since he has effectively (if not illegally) bribed most of the SLO City Council, they will support whatever he claims because their butts are also on the line. Or maybe nothing will happen until they are all out of office and Grossman has retired or moved on to other deals?

      (6) 14 Total Votes - 10 up - 4 down
  9. inmyopinion says:

    Has anyone taken a good look at Adam lately? He looks pretty tattered these days.
    I just saw that pic at the top of the page and the one they recently showed in another article, Wow, talk about tore up. Talk about going down hill. (total pun intended) Look out Adam, Dee will be moving on if you don’t get a shower, hit a gym and go on the wagon here real soon. At the rate he is going, he is a prime candidate for their new homeless shelter as a resident. JMO

    (24) 38 Total Votes - 31 up - 7 down

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