City Hall is looking to clarify the complaint process for the homeless shelters it funds in response to multiple shelter residents alleging neglect from staff.

City Council heard testimony Tuesday night from clients of The People Concern, which operates three homeless shelters in Santa Monica, before deciding to renew the agency’s $1.6 million in funding for the next two years. Multiple speakers told Council that staff at Samoshel, a shelter near City Hall, neglected the health and safety of residents and did not adequately assist them in finding permanent housing.

One Samoshel resident, David Morris, said staff do not provide sufficient care for residents with medical conditions. He said a longtime Santa Monica resident, Richard Segura, developed a near-fatal leg infection while in Samoshel that staff did not attend to.

“The City is failing its citizens by not addressing these issues and instead handing out more money to this organization,” he said.

After renewing The People Concern’s funding, Council directed staff to develop recommendations on how to handle complaints against the City’s homeless services providers.

City Manager Rick Cole said complaints against The People Concern have been recurrent and concerning, but the City would be hard-pressed to find a better organization to contract with because of the challenges inherent in providing services to a large number of people experiencing homelessness.

“It’s not like we can write a check for $1.6 million to someone else who will come in with seamless services, without complaints, with adequately trained staff who are ready to roll tomorrow,” he said.

Councilmembers said the City should not let concerns from shelter residents go unaddressed but believe it must continue to fund The People Concern.

“Would the people who are saying “do not fund (The People Concern)” be saying “abandon the people who need the help because this is not a perfect system?”,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown.

The People Concern executive director John Maceri reiterated McKeown’s point in an interview with the Daily Press.

“There isn’t an operator that doesn’t, from time to time, have issues that come up,” he said. “We’re in the human services business and there are always going to be times where we can do better. But the notion that our facilities are unsanitary or that we abuse people is simply untrue.”

The People Concern has a grievance process in place already, Maceri said, and Los Angeles County launched a set of universal health and safety standards for shelters in November that includes a standardized complaint process.

“I have no problem with a grievance process from the City, but there are several in place already,” he said.

Olga Zurawska, a former resident of Turning Point, a shelter operated by The People Concern, spoke at the meeting and has spent two years testifying to various City and county agencies about the organization. She said she thinks the City should begin resolving the problems some residents have complained about.

“I was pleased to see the City Council finally engage in a discussion regarding the serious problems with The People Concern that had been reported to the City for over two years,” she said.

“However, the outcome of the discussion is disappointing. The City Council failed to take immediate action that would lead to the improvement of The People Concern’s performance through strict enforcement of the terms of the grant agreement and community oversight.”

madeleine@smdp.com

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