Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Ocean Park Community Center (OPCC) Accused of Human Rights Violations

Santa Monica Facility Proves the Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions

 

November 24, 2017

David Ganezer

Homeless man weeps by the Statue of St. Monica at Wilshire Blvd's West End, at Ocean Avenue, in Santa Monica

(From a speech delivered Thursday evening, November 16, 2017 to Santa Monica's Housing Commission:

I am part of a group of concerned citizens that for the past fifteen months have been advocating for the most vulnerable adults in Santa Monica, namely the ones experiencing homelessness.

Our principal goal has been to raise awareness and introduce measures of accountability for an issue that the public is largely unaware of.

The issue is: the routine discriminatory and dehumanizing treatment of the most vulnerable members of our community, that is, individuals experiencing homelessness. During this Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, as a community, we must take a long hard look at the quality of homeless services funded by the City.

The largest provider of those services in Santa Monica, is OPCC -- now called The People Concern. They are a 98.8% publicly funded nonprofit with annual revenue of about $13M, out of which about $1.6M comes from the City of Santa Monica. This public funding is provided to help individuals experiencing homelessness, most of whom are disabled, move forward with their lives, toward better health, safety, and stability; and ultimately permanent housing. According to the 2015 tax form, OPCC/The People Concern chooses to spend about 73% of their annual revenue on employee salaries and benefits.

If you visit OPCC/The People Concern's website, you will see their noble mission statement. They do provide a service to our community. But in their internal operations, their very culture, there is an enormous gap between policy and practice. We have spoken about this in front of the City Council, to several authoritative bodies, to public officials and to funding agencies. We express our deep concerns about OPCC/The People Concern's non-functioning grievance procedures. We address the lack of quality staff training and supervision. We speak about blatant civil rights violations, harassment, abuse, and neglect of clients. We do not whisper, we speak clearly and openly about a culture of brazen intimidation, vengeful retaliation, and normalized disability discrimination. Indeed, this rampant practice of rash threats and intimidation of clients, is why the public has heard nothing of these egregious violations of the public trust.

We cannot emphasize this point enough: Homeless clients and those recently housed are absolutely terrified to speak out, due to the very real threat to loss of vital services – including housing and financial assistance – and sabotaging of their client records. Staff too, are terrified of speaking out, or they face termination, blackballing, and forfeiture of valued job references. The very nature of malfeasance and the codes of silence occurring in the prison and criminal justice system today, is eerily close to that at OPCC/The People Concern and other homeless service programs in LA county. We believe our Santa Monica community is better than these regressive practices. And we seek bold, meaningful, and lasting reform.

A senior attorney at Legal Aid has confirmed that their office has received these sorts of complaints about OPCC over the years. Legal Aid has communicated a strong interest in establishing an ordinance that would normalize new quality standards for homeless services providers in Santa Monica. Legal Aid is interested in reform, so that at least a minimum reasonable standard of care is met for this most vulnerable population comprised largely of people with disabilities.

Any reasonable, rational, fair-minded Santa Monican, would see the current status quo as unacceptable.

Some examples include the following:

- Clients with severe PTSD being physically or sexually assaulted at the facilities. There are no operative cameras inside and at the entrances, despite repeated pleas by residents for them. Clients are being subjected to victim blaming and emotional abuse by staff including disability mocking and being put back in danger of assault.

- Temporary and permanent eviction of disabled people into the streets, in violation of fair housing and ADA reasonable accommodation laws is a norm.

- As is not informing clients of their rights. ADA procedures are not posted anywhere in the facilities or included in the intake paperwork. They are not discussed in any form.

- The staff is untrained about and hostile to reasonable accommodation requests. For example, a wheelchair bound client asking for his bed to be lowered so that he can climb into bed had to sleep in his wheelchair for months because of the program director's inaction. Staff almost never offers a reasonable accommodation where one is obviously needed.

- None of OPCC/The People Concern's facilities in Santa Monica offer the required disabled parking, or any parking to the clients. In fact all their parking spots are used by the staff.

- More examples include whitewashing of credible client grievances and official records

- Throwing out and altering grievance forms, gaslighting and brazen lying.

- Frantic threats of withdrawal of essential care and services. And routine follow-through

on these threats.

Regarding temporary and permanently housed clients:

- Section 8 property owner relationship with OPCC staff often takes precedent over the tenant's basic human needs, even when it is foreseeable that it will seriously harm the tenant. Even when it HAS seriously harmed the tenant. And even when there was no actual threat to the Section 8 business relationship to begin with.

- The smallest perceived opportunity for extra revenue and savings will almost always trump the most essential supportive services and basic client needs. This results in more illness, disability and homelessness.

- Routine unannounced visits and invading the privacy of the housed clients, in violation of Fair Housing laws, California Constitution and tenets of common decency.

Unfortunately, an overwhelming majority of today's available legal advocacy services do not ordinarily protect the disabled homeless or recently housed disabled individuals, but rather seek to preserve the status quo and a cronyistic subculture that is rife with conflict of interest. The official oversight that does exist, itself needs credible oversight. It is largely kangaroo oversight. The City Council has not responded in any way to our concerns. The city's Human Services Administrator stated that ADA training for OPCC/The People Concern staff is a long term goal for the city -- as if obeying existing federal law by facilities funded by the city, was optional and could wait indefinitely.

Despite the Municipal Code requiring that temporary housing facilities file management plans including staff training plans, the city has not been enforcing that requirement. An analysis of the OPCC/The People Concern's annual program reports from the past five years revealed that the only staff training conducted is "general skills training - computer proficiency, management skills etc" at $100 per employee.

Concerned Citizens have filed two consumer complaints with the City Attorney's Office. In May of this year and almost a half year later, those complaints were finally answered, but in a dismissive, cursory and evasive manner. Clearly, no proper and meaningful investigation took place to address our concerns. Clearly, as we have complained all along, the City of Santa Monica and OPCC are too wrapped up in each others' business, for meaningful, impartial oversight and reform. This conflict of interest is an embarrassingly obvious truth. This would be obvious to anyone who thoroughly reviewed our hundreds of hours of work to date.

The City Manager has initiated a Steering Committee on Homelessness which has been meeting for the past four months. Surprisingly, our requests to be notified of the exact composition of the committee, and their place and time of meeting has been denied to us by the Human Services Administrator who offered to be a person of contact instead. It appears that the secret Steering Committee on Homelessness has been allowed to bypass the public process for the past four months. We have asked more than once if the committee included an individual who is currently or has in the past experienced homelessness in Santa Monica. Neither the City Manager nor the Human Services Administrator responded to this question. It is a well established practice in progressive communities and organizations to include a person with a lived experience of homelessness in similar projects as they certainly can offer invaluable insights that other members of the community simply are not in a position to have. The exclusion or marginalization of individuals experiencing homelessness definitely has no place in the progressive and democratic Santa Monica we strive to be, and even more so on a committee whose main task is addressing homelessness in our city. It is hard to think of a person who knows more about homelessness in Santa Monica than a person who has been homeless in Santa Monica. Why is their voice and input not sought to be heard?

Facing the current homeless crisis, and especially during this Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, we expect more from the City than just lip service and a hands-off policy in regards to the homeless services providers funded with taxpayer money.

File Photo

Ocean Park Community Center houses many, serves few.

We urge the Housing Commission to join efforts to have a city ordinance passed that would assure operating standards for homeless services providers as allowed by Senate Bill 2, and efforts to create a temporary housing/shelter monitoring committee, like the one functioning in San Francisco. As an immediate measure, we call for the Commission to recommend that the city immediately provide effective ADA and Fair Housing training to OPCC/The People Concern staff and extend the existing legal clinic at OPCC/The People Concern to serve not only domestic violence survivors but all clients.

These matters are currently being investigated by journalists at a highly respected public media organization. As citizens of conscience we believe strongly that the degrading, dehumanizing, and discriminatory treatment of OPCC/The People Concern's clients, most of whom have disabilities, must end immediately.

 
 

Reader Comments
(9)

LorennaTaylor writes:

I had a Lori's pet client Gloria sexually harass me to no end!!!!! I was put out and physically threatened by staff in the cold shortly after having neck surgery because of a mix up with staff understanding of TV sign up procedure!!! I witnessed Spirit another pet, washing and brushing her teeth regularly daily then go to the kitchen and prepare then serve the meals!!!!!! Told staff was told to be quite!!!! Witnessed ALL the Christmas donation for us be thrown in the dumpster because Lori said we had too much stuff!!!!!Record will show that she Lori claimed that everything the public donated was infested with bedbugs!!!! B.S. I witnessed 20-30 street people having a great time getting the brand new nice stuff!!!! I personally opened a box, in the box wrapped in individual plastic bags were the dye sweater 👗!!!!! Brand New Michael Jordan clothing!!!! I was forced to protect myself and was later falsely charged falsely imprisoned and cost me dearly!!! No help from them!!!!!

Yeshua writes:

I was a client of OPCC for 7 years. It's HELL. Besides a few showers in a crowded mold rotted bathroom and some sandwiches prepared by people without food handlers certificates & a small locker, I got NO REAL HELP. Just strung along. In and out of jail for being homeless. They've remodeled the showers but see the main restroom has no fresh air. It's rotten with mold under the sink that is used to do laundry. They have laundry services but only the first 4 people to line up at 4am get to use them. In the end the only thing that mattered was the Section 8 voucher. It took them 6 weeks to fill out the application that took only 1 hour. I waited 7 years for 1 hour! They're getting $1.3M a year from the City just to make people wait for years and years while giving away free moldy rotten food from the food bank. The Police Department refuse to write reports for clients of SaMoShel. They leave it all up to untrained staff. That's your elected City Council & tax dollars NOT at work

Yellowboy5 writes:

I was the first one at turning point when it re opened in November of 2015 I was there almost two years before I got housed,during my stay there I felt like I was in jail...being kicked out,put on punishment on numerous occasions was a regular for coming in from work late, or not doing a chore because I had to work, while there were people to do a chore.... It was hell, had to sleep in the rain, some nights I didn't get to eat, or shower after work, only could wash my work clothes once a week... Ugh I can go on and on but I rather not re live that horrible ordeal

Continued writes:

(continued) It ook OPCC one year to start filling out a housing application fo rme. Then it took them two and a half months to fill it out. Per doctor's orders I am not able to go in for my back surgery until I am housed and can recuperate in decent conditions. OPCC has been keeping me hostage for fifteen months and collecting funding for me while I suffer terrible pain. They are not interested in housing me because I am worth more to them when I stay at the shelter. I have seen many people's health, including mine, deteriorate at Samoshel. Especially seniors, disabled people and geriatric clients go through hell at OPCC. No compassion or care. They are The People n-o-t Concerned.

Hostage writes:

I am a disabled senior who worked all his life and is currently homeless. During the 15 months I have lived at OPCC Samoshel I had all my possessions stolen (valuables and irreplaceable documents) and have suffered there with a shattered spine from a slip and fall on shelter premises, with no housing in sight even though I came in with a voucher that was subsequently lost by an OPCC case manager. I have experienced numerous threats to my safety and welfare by other clients, with no protection from the staff or security cameras. Three times I was threatened by staff with being ejected from the shelter for things like peeking trough the kitchen door or other imagined infractions. All my grievances and complaints to staff have been ignored, including a complaint to the Director of Interim Housing Luther Richert. What OPCC markets and collects funding for as a Respite program offers no attendant care. The nurse that works there literally has not asked me once about my broken back - scam!

NOconcern4ppl writes:

I'm traumatized by the treatment I received in this facility. I stood my ground for the woman who was sexually assaulted and was ejected from my living quarters permanently unless I was willing to sleep in a room with 2 women who had physically assaulted me a week before. My case manager shook me awake to say my cubicle was messy, there are coins on your dresser, she said. 1 she can't put her hands on me, 2 the coins was all she had on me cos I'd tidied up. They wanted me out for speaking up on the sexual assault. The people who stole from me and hit me, one time I had blood dripping down my neck, were never thrown out. I ended up living in a bush. My addiction became worse cos of easy access to drugs and the violent people being too scary for me to refuse using. I asked for help with my addiction and they made one call. A staff member stole my blanket and when I questioned her she called the cops and I was put on the street for a night. That is a frequent punishment to be 'put out'.

aintnolimit writes:

Every single thing that was listed as a violation opcc did to me!!! Not only do I have physical proof I have pictures, forms that they filled out and hospital records. Also recorded conversations that they authorized!!! Even the worst things that are listed happened to me my story is unbelievable with opcc if I didn't have physical proof no one would believe me!

notevengoliath writes:

I stayed at opcc lamp community between aug 2017 until january 2018. I was the victim of a hate crime on the property and when reported to case managers and supervisors nothing was done. I was discriminated against they denied me the right to a safe environment while allowing another resident to threaten me with a knife while he made homophobic slurs. I went through the complaint process as best i can tell. On and on. All victims of opcc and lamp community need to unite. WE ARE POWERFUL TOGETHER [email protected]

AllEyesOnYou writes:

Hello. Please help. A seriously mental patient is in danger as her mental episodes continue to become worse while the staff looks on. The homeless woman is staying in the Daybreak Shelter for women and this program is not equipped or trained to help such severe patients. She has daily and nightly screaming fits by wailing, and hysterically crying all night long. She says that somebody is tormenting her, and she is being abused. Dilusional thoughts and self mutilation are signs of a severely ill person. During these episodes, she uses filthy profanities that are so vulgar, they cannot be repeated. The staff at the facility completely ignore this as if they don't hear anything. What is going on? This woman is at their mercy because the program gets her checks. She needs help! A mental hospital. The other people who are also staying here (also have mental issues) are subjected to this nightly terrorizing ,screaming, and crying for hours and the staff does not assist, or try find out why

 
 
 

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