CAPSLO demotions raise questions about agency's homeless services

acornejo@thetribunenews.comMarch 21, 2014 

The Prado Day Center serves homeless people at 43 Prado Road in San Luis Obispo.


The recent demotions of three managers and a restructuring of the homeless program managed by the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County has led to a debate over whether the changes were necessary.

The top administrators of CAPSLO— a nonprofit that oversees homeless services throughout San Luis Obispo County — say the change was the result of an ongoing deficit in funding San Luis Obispo’s two shelters: the Prado Day Center and the Maxine Lewis Memorial Homeless Shelter.

The changes, announced to city and county leaders by email on March 14, have caused concern by some that changes will diminish the services received by the homeless.

On Wednesday, San Luis Obispo City Councilman Dan Carpenter criticized the decision in an email to Biz Stenberg, CAPSLO’s chief executive officer.

“I’m struggling to find a way to understand how this decision actually benefits the community and the clients we serve,” Carpenter wrote. “It appears this action will only exacerbate the current situation compromising the safety of the staff, volunteers and clients themselves.”

The reorganization of the Homeless Services Division changes the job of Dee Torres from a division director of homeless services to a manager. Torres will no longer oversee homeless case management. Those duties were given to Melinda Sokolowski, CAPSLO’s family and direct services manager.

In addition, the two employees who once managed the Prado Day Center and the Maxine Lewis Homeless Shelter were demoted to lead staff members. All three took significant pay cuts.

An administrative assistant position was also eliminated but that person was offered a job in another department.

The demotions were not tied to job performance, said Jim Famalette, chief operating officer of CAPSLO.

“The goal of this reorganization was to not change our services,” he said. “We are still there for our clients at the day center and the shelter, and there were no lay-offs or furloughs. This is hard.”

The changes come as a renewed effort to build a Homeless Services Center in San Luis Obispo is underway. Attorney John Spatafore, who is leading the endeavor to build the new center, said that CAPSLO was under political pressure from both the city and the county—both large financial contributors to the nonprofit—to deal with the program’s deficiencies.

“It is a shift underscoring the need to be accountable, both monetarily and program wise,” said Spatafore. “There has been a need to evaluate the programs for homeless services for years…the program has been freefalling for a number of years.”

Famalette said the deficit of the homeless services program had grown from $12,000 to more than $100,000 in the last four years. The staffing changes are anticipated to fill that gap, he said.

Carpenter said he favors withholding city funding until he’s assured CAPSLO is on the right track.

“Decimating the morale of these employees seems counterintuitive when at the same time efforts are being made to build support for a permanent shelter,” Carpenter wrote to Stenberg.

“I for one will not support the use of taxpayer funds for real property or a building until I see a results oriented provider program in place.”

Carpenter said CAPSLO should reconsider its involvement with homeless services. The nonprofit also provides health and prevention services and child development programs for low-income residents, and operates Head Start programs countywide.

“I understand (homeless services) is a very small segment of the organization and relinquishing those responsibilities to other organizations who are solely committed to serving this fragile population might better serve the community,” Carpenter wrote.

Councilman John Ashbaugh, who sits on the CAPSLO board of directors, said the decision was a personnel matter made by administrators, not the board. But, he said, he supports the changes.

“A large part of this is freeing up Dee to focus more on the clientele on the two sites and leaving the future of the homeless services center to people who can better assist in a delicate set of negotiations,” Ashbaugh said. “There is no one else around here with as much day to day experience with the homeless as she has.”

Torres said she plans to continue working with the homeless.

“My number one mission has always been to serve the homeless to whatever capacity that I can and in the best possible way,” said Torres. “My passion is working with the homeless and I feel blessed to be able to do that.”


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