LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Jeff Dietrich and his kitchen crew prepare about a thousand meals a day at this soup kitchen in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles, feeding the homeless using money collected from small donations.
But CBS2’s David Goldstein found thousands of taxpayer dollars earmarked for the homeless spent on food for executives, plus furniture, gift cards,and even a $3,300 holiday party.
The L.A. Homeless Services Authority is a public agency that coordinates federal and local money to help the poorest of the poor.
But Goldstein’s investigation found the agency is also helping itself to plenty of perks: Credit card statements showed thousands of dollars were spent on staff breakfasts and lunches and executive catering.
All told, more than $5,600 in taxpayer money was spent on food from January 2015 through July 2016, and while the meals themselves weren’t extravagant, this is an agency funded with public money to help people starving on the streets who would love any one of these meals we found charged to executives.
“There’s absolutely no excuse for this, absolutely no excuse for this,” said Jay Handal, chairman of the Westside Neighborhood Council and a homeless advocate. “This is not what we should be spending our money on, especially when people are living in boxes.”
Goldstein also found taxpayer money being spent on expensive office furniture, including corner chair, a mango antique brass table and an entryway bench, more than $1,600 in total.
Plus 41 pairs of hiking boots for staffers who work on the streets. But not just any boot – high-end Vasque performance hiking boots, some costing as much as $165 a pair.
The agency also used taxpayer money on TAP cards for employees, paying nearly $79,000 for their public transportation to and from work.
And then there’s that holiday party. Staff got to choose from two salads, three main courses and a dessert, all costing more than $3,300 in all.
They also bought 170 $25 Target gift cards for the staff listed as an annual reward, totaling more than $4,200
“It could be better spent with gift cards for the homeless so they could go in and get a hot meal, as opposed to living out of a dumpster looking for their next meal,” said Handal.
The grand total of all these items? Almost $100,000.
Peter Lynn, executive director of LAHSA, defends the spending, saying some of the food is catered during training meetings that run through lunch.
The holiday party? For employee morale, according to Lynn.
And the boots?
“A hundred and forty-nine dollars is not that expensive for a pair of boots for staff who are going to be using them pretty hard-wearing,” he said.
After a fire in their high-rise last year, LAHSA employees worked long hours without pay, Lynn said, and the gift cards were a reward.
“You think the money is better spent on your employees than the money going to a homeless shelter,” said Goldstein.
“Dave, both of these things are important,” Lynn replied. “It’s not an ‘either-or’, it’s an ‘and’.”
Goldstein also found charges for items that documents say went to the homeless, like bottles of water.
And the agency administers millions of taxpayer dollars to organizations that provide food and shelter. But advocates say every little bit helps, and even $25 gift cards can make a world of difference to someone on the streets.
The agency isn’t breaking any rules as far as Goldstein could tell.
It maintains the gift cards were a one-time event. But the holiday party that has been a yearly tradition as of right now is still scheduled.