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My Experience Trying to Help One Homeless Man Find Permanent Housing

By Zina Josephs

Regarding the February 23, 2021 City Council discussion of efforts to address homelessness in Santa Monica, I re-sent a letter to the Council that I had written in 2019 regarding "The People Concern" (aka OPCC), which receives City funding and operates SAMOSHEL and other facilities in Santa Monica.

Since I wrote that 2019 letter, thanks to the housing caseworkers at the St. Joseph Center, David Morris, a former longterm SAMOSHEL client, was able to find interim housing at a PATH facility – (People Assisting the Homeless -- https://epath.org/) -- near Vermont Avenue and Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles.

I accompanied David to the intake interview at PATH, and was pleasantly surprised to find the staff well-educated, well-informed, and compassionate -- quite a contrast to the staff at SAMOSHEL.

After living for some months at the PATH facility, which was clean and well-maintained, and which provided hot meals cooked on site for the residents (again, all in contrast to SAMOSHEL), he applied for permanent housing at Silvercrest Senior Residence at 1530 5th Street in Santa Monica, which is operated by the Salvation Army.

The Silvercrest website used to state that they didn't accept housing vouchers in payment of rent.

But through the efforts of advocate Olga Zurawska, the Legal Aid Foundation, and the City Attorney's Office, Silvercrest was forced to remove that statement from its website, as it is illegal in Santa Monica to refuse to accept Section 8 vouchers ("New Santa Monica Law to Prohibit Discrimination Against Section 8 Tenants," May 8, 2015).

After three years at SAMOSHEL, during which time their caseworkers did little to help David Morris, and more months at PATH, he was finally able to find permanent housing.

(Incidentally, the Section 8 voucher program, which is now called the Housing Choice Voucher Program, is a federal housing program that is intended to help low-income families and people with disabilities afford safe, decent housing in the private housing market. President Biden plans to expand the Housing Choice Voucher Program.)

Zina Josephs

***

June 8, 2019

To: Measure H Citizens' Oversight Advisory Board
From: Zina Josephs
RE: 6/12/19 agenda item VI – Public Comment
http://homeless.lacounty.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/06.12.19-COAB-Mtg-Packet.pdf

Dispensing taxpayer dollars to providers without any fiscal accountability or meaningful performance reviews, especially if those providers engage in violations of the clients' civil rights, seems to be a misuse and waste of public funding, or even fraud.

I urge the Advisory Board to recommend the following:

1) effective monitoring reviews -- not just the type of paper shuffling that LAHSA does, with no consequences for repeated negative findings,

2) program oversight which ensures that clients actually receive a) effective housing case management, and b) protection of their civil rights,

3) creation of a “shelter monitoring committee” similar to the one in San Francisco, to provide clients access to objective advocacy, and

4) incorporating the same ACLU recommendations issued for Orange County shelters into Los Angeles County program standards, as the same problems exist in LA shelters.

Below is some correspondence I had with the Santa Monica City Council regarding the experience I’ve had with a client of OPCC/The People Concern, David Morris, who has been living in the OPCC Samoshel tent (transitional housing) for more than two years.

David entered the Samoshel Respite Bed Program as a homeless person with acute anemia (which required four blood transfusions) and then, as a result of a trip and fall on the wet cement Samoshel floor, shattered one of the vertabra in his lower spine. For the last two years, he has urgently needed surgery, but his doctors won’t okay the surgery until he has permanent housing.

Since June 2018, I’ve been trying to help David find permanent housing so he can have the surgery, as I’m worried that he may become paralyzed because of the pressure on his spinal cord.

David has spoken at meetings of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Santa Monica City Council, Social Services Commission, and at other Commission meetings in Santa Monica about some of the problems at Samoshel, including non-compliance with ADA requirements, poor food, lack of cleanliness, insufficient heating and cooling (temperatures ranging from 61 to 80 degrees during the day), a sealed emergency exit, etc., as well as essentially “warehousing” clients rather than working efficiently to find permanent housing for them.

I have attended several meetings with David and OPCC staff, and more recently with David and St. Joseph Center staff. It is like night and day. The St. Joseph Center staff members I’ve met are educated, well-trained, hard-working, and treat their clients in an empathetic manner.

In contrast, OPCC’s Samoshel staff has treated David with disrespect, culminating with their evicting him with only 1½ hours warning, apparently in retaliation for his speaking out in public about the conditions at Samoshel.

Below is a description of what happened the day David was evicted from OPCC’s Samoshel on April 18, 2019.

Yours truly,

Zina Josephs
Santa Monica resident since 1969
Former City of Santa Monica Arts Commissioner
President, Friends of Sunset Park (FOSP)
SMMUSD District Advisory Committee member since 1997
Retired teacher, Los Angeles Unified School District 

***

Sent to Santa Monica City Council and City Manager on April 19, 2019: 

From: zinajosephs@aol.com
To: rick.cole@smgov.net, lane.dilg@smgov.net, gleam.davis@smgov.net, greg.morena@smgov.net, sue.himmelrich@smgov.net, katie.lichtig@smgov.net, anuj.gupta@smgov.net
Sent: 4/19/2019 11:19:52 AM Pacific Standard Time
Subject: OPCC and David Morris

David Morris, who has been in the "transitional" housing program at SAMOSHEL for two years, phoned me Thursday morning (April 18).

OPCC staff members, who usually don't arrive at SAMOSHEL and the adjacent Access Center until 8 AM, called him in for a meeting at 6:30 AM, and told him he had 1 1/2 hours to leave SAMOSHEL.

My understanding is that it is customary to give people 3 days warning.

The staff gave him a 10-day motel voucher for the Pavilions Motel (which was shut down in a police “sting” operation a few years ago).

My understanding is that motel vouchers are usually for 30 days.

While David was taking a shower, the OPCC staff took all of his belongings that were on his cot, under his cot, and in his little storage locker, jumbled them into trash bags, and took the bags to their office.

David called the police and asked for their help to have the 1 1/2 hour deadline extended.  The police apparently wouldn't or couldn't help, but the staff then gave him until 1 PM to remove his belongings, or they would be put out on the sidewalk.

I went over and tried to talk to the staff. They refused to let us in the building, but rather made us stand out on the asphalt to hold the conversation.

The only concession was that, if David didn't remove his belongings by 1 PM, the staff would take everything to the motel rather than put it out on the sidewalk.

I asked the reason for the short deadline. The response was that they didn't have room in the office to keep his belongings.

I asked why they couldn't have left his belongings where they were until he left, since no one else has been assigned to his cot in the Respite Bed dormitory.

The answer, over and over again, was that they "don't discuss program matters." And since SAMOSHEL is a "program" and not a "residence," there are no regulations.

My understanding is that once you live someplace for more than 30 days, you have some rights. But not at SAMOSHEL.

What's ironic is that David had to call the police a couple weeks ago because one of the other SAMOSHEL residents kept threatening him with violence. But David is the one being thrown out, while the other person stays.

Thursday afternoon, David went to the police headquarters to request their help in going back into SAMOSHEL to make sure none of his belongings had been left behind. Several officers went and escorted him inside.

Now the problem is what will happen to David when the 10-day motel voucher ends.

OPCC/The People Concern is an organization that the City of Santa Monica has supported financially for years, with a $1.6 million Human Services grant this year alone.

It is very disheartening to know that taxpayer funds are being used to support an organization that mistreats disabled seniors in this way.

Zina Josephs

***

April 25, 2019

1) David Morris checked with Legal Aid and was told that even with "transitional" housing, he should have received a 30-day warning to exit Samoshel, not a 1 1/2 hour warning to exit.

2) The forced exit was timed shortly after the 2-year deadline for David to file a lawsuit over the trip-and-fall accident that shattered his vertebra. However, I checked with an attorney and was told that if David can prove that OPCC staff tampered with delivery of his U.S. mail, the deadline can be extended to 3 years.

For example, Social Security suspended his payments at a point when they couldn't verify his address. (OPCC staff had apparently returned a letter from Social Security, as if he no longer lived at Samoshel.) He also didn't receive his Medicare card in the mail and had to request a replacement card.

3) David had an appointment at the OPCC Access Center (adjacent to Samoshel) with his primary care physician this week, but was denied entry to the Access Center. (An FOSP member accompanied David, so we know that happened.)

4) The Samoshel resident who read a letter to you (during a recent hearing) that was supposedly signed by 47 Samoshel residents, about how wonderful Samoshel is, seems to have gone off on a drug binge, after apparently borrowing about $500 from various Samoshel residents.

I've been told that he has gone on drug binges before -- in fact, he described to you some of the other non-OPCC shelters where he stayed -- but has always been allowed back into Samoshel. He has threatened David Morris with violence so many times that David finally called the SMPD, and an investigation seems to be ongoing.

5) Two OPCC representatives spoke at the Social Services Commission this week and talked about how brave it was for 47 Samoshel residents to sign the letter praising Samoshel and OPCC.

I'm trying to make sense of that "bravery" because

-- none of the 47 have apparently been threatened with violence,
-- none of the 47 were thrown out of Samoshel with 1 1/2 hours warning,
-- none of the 47 had their belongings tossed into garbage bags while they were taking a shower,
-- none of them had to bring police officers in order to get back into Samoshel to make sure none of their belongings had been left behind, and
-- none of them were denied access to a doctor's appointment.

It seems to me that it requires more "bravery" to be a whistle blower.

Zina Josephs

Zina Josephs has been a Santa Monica resident since 1969 and is president of Friends of Sunset Park (FOSP)


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