Is It Time for a Taxpayer Lawsuit Regarding Homeless Services in Santa Monica?
February 24, 2021
If you are wondering how your tax dollars are spent on addressing the homeless crisis in Santa Monica, do not ask the City as they would likely not be able to answer. They would probably even think it is impolite of you to ask.
The lack of oversight and accountability in homeless services has been brought up to the City's attention by advocates and former and current clients of homeless services for years now. Such inquiries routinely fell on the City's deaf ears or were met with vague blow offs, as if they were out of place amid the homeless crisis surrounding us.
Then, lo and behold, a new scathing state audit released on February 11, 2021, confirmed that regional and local agencies charged with overseeing billions of state and federal dollars to address homelessness do not track where the money goes. But Santa Monica, a self-professed leader on addressing homelessness, will be hard pressed to acknowledge this disturbing fact, or seek to rectify it.
For years advocates and clients have been speaking up about the poor quality of the City's sole homeless services provider, and pet grantee, OPCC dba The People Concern. Allegations have included the warehousing of clients for years in "temporary" shelters without proper housing case management. In one case a disabled senior citizen has been living at Samoshel for eight years. Many have lived in the shelters for more than two years. There are horrid conditions at the facilities. There are civil rights violations such as disability, gender and racial discrimination, as well as retaliation for asserting one's rights. The disturbing issue of avoidable deaths of clients who somehow "fall through the cracks" while being served by the nonprofit, has been presented to the Council and City commissions, but met with indifference as well.
The City's only response has been dispensing more money to the nonprofit organization without any real accountability or effective monitoring mechanisms. Since 2015 the City has not had an RFP process for the Human Services Grants, which also pay for homeless services. Twice now the Council voted to extend the funding for the existing grants for two more years. Thus, the Council gave the grantees, including The People Concern, money for eight years instead of four. Most people call that easy cash. There also appears to be more than a tinge of cronyism here, considering that other organizations – perhaps better ones – have been prevented from participating in the RFP process since 2015.
The City does not monitor the performance of The People Concern, even though monitoring is required by the grant agreement. Pictures of the unsanitary conditions inside Samoshel, the dilapidated tent that has served as a shelter for over a quarter of the century, make one question whether a City staff member has ever set foot at the shelter to perform a basic visual inspection. The semi-annual financial reports submitted to the City by the provider are self-reported. They are never questioned or audited, nor are they available on the City or provider's website for the public to examine. Instead, they are routinely rubber stamped by City staff and more funding is dispensed.
You will be shocked (or perhaps not) to learn that the City has failed for years to perform the mandatory annual evaluation of homeless services along with each agency providing those services, as required by the Municipal Code. To aid this annual review, the City Council may commission an independent audit of the City's funding provided for services to the homeless, but has never chosen to do so.
Similarly, the Santa Monica Social Services Commission has failed for decades to prepare for the Council the mandatory annual report on how the social service programs are meeting the City's social services goals. In fact, Human Services Administrator Margaret Wills has been unable to answer my question, "what are the City's goals for social services?" The then City Manager Rick Cole was unable to answer the question as well. Perhaps, Interim City Manager Lane Dilg can answer it for the taxpayers who foot the bill for the City's social services? Because oftentimes I wonder if effectively addressing homelessness is actually one of the City's social service goals, considering how flippant the City is about dispensing public funding for the cause.
Perhaps Ms. Dilg can also let the taxpayers know what happened to the $690K the Council allotted to the People Concern for the remodeling of Samoshel two years ago? Apparently the remodeling has not started yet, even though the shelter is empty due to the pandemic, and nothing prevents construction from taking place. Human Services Administrator Margaret Willis has been stubbornly refusing to provide an update on the project. So much for transparency.
And where is the citywide grievance procedure for all participants of social service programs that the Council directed the staff to draft in 2019? Why is the City so scared of receiving feedback directly from the program participants, especially from the homeless clients? Perhaps because it would paint a very different picture from the glossy bureaucratic report on addressing homelessness prepared by Ms. Dilg. On February 23, 2021 Ms. Dilg will be asking the Council to affirm and continue the City's approach, which she believes has worked.
If you are a Santa Monica taxpayer concerned about the effectiveness of the City's expenditures on homeless services, you can submit your feedback to item 8A (addressing homelessness) by 2pm on 2/23/21 by emailing [email protected]
2/24/21 UPDATE: A City of Santa Monica representative stated that the remodelling of Samoshel has been completed. This information has not been independently verified.