SLO council rejects allegations that CAPSLO stole from homeless

acornejo@thetribunenews.comFebruary 6, 2013 

The San Luis Obispo City Council has affirmed its support for Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County and publicly dismissed a local news website’s allegations that the nonprofit was pilfering money from homeless clients.

The council Tuesday night gave $125,988 to CAPSLO in federal grant money to operate the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter and to help pay for the design and construction of the proposed homeless services center on South Higuera Street.

Several council members also defended CAPSLO, which administers homeless services throughout the county, after several public speakers said the city should not give the nonprofit money because a story published by CalCoastNews alleges the group embezzled money from some homeless clients.

“Its credibility to me is no good,” said Councilman Dan Carpenter of the news site.

Carpenter said he had repeatedly asked CalCoastNews reporters for factual evidence when misdeeds have been alleged of public officials or entities. None had ever been provided, he said.

“I’ve told them again and again that if you have something, show me,” said Carpenter on Wednesday. “I can’t do anything based on hearsay.”

Karen Velie, who co-founded the site with Dan Blackburn, said Wednesday that they stood behind the accuracy of the story about CAPSLO, which was published Monday.

Velie told The Tribune that Carpenter said he would not look into allegations about the mishandling of finances by CAPSLO until proof was provided by law enforcement.

However, on Wednesday, Carpenter said he would have considered any evidence — provided by Velie, homeless clients, staff or anyone else — but had not been given such.

Councilman John Ashbaugh, an advocate of the new homeless services center, read aloud during the Tuesday council meeting a letter from Biz Steinberg, chief executive officer of CAPSLO, that was emailed to the council prior to its meeting.

“We categorically deny the misleading statements made about CAPSLO’s homeless operations and challenge anyone to provide any factual information to the contrary,” wrote Steinberg. “These disparaging attacks on Ms. Torres and CAPSLO are not new, and we believe they are perpetrated with the sole intent of trying to focus funding support away from CAPSLO to other less qualified and unmonitored groups.”

Dee Torres, the homeless services coordinator for CAPSLO, told the council that allegations in the story were “absolutely false.”

The city has a long history of giving money to the nonprofit for homeless services and recently made addressing homelessness a top priority for the coming two years.

The city has given CAPSLO $125,000 in federal grant money over the last three years toward the design and construction of the controversial homeless services center.

The location of new center has sparked a political battle, with the effort to build it at a standstill.

The money allocated to CAPSLO for the homeless services center, although specified for the location on South Higuera Street, can be used for a project design at an alternate location.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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