Homeless shelter director accused of mistreating clients - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Homeless shelter director accused of mistreating clients

Sophina Placencia Sophina Placencia
Jay Ortiz Jay Ortiz
Kim Lizares Kim Lizares
KALAELOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Two hundred people live in the Waianae Community Outreach Kalaeloa emergency homeless shelter. Someone sent an anonymous complaint that the state is now investigating. It alleges there was no hot water in the building for months and there are numerous power outages.

The sender wants executive director Sophina Placencia fired.

"You need to know the details. And the perception is what's killing us right now," she said.

She said hot water does run cool but only when it runs out, and its never off for long periods. She admits the power gets spotty when the system is overloaded, so clients are told to use electricity wisely.

"The message is clear. If you plug it in, unplug it when you leave, just so not to tax the system any more than it needs to," she said.

The letter also accuses her of ordering residents to throw out belongings, pointing to mattresses and other items stacked outside.

Resident Kim Lizares said there is a reason for that.

"They wanted us to put their stuff in so that it would be easier for us to move out," she said.

Plancencia said the units are being refurnished and cleaned. The items outside are unusable or infested by roaches and bed bugs.

"If they were broken, if they were infested, we broke them down and we put them out next to our storage container," she said.

The letter goes on to say Placencia mismanages resident's trust accounts and checks bounce. She said that's happened only a few times in the six years she's been in charge. It occurred when clients tried to cash their checks in a department store.

"I simply told them to go to Bank of Hawaii where we hold our account, or go to a financial institution, a good financial institution that they have an account with to go get it cashed," she said.

A number of residents interviewed for this story spoke highly of Placencia, but did complain about the anonymous accuser.

"They don't want the help from this building. The complaining people, to me that's the people that no need be here," Jay Ortiz said.

"What people got to realize is this is a shelter," Lizares said. "They're here to help us, not to help us stay here a long time."

The shelter receives close to $700,000 in annual state funding.

In a statement, the Department of Human Services said, "The DHS Housing Program Office responded immediately to the May 20, 2013 complaint, and is currently investigating the residents' concerns. Fact-finding includes speaking with the agency and its staff, its board, shelter residents, the complainant, and anyone who could add insight into the concerns raised in the complaint."

"My mom founded the organization, so the accusations, it hits close to home," Placencia said.

She will state her case before the state's Homeless Programs administrator next week.

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