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Increased Call for “Accountability” of City-Funded Shelter and Services for Homeless

 

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

May 9, 2018 -- A trail of complaints from the county, the state and people claiming abusive treatment has spurred a call for “accountability” and new monitoring of City-funded shelters and services for Santa Monica’s rising homeless population.

The requests apply to service providers of homeless services in general in Santa Monica, although much of the concern centers on the Ocean Park Community Center (OPCC), now called The People Concern, a major presence in the city on issues involving people in crisis.

As the City Council continued on Tuesday deciding how to use about $1.8 million in federal funds for community groups helping the needy, including the homeless, two local organizations asked the City to step up its scrutiny of groups seeking the bounty.

The Council approved the item with no comment.

Friends of Sunset Park and the Pico Neighborhood Association said the City should establish a “minimum standard of care” ordinance for local providers of homeless services, create a monitoring committee and begin collecting feedback on the providers directly from participants.

The City needs “to give serious consideration to the feedback and concerns expressed by former and current clients of the homeless service provider the City funds, namely OPCC dba The People Concern,” the PNA said in a letter on Tuesday’s agenda item about distribution of federal funds.

In a packet of information delivered to the council, the Friends of Sunset Park said OPCC has racked up a long list of violations regarding “outcomes” and the handling of money issued after being observed by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) in 2017.

The calls for more scrutiny are the results of complaints from some former OPCC clients about mistreatment made before City commissions, including those focused housing and homelessness, social services and disabilities.

According to its website, OPCC has been in existence for half a century and provides a wide-range of services, from shelters to health care and mental health care services.

Headquartered in Santa Monica, the non-profit group says it is the largest social services agency on the Westside.

Its most recent financial statement, from the 2015-2016 year, showed OPCC receiving $6.6 million from government agencies. Its revenues totaled about $13.5 million.

In a complaint filed with the City Attorney last month, Olga Zurawska said OPCC had been operating facilities and programs “for years and decades” without obtaining licenses.

She also included her statement before the City Housing Commission in November of 2017, in which she said OPCC showed “reckless disregard for fair housing laws, disability rights and clients’ civil rights.

Most of its services “are below the reasonable standard of care, delivered by untrained and under-trained, often unfit and abusive staff,” she said.

"It is also a tremendous amount of donor and taxpayer money going down the drain,” Zurawska said.

Copies of reports by LAHSA in 2017 show OPCC failed to sufficiently document the “outcomes” of its patients, did not meet “performance targets,” failed to maintain internal financial controls to prevent “misappropriation, misstatements and misuse” of money and failed contractual requirements at the federal, state and local levels.

In addition, the California Department of Health Services in May of 2017 also said Turning Point -- one of OPCC’s operations -- was advertising and presenting itself as an “alcoholism and drug abuse, recovery and treatment center” without a license.

According to the Friends of Sunset Park’s board of directors, the City provided OPCC / The People Concern with funding of $1.6 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year, another $1.5 million in 2016-17, and $1.5 million again in 2017-18.

The group is recommending the City adopt an ordinance requiring minimum standards for homeless shelters like the one adopted in San Francisco a decade ago, and a shelter monitoring committee, which it said the City and County of San Francisco established in 2004.

 


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