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Published: 11/23/2013 - Updated: 4 months ago

LUCAS COUNTY

Homeless agency overspends about $100,000

Source of missing taxpayers’ funds is unclear, local officials maintain

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Paul Z. Tecpanecatl, member of the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board, during a meeting with the Blade editorial board, Thursday, May 31, 2012. Paul Z. Tecpanecatl, member of the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board, during a meeting with the Blade editorial board, Thursday, May 31, 2012.
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The quasipublic-private agency that oversees homeless shelters and homeless prevention in Lucas County overspent nearly $100,000 of taxpayers’ money, the group’s chairman announced Friday.

Members of the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board think the money was not spent on inappropriate uses, but they are unsure where it went. The source of the missing money also is unclear.

“We feel the money was spent for legitimate homeless sources,” Paul Tecpanecatl, chairman of the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board, said during a news conference.

An independent audit discovered a “major accounting error that led to the overspending of $98,000 in homeless prevention and rapid rehousing,” he said. “It’s important to stress that while no money is physically missing, the specific fund code was overspent.”

Tom Bonnington, executive director of the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board since June 3, declined to release a draft copy of the audit by Leslie DeMarco, a certified public accountant and certified fraud examiner.

The required audit was funded by the homelessness board.

“It cannot happen again,” Mr. Bonnington said. “We track every dollar that comes in by source and when we spend it, [it is] also tracked back to the source where it came from. It is probably more than one individual who is responsible.”

Deb Conklin, the group’s former executive director, contradicted what her former employers said and stressed homeless prevention/​rapid rehousing money could not have been overspent.

“That grant was successfully balanced and closed out,” Ms. Conklin said. “There was no overexpenditure of [homeless prevention/​rapid rehousing] money. That was balanced and accounted for by HUD. ... Somewhere else they must have overspent, but not HPRP money.”

Lourdes Santiago, the city’s neighborhoods director, confirmed the homelessness board owes the city $98,000, but she said it is not because of the reasons stated by Mr. Tecpanecatl.

“It is not because of the homeless prevention/​rapid rehousing,” Ms. Santiago said.“My estimation is they have an overexpenditure in another category. ... I can assure you the HPRP was not overextended.”

The homelessness board has known about the problem since October and alerted the city of Toledo on Wednesday.

The agency used three pots of money since 2009 — $3.2 million of federal money funneled through the city of Toledo; about $700,000 of state money provided through Lucas County, and about $200,000 from the United Way of Greater Toledo — to pay for rents, rent deposits, and utilities of homeless people or people in danger of becoming homeless, Mr. Tecpanecatl said.

“It started in 2009 and went through 2012,” he said. “As the money was spent by us, the city was the fiscal agent for the funds, but the homelessness board was responsible to allocate the money for rental assistance.”

The agency likely spent more than what it could and now wants the city of Toledo to forgive that debt. Mr. Tecpanecatl called it “sloppy accounting.”

“What we have now is an invoice from the city of $98,000 for homeless prevention and rapid rehousing money,” he said.

The homelessness board and the city’s neighborhoods department have been under fire in recent years for their roles in deciding federal allocations for Toledo homeless shelters. The city is the recipient of the federal money, the homelessness board is the subrecipient, and shelters are subsubrecipients.

Toledo mayor-elect D. Michael Collins promised in September to restructure the homelessness board and the city’s neighborhoods department.

“I am deeply concerned and this now reinforces my issues concerning the city of Toledo Department of Neighborhoods and the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board as valid,” Mr. Collins said Friday. “It is the duty of the chairman of that board and its director to provide the Bell administration and council with a full explanation of how this shortfall occurred, where the shortfall occurred, and who is responsible.”

During the mayoral campaign, Mr. Collins blasted Mayor Mike Bell for slashing homeless shelter budgets the past two years and submitting spending plans to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development without Toledo City Council approval. He also criticized the homelessness board for asking shelters to allow overcrowding with people sleeping on floors or cots.

Mr. Collins said he would work to restore a “no wrong-door policy.” That would allow homeless people to arrive at any appropriate shelter and be helped. Currently, people needing shelter must call the United Way of Greater Toledo’s 211 to be placed.

Earlier this month, Toledo Councilman George Sarantou pressed the Bell administration for answers on why Family House, a family shelter in central Toledo, and Aurora House, a shelter for homeless women and their children in North Toledo, are owed thousands of dollars stretching back to July.

A holdup of $10,000 to $14,000 owed to the shelters each month since July 1 appeared to be because of $19 that was spent to cover gas in a bus that carried homeless people at Family House to a Mud Hens game.

Ms. Santiago said the holdup was because of the homelessness board losing an employee.

“They couldn’t handle the job,” she said. “We have our fiscal staff processing the payments.”

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171 or on Twitter @IgnazioMessina.



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