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by Janet C. Phelan
Monday, May. 09, 2005 at 11:42 AM
firstname.lastname@example.org (310) 755-4469 P.O. Box 2941, Venice, CA 90294
The second in a series of articles concerning targetting of the homeless.
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Ocean Park Community Center, the social service agency set up to service the needs of Santa Monica's homeless population, has now set its sights on destroying the lives of those it is its mandate to help.
This is only one person's experience of harm visited on her by that agency. It is my intent that you read this not as a complaint, but as an expose of corruption and virtual assault on my attempts to rehabilitate my situation. This report is highly personal, but as OPCC receives both public money and private donations, the true nature of their activities needs to be made public.
I arrived at OPCC in January of 2003. I have been a journalist for over twenty-five years, and have written for the Los Angeles Times, the Long Beach Press Telegram, Santa Monica Daily Press, Oui Magazine, and other national and regional publications. I have a graduate education in Journalism from University of Missouri-Columbia. My efforts had aroused alarm under the current administration, and I was hit with the Patriot Act. In a nearly unprecedented amount of governmental retaliation, my apartment, bank account, car and all assets were seized for my efforts to expose domestic carnage under the Bush administration. For further explication, please refer to "Public Extermination Project" and "The War Comes Hom" (sic), both available on la.indymedia.org.
My first case manager at OPCC, Montral Futch, reported to Joel Schwartz, the Homeless Coordinator at Santa Monica City Hall, that he had made an attempt to secure a Section 8 voucher for me. In fact, Futch had refused to do so, and I had contacted a private attorney, Jeff Lustman of Los Angeles, to assist me in that matter. Futch left the agency shortly following my complaint, but the lies and sabotage continued.
I had been the recipient of certain government benefits. The agency had reported to me that I had received an overpayment. This was inaccurate, and I had requested my new case worker, Cheri Valdez, to accompany me to the agency for a meeting. She promised she would and the appointment time was set, two weeks ahead.
Two days before the meeting, I re-contacted Valdez to ascertain our appointment. She informed me flatly that she would not accompany me. Concerned, I approached acting manager Cherry Castillo. She informed me that OPCC does not do benefits advocacy. This is untrue. OPCC regularly accompanies clients to governmental offices to advocate for their benefits. In fact, the mission statement on file at City Hall stipulates benefits advocacy as a primary service of OPCC.
I walked into the agency alone, and was stripped of the lion's share of my benefits.
Monetarily desperate, I applied for food stamps. A couple of months later, I began to receive income from a family trust fund. I immediately contacted DPSS and informed my worker to stop my food stamps. She asked me to fax over my request for food stamp termination.
This is a legal obligation. Receiving food stamps when one receives other income can be considered fraud, which may be punishable by imprisonment.
I gave the letter to receptionist Courtney Reed to fax. I requested a fax confirmation. She refused to supply one, but assured me it went through.
It was not received by my worker.
I requested re-faxing by Reed. Once again, she assured me the fax was transmitted.
Once again, it was not received. When I brought this to the attention of Cherry Castillo, she fished out of the trash a fax memorandum which stated non-receipt.
I then simply bused over to DPSS, handed the letter to my worker, thereby fulfilling my legal obligation.
The trustee for the fund had informed me that I would be reimbursed for my receipts. I was to fax copies of receipts for expenditures to Trustee Melodie Scott, and she would issue checks to cover what I had paid out, after proof I had exhausted my now tiny monthly income of 6.
Caseworker Gervis Reed (Courtney's mother) was to take care of the faxing. A weekly appointment was set upt for this purpose. She did not show up for the first two appointments, and did not contact me to inform me she was unable to keep the appointment. I met again with Castillo, and we set up a contract for weekly appointments, signed by Reed and myself.
I noticed that Castillo was making notes that were not reflective of my statement--i.e., that I was not interested in shelter when I was in fact very interested in shelter. I then requested to tape record our conversations, so that there could be an objective record. She refused.
Reed was unable to abide by the contract. She was xeroxing the receipts in such a way that the totals were in many cases unreadable (see Attachment). When I brought this to her attention, she began to engage in verbal denigration. Sharon Jordan, who had just been hired as the new manager, agreed to do the faxing until a more adequate case manager could be found.
Jordan took care of one set of faxes, but did not keep the appointment for the next week.
This trust is now my income, and a human being cannot survive too well in this country without money. I consider these activites on the part of OPCC staff to be damaging to my welfare.
Unfortuntely the harm has been more than monetary. Several months ago, a 6'4" man, completely unfamiliar to me, came up behind me in the lobby and struck me with great force on the arm. I sustained a large purple bruise. His actions were witnessed by several volunteers. The security guard, Lance, who was four feet away from us at the time of the assault, simply said, "Stand back from her."
OPCC has a "zero tolerance for violence" policy.
In a subsequent meeting with staff member Cherie Harper, I advised her that simply ordering a violent man to "stand back" might not be sufficient protection.
There were no sanctions issued against the man. A few days later, he strode into the agency lobby and started beating me again.
When I attempted to notify Cherie Harper, she said she was "too busy" to either hear of the incident or to recieve the written summation I offered her.
I also need to state I am not in a shelter. I have requested several times to be put on the list for Samoshel, the shelter at 505 Olympic, but case manager Gervis Reed did not put me on the waiting list. Therefore, I sleep outside. I am fifty-three years old, weigh in at 118 pounds, and am of course at risk for rape or physical attack.
Samoshel provides shelter depending on placement on the waiting list. Samoshel shelters ex-felons, pedophiles and recovering addicts, among others. I have no history of substance abuse and no criminal record. However, OPCC has seen fit to further endanger me by refusing to put me on the waiting list.
The final incident, which occurred last week, has prompted me to publish this report, and now involves an abridgment of my free speech rights.
I was walking out of OPCC on May 3 when I ran into an acquaintance of mine. I have known David Moreno for 2 1/2 years. He is an undercover cop. We were chatting when Lance walked up and directed me not to speak to him. Taken aback, I informed Lance that this was a private conversation and he need not involve himself. He insisted we stop conversing. I reiterated it was not his concern.
At that point he told me to leave the premises. As so many other of my rights have been violated by OPCC, I do not take kindly to being directed when and to whom to speak. There had been no profanity and no elevated timbre in my conversation with Moreno.
I left the agency as directed, tossing back an "expletive deleted."
I am now banned from the premises for six months.
Thank God. What other damage could they possibly do to me?
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