An organization with a city contract to provide food and shelter to homeless people has been accused of serving inadequate meals, including spoiled food, and housing some of its clients in buildings infested with mold and without air conditioning.
The West Hollywood Human Services Commission confronted People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) with those charges at a hearing on Tuesday.
Commissioner Jimmy Palmieri said he had heard that PATH residents were served one egg and half pint of milk for breakfast on one occasion, an orange and a cup of water on another and nothing at all on several other days. The city’s contract with PATH requires it to provide three “nutritious” meals a day.
“I don’t look at food as a reward or a gift,” Palmieri said. “Our contract clearly states three nutritious meals a day.”
The city, which has contracted with PATH for 20 years, currently pays the organization $300,000 a year, with an additional $5,000 allocated as “urgent” funds. It cut the organization’s funding by $45,000 in the most recent budget because of complaints that it wasn’t providing proper service.
Anna Topolewski, PATH’s director of interim housing, conceded most of the complaints were true. She said PATH is revamping its kitchen and improving maintenance at its main facility at 240 N. Madison Ave. in Los Angeles.
Topolewski said the poor meals were a result of “staffing problems” that resulted in food not being ordered. “An egg and a half pint of milk is not an acceptable meal,” she agreed. She said a new head cook now oversees food service and that PATH will stock two non-perishable emergency meals, such as canned chili or green beans, per resident.
Topolewski said she didn’t know that anyone had eaten rotting food at PATH or gotten sick. But she conceded that food had spoiled because the refrigerator door wasn’t completely shut. She said a bell has been added to the refrigerator that will chime when the door isn’t shut.
She said the facility’s air conditioning failed because multiple thermostats in the building were constantly being adjusted. She said a lockbox had been placed over each of the thermostats and that large industrial fans were set up in hallways during a recent heat wave while the air conditioning system was broken. Topolewski said she was unaware that mold, which can cause respiratory problems, was growing in the building.
In addition to the Madison Avenue facility, PATH has 70 beds in a building near Fountain and Western avenues and 32 at a building near the intersection of Pico Boulevard and the 405 freeway. Ten beds are reserved there for West Hollywood residents. Topolewski said PATH housed 90 WeHo residents from July 2012 through June 2013 and helped nine find permanent housing. She said 16 WeHo residents currently are living in the PATH facility. PATH also has contracts for services to the homeless with Los Angeles and several other area cities.