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

By Olga Zurawska
Michael Louis 

On the Day of the Homeless Count: a Question for the Homeless Industrial Complex

Where Is the Oversight and Accountability for Santa Monicans’ Tax Dollars?

 

January 29, 2020

Over the past two years eight lawsuits have been filed by clients and former employees against the City’s sole provider of homeless services, The People Concern. A current lawsuit by a former employee, a case manager, alleges that her supervisor repeatedly asked her and her co-worker to sign various forms and/or applications on behalf of the organization’s homeless clients. These forms included budgeting forms, low-income housing forms, compliance forms, policy and procedure forms and income qualification forms.

According to the complaint, the plaintiff was ultimately terminated from her employment after she protested such requests and developed a stress-related medical condition. The plaintiff alleges that her employers “derive actual and significant monetary benefits by and through one another’s unlawful conduct, and by using one another as the funding source for their own personal expenditures.” Further, the plaintiff alleges that, “Employers (...) hide behind Defendants to perpetrate frauds, circumvent statutes or accomplish some other wrongful or inequitable purpose.”

Another lawsuit by former employees of The People Concern states, in pertinent part, "Defendants created and maintain a lawless, unhealthy, and dangerous environment for both the homeless people they serve, and for front-line dedicated employees such as the Plaintiffs, who were harassed, retaliated against and ultimately discharged for standing up for their right to a workplace free from health hazards and harassment based on race and sex."

Over the past two years current and former clients of The People Concern, have attempted to alert the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the Santa Monica City Council and multiple city commissions about the poor quality of the services they had experienced. These individuals testified multiple times about how housing case management exists mostly on paper instead of practice, and about rampant civil rights violations, including disability discrimination. They testified that grievances and formal complaints filed by both clients and advocates were ignored. They reported abuse and retaliation by staff through withdrawing of vital services such as temporary and permanent housing, filing of false records and police reports, and slander.

The People Concern and the City participate in the cover up of these facts.

In 2017 a journalist attempted to obtain the number of unduplicated homeless individuals served by The People Concern’s Access Center in recent years from Executive Director John Maceri. The journalist did not receive an answer. A Santa Monica resident was told by staff that these figures could be found on their official website, which was in fact not true. The City department handling media inquiries was embarrassed to tell the journalist that they were unable to obtain the requested information.

Poor accountability and lack of proper oversight in social service programs is a concern of all the residents of Los Angeles County. The following is a disturbing example of the joint powers homeless services authority of the City and County of Los Angeles — LAHSA, which funds some of the services in Santa Monica:

“A recent audit of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority “found that, despite having more than doubled its staff of outreach workers in the last two years, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority missed seven of nine goals during the 2017-18 fiscal year and five of eight last fiscal year. (...)”

Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin said the audit which began in 2018, took months to complete,

“(...) partly because getting accurate and consistent numbers from LAHSA has been a challenge. (...)

“(...) The audit also faulted a report by the Authority that it placed 21,000 people into permanent housing last year. Not only did the number include placements made by other agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, it included duplicates by counting individuals or families that fell in and out of homelessness during the year, the audit said.” (Los Angeles Times, August 28, 2019)

Galperin called those results “shocking.”

Following the audit, a Los Angeles Times poll found that the broad majority of Los Angeles County voters say taxpayer money on homelessness is not spent effectively.

On December 2, 2019 Executive Director of LAHSA, Peter Lynn, announced that he was stepping down from his position, amid allegations of deep operational failures within the agency.

As part of the County of Los Angeles, Santa Monica City staff is on record passing the buck to LAHSA in regard to monitoring the performance of the providers. The staff claims that there is no need to monitor the performance because LAHSA is already doing the monitoring.

When advocates brought to the City’s attention the poor results of the LAHSA monitoring review of The People Concern, Santa Monica’s sole homeless services provider, the City just shrugged it off.

At the January 22, 2019 Santa Monica City Council meeting, City Manager Rick Cole admitted that there were problems with The People Concern. Mr. Cole once again conveyed that Santa Monica was following LAHSA’s lead:

“We rely primarily on LAHSA… and yes, they identified discrepancies, problems, issues; and for them to give additional funding to OPCC, they have to beat those findings. Now, if the Council wants us to undertake either in-house or out [of] house additional investigations, we can do that. I understand that sounds like a great idea. And if you want to do that, you want to do that. (...) LAHSA has not cut them [The People Concern] off, and we have not cut them off. (...) Can we do better? Absolutely. If you want us to spend more money on investigations, we will spend more money on investigations.”

Mr. Cole then proceeded to come up with elaborate excuses to dissuade the Council from authorizing investigations. And it worked. No action was taken.

City Manager Rick Cole is essentially saying: LAHSA allows The People Concern to severely under-perform while collecting generous public funding, so we will allow it too.

This is the go-to excuse for The City of Santa Monica not taking responsibility for its own affairs. Except now, it has come to light that LAHSA has profoundly disturbing problems of its own.

Santa Monica Human Services Manager Setareh Yavari during the April 2019 meeting of the Social Services Commission, admitted that City staff does not conduct annual assessments of Human Services grant programs.

Staff merely collects unverified data that is self-reported by the providers, rubber stamps it, and then just writes a check for another grant cycle funding. With no added conditions or expectations whatsoever.

This is despite the fact that the Human Services Grant Agreements state the City will monitor the performance of the providers.

For example, the 2015-2019 grant agreement between the City and The People Concern states, under “City Review of Contractor’s Performance:

“The City will monitor, evaluate, and provide guidance to the Contractor to ensure proper performance of this Agreement, and Contractor shall fully cooperate in such activities. The City’s provision of guidance shall not limit or diminish the Contractor’s responsibilities.”

Input from the community, including the indispensable input from clients, is not sought by the City. Any critical input that manages to reach the City level is ignored, discounted, rejected, or covered up.

In December 2019 the Santa Monica Social Services Commission asked the City Council to remove the Municipal Code requirement for the Commission to perform annual assessments of social services. We are informed that no assessments have been prepared by the Social Services Commission since 1982, the date of the law’s inception. This is based on responses to our public records requests and on public statements made by commissioners. The Commission had been violating the law and no-one cared until advocates brought it to the public attention.

Now the Social Services Commission seems to believe that shifting the responsibility for regular ongoing assessments to City staff is a good idea, even though the staff already admits that they do not conduct annual assessments. Staff claims to be performing professionalized data collection. This is not equivalent to conducting regular assessments.

“Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.

– Clifford Stoll

The Commission’s ongoing failure to comply with the spirit and substance of this Municipal Code has contributed to both City staff and program providers harboring a culture of deliberate neglect and lack of accountability. Maladministration and professional misconduct have endangered the health and well-being of clients. Far too many clients have been harmed (and tax dollars squandered) from easily preventable measures that would have come from public annual assessments.

This lack of transparency and accountability is unacceptable. As taxpayers we must demand that the City create a realistic mechanism for annual assessments of social service programs and agencies. This is necessary to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse of public funding, and prevent harm to clients.

A citywide petition to the Santa Monica City Council entitled “Demand Assessments + Accountability for City Funded Social Services Programs” is currently online at change.org. Please sign the petition by SaMo Residents here:

https://www.change.org/p/santa-monica-city-council-we-demand-assessments-accountability-for-social-services-programs-in-santa-monica

 

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