City to Fund $669K in Improvements to Samoshel Tent after 25 Years of Neglect
Shouldn't the City oversee the project and ensure the residents are safely relocated?
June 25, 2019
Thanks to community advocacy, City Council approved $669K in funding for improvements to Samoshel - an interim housing facility located on City property, leased and operated by OPCC dba The People Concern.
The facility is a tent that has not been improved by the City or by The People Concern for a quarter of a century. During that time, vulnerable homeless individuals - many of them seniors, disabled or with serious health conditions - have been warehoused, sometimes for years, in substandard conditions complete with mold, at times in temperatures of around 60°F in the winter and over 80°F in the summer, with no ventilation and with poor air quality, including the sewer gas odor.
Many residents refer to the facility as... Samo-Hell. Some questions must be answered now.
Where has our Human Services Manager been over the years to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of Samoshel's 70 vulnerable residents? Ms. Yavari, holding the position for the past seven years, is reported to collect an annual salary and benefits in the amount of over $264K, but she has failed for years to address the outrageous and discriminatory conditions at Samoshel. She has continued disbursing taxpayer dollars to The People Concern knowing their program engages in disability discrimination, among other types of civil rights violations, which are expressly prohibited by the Human Services Grant agreement the City has with the provider.
Where has Executive Director of the People Concern John Maceri been for the past fourteen years? Mr. Maceri was appointed by someone – and it is unclear who – to be a co-chair of Santa Monica's Homelessness Steering Committee.
But it appears that for the past fourteen years Mr. Maceri has been unable to steer the Samoshel tent out of the dark ages of filth, persistent bed bug and roach infestations, and civil rights violations, which made the facility inaccessible to individuals with disabilities. Just a few days ago, the federal Office for Civil Rights responded to a complaint by a disabled Samoshel Respite Bed Program client.
The response reads, "the Office for Civil Rights has determined to resolve this matter through the provision of technical assistance to The People Concern and St. John's Health Center regarding the scope of its obligations under Section 504." For those who don't know, Section 504 is an anti-discrimination, civil rights statute protecting individuals with disabilities. So much for Mr. Maceri's claims before the City Council back in March that his organization does not engage in civil rights violations. His claims at the time met with loud laughter from some members of the public, due to their obvious absurdity.
For over two years we have been raising questions about The People Concern's integrity, qualifications, and fiscal accountability. Why would the City want to entrust the $669K to a homeless services provider to oversee the improvements to a facility located on City land? Why is the City not conducting the work? It seems that Mr. Maceri is not even capable of ensuring that his clients receive housing case management, and now he will be branching out into the business of construction and remodeling? Is the City going to hire a Certified Access Specialist to ensure the rights of individuals with disabilities? Or is Mr. Maceri, who is verifiably under educated on and apparently disinterested in the topic of civil rights, going to be entrusted with that sacred trust? While I support and urge these improvements, I have concerns about how they are going to be implemented and overseen, and how the money will be accounted for, if it finds itself in Mr. Maceri's hands.
For one, the staff report did not mention the projected duration of the extensive work needed to accomplish the improvements at Samoshel, nor did it mention where and in what conditions the 70 residents would be living in during the remodel of the facility. Considering the scope of the proposed improvements, it is hard to imagine that the City and The People Concern would entertain the idea of having the work performed while the 70 vulnerable residents, including medically fragile ones, continue living in the Samoshel tent. This facility includes St John's Respite Bed Program, with beds for patients who have serious health conditions, as well as clients of the County Department of Health Services and Department of Mental Health. There are many residents with various types of disabilities, including PTSD.
Would the City not offer temporary relocation to its non-homeless tenants if the proposed rehabilitation included improvements to the restroom and shower facilities, including tile floors and walls, partitions, vanities, exhaust fans, dryers, and fixtures, installation of new kitchen flooring, as well as heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems, among others?
It is difficult to imagine that the work proposed by the City would not affect the habitability of the Samoshel tent. Dust, mold spores, toxic chemicals, insulation, noise, exposure to electrical wires, etc. are bound to create substandard and hazardous living conditions, especially for those most vulnerable individuals.
I am concerned about the lack of a temporary relocation plan for Samoshel residents. It appears to only be a cost-cutting measure. Let us remember that the need for such extensive improvements to the facility has been caused by the City failing to maintain and improve the Samoshel tent over the past quarter of a century. Consequently, any costs of the temporary relocation of the clients can be justified by the savings the City enjoyed over the past twenty-five years, while subjecting Samoshel clients to unsafe, unhealthy, and substandard living conditions.
Relocating Samoshel's 70 vulnerable residents, including the Respite Bed Program patients for the duration of the extensive remodel is the humane thing to do. It is also necessary to avoid costly legal claims against the City and other entities. All interim housing facilities at ALL times must conform to standards set forth by international human rights law, which clearly establishes the minimum standard of living adequate for health, safety, and wellbeing.
*** part of the above text was delivered as public comment at the 6/11/19 Santa Monica City Council meeting