Dee Torres-Hill competes with CAPSLO while still on its payroll
March 26, 2015
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.
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.
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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