A Hotline to Die For

 

A California Funded Emergency Hotline is Dead Cold at Night
Pork Barrel Spending at Its Best

In 1985, then California State Assemblyman Pete Chacon created a sweetheart deal for some friends of his who operated a Sacramento-based non-profit called the California Coalition for Families and Youth (now the California Coalition for Youth), which (per findings from a California Public Records Act request) has netted them between $114,000 and $338,000 per year (a total of $5,073,000) in public monies from the State that are ultimately derived from the Federal government's Victims of Crime Act funds. The legislation reads as follows:

"AB 3075 (Chacon) 1985 - This CCFY co-sponsored bill created the California Runaway Hotline to provide 24 hour crisis counseling for runaway, homeless and troubled youth. Signed into law, this Hotline is still operating under the name Youth Crisis Line."

In 1987, Chacon added verbiage to it with AB 743:

"AB 743 (Chacon) 1987 - This measure allows the California Runaway Hotline to seek additional funds and grants from public and private sources without reducing that amount from their appropriation. CCFY supported and the bill was signed into law."

Was Pete Chacon an honest politician? According to a Los Angeles Times article by Daniel M. Weintraud, dated March 3, 1989, "Assemblyman Peter Chacon was paid $7,500 by the California Check Cashers Association last year, more than half of the payment coming on the same day he abandoned legislation to cap the fees that check-cashing businesses can charge their customers, state records show... Chacon said he saw nothing wrong with being paid by a group that would be affected by his legislation." "I believe now that most of them are charging a fair fee," he said after receiving what many would describe as a payoff. Chacon was never asked to comment on why AB 3075 or AB 743 specified that the California Coalition for Families and Youth was to be the only possible recipient for the funds. No one questioned the need for services for runaway children at the time. It was a time of turmoil for children on the street. Adam Walsh had been presumably abducted from a shopping mall. Kevin Collins, the missing first child to appear on a milk carton, was abducted off the streets and thousands of young girls and boys had been coerced into street prostitution by chicken hawks and pimps.

The legislative intent of these bills was to create a safety net for California's endangered runaways, especially at night when other agencies are closed. But then something went wrong. the Coalition staff and board began pouting amongst themslves that the two or three hundred thousands dollars a year they were being given just wasn't enough, and they felt themselves entitled to do only part of the job.

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In 2003, at night, there was a message on the hotline, which stated:

CCY Recording: "Thank you for calling the California Youth Crisis Line, California's 24-hour youth hotline. If this is an emergency, please hang up and dial 911. Our counselors are currently assisting other callers, or, due to budget cuts, we may be experiencing a staff reduction between the hours of 2 am and 7 am. If you are calling during these hours and are unable to reach a counselor, please try calling back after 8 am. If you are interested in a referral for services, please utilize our website www.ccyfc.org. Thank you for calling the California Youth Crisis Line."

Messaging System Recording: "To exit this function, press star. To transfer to your own mailbox, press 1. To transfer to an attendant, press 3.
[pressing 3 got]
Please hold while your call is being transferred. Please dial your mailbox number and press # or press * to cancel and redial your password. Now exiting the system. Goodbye."

But it didn't even do that much. Random calls placed between 2003 and 2011 revealed that the supposed 24-hour lifeline for children went dead anywhere from 10:00 PM and midnight and did not pick up again until 8:50 AM. That left it down between nine and eleven hours per day, every day.

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At other times, the message has said:

CCY Recording: "You have reached the California Youth Crisis Line. Please wait while your call is being routed to the next available counselor.

Messaging System Recording: The mailbox is full and cannot accept new messages. Goodbye."

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As of May 2011, the message states:

"Thank you for calling the California Youth Crisis Line. Your call is important to us. Please hold while your call is being routed to the next available counselor. If the counselor is not available, you will be routed to the Boys Town National Hotline."

And then it hung up on the caller.

So, while there is no money to pay someone to answer emergency calls in the middle of the night and early morning, there is money enough to pay $197,402 in salaries to CCY's executive staff.

According to CCY's website, the hotline is there for youth that are runaways or homeless, suicidal, cutters, victims of sexual assault including date rape, victims of domestic violence or of human trafficking. It also states that they run "a statewide, toll free, 24-hour, confidential hotline available to teens and young adults ages 12-24 and/or any adults supporting youth." But they don't.

Imagine a 12-year-old girl, out on the streets at night, who calls the hotline, only to be disconnected, while a man, watching her, says, "Let me give you a ride," and takes her home for sex. Imagine a 16-year-old, who is contemplating suicide and calls and finds no one there, and this was the only call that he could bring himself to make. Imagine if the caller were your child, your sister or your brother or your best friend.

Note: While CCY did not have enough money to pay for one (aptly-named) graveyard hotline worker, it did have money to totally revamp its website several times. Meanwhile, their coalition members (being outside agencies also dealing with endangered youth) are giving out the CCY hotline number for kids in crisis to call after hours—when there is no one there!

Over the years, CCY has been funded respectively through the California Office of Criminal Justice Planning, the Governor's Office of Emergency Services and the California Emergency Management Agency (Cal EMA). All three of these State agencies have verified that the hotline goes down from midnight till morning. This has been a known issue since at least 2003.

Imagine if 911 only answered during the day. These are children, which the State of California legislature deemed endangered. No other organization is allowed to compete for the money. No oversight has ever occurred. When in 2003 and 2006 government officials learned of the problem, all that was done was for those in charge to say that they would "help them fix the problem." The way to fix fraud is to take the funding away from those committing it, and to file criminal indictments.

According to Ginny Gohr with Boys Town, CCY has had an ongoing agreement with them to answer their overflow and after-hours phone calls. It becomes abundantly apparent that CCY has had no intention or ability to personally fulfill their obligations to State of California.

Nor are there quality services given when the line is active. According to State guidelines "The Youth Emergency Telephone Referral Network Program was designed to connect youth in need of services with the appropriate service agencies. The telephone referral network hotline was set up as a non-threatening, toll-free number, which can be accessed by youth anywhere in the State. Utilizing the hotline, the caller can be patched through to services. The hotline operator can stay on the line to assist the caller with the service provider and may terminate his/her participation once the connection between the caller and the service provider is completed." But random calls to the hotline reveal that hotline volunteers do not have the ability to patch through calls. In fact, one CCY volunteer gave a 17-year-old a toll number to call for a runaway shelter. When the 17-year-old indicated that he did not have money to place the call, she gave him the 800 number to the The Way In, which has a minimum age requirement of 18. Clearly, bad referrals and the inability to fulfill the State's simple requirements can have detrimental and in some cases deadly affects.

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Update: June 15, 2011:

Anne Marie Nielsen, Acting Audit Chief of Cal EMA phones to say that CCY had been caught by their agency and that there will be a monitor assigned to make sure their hotline was active 24-hours a day. No word on whether there would be criminal charges filed, a demand for money returned for unfulfilled obligations, nor indeed whether funding would cease as a result of what was learned; only that they will be met with within two weeks and assessed within two months time.

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Update: June 26, 2011, 4:06 AM:

CCY Recording: "Thank you for calling the California Youth Crisis Line. Your call is important to us. Please hold while your call is being routed to the next available counselor. If the counselor is not available at this time, you will be routed to the Boys Town National Hotline. Please hold while your call is being transferred to extension number 1155."
[ringing]
"Thank you for calling the California Youth Crisis Line. Our counselor is unavailable at this time. Press zero to be routed to the Boys Town National Hotline."

___________________________________________________

Update: July 28, 2011:

We receive an extremely arrogant letter dated July 22, 2011 from David Zocchetti, Chief Counsel, for Cal-EMA, in the least arrogant part of which he states, "We have listened to your concerns and tried to answer your questions. We have also investigated your concerns regarding the activities of the California Coalition for Youth and have taken appropriate follow-up actions. Therefore, the California Emergency Management Agency considers this matter as having been thoroughly investigated and now closed."

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Update: July 31, 2011, 7:00 AM:

Despite Zoccetti's statement that Cal-EMA has "taken appropriate follow-up actions," the California Youth Crisis Line is, once again, left unmanned.

CCY Recording:
"Thank you for calling the California Youth Crisis Line. Your call is important to us. Please hold while your call is being routed to the next available counselor. If the counselor is unavailable at this time your call will be routed to the Boys Town National Hotline."

Messaging System Recording: "Please hold while your call is being routed to extension number 1155."

[rings 6 times]

CCY Recording: "Thank you for calling the California Youth Crisis Line. Our counselor is unavailable at this time. Press zero to be routed to the Boys Town National Hotline. Thank you."

[pressing zero does nothing]

Messaging System Recording: "At the tone, please record your message. When you finish recording, you may hang up or press 1 for more options. To send a fax press 4 now."
[Pressing 4 does nothing, though how many youth in crisis want to send a fax?]
"To leave a callback number press 5."
[Pressing 5 does nothing]
[Beep]
"We didn't get your message either because you were not speaking or because of a bad connection. To disconnect press one; to record your message press 2."
[Pressing 2 does nothing]
"We didn't get your message either because you were not speaking or because of a bad connection. To disconnect press one; to record your message press 2."
[Pressing 2 does nothing]
"We didn't get your message either because you were not speaking or because of a bad connection. To disconnect press one; to record your message press 2."
[Pressing 2 does nothing]

Teenage Girl's Voice Randomly Caught on the Recording: "Hey."

Messaging System Recording: "Unfortunately the system could not process your entry. Please try again later. Goodbye."

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In 2010, Heather Dearing, Executive Director of The California Coalition for Youth, received $83,195 in salary, nearly one-fifth of the organization's total revenue for the year. In fact, roughly 60¢ from every dollar goes towards salaries.

In 2009, Catrina Holmes of Palo Alto, California, 13, committed suicide by stepping in front of a moving train. Catrina was just one of thousands of California teens who have ended their own lives.

Catrina Holmes, who may have even tried to call the Heather's crisis line (no one will ever know) was laid, lifeless and cold, on a slab in the county morgue.

With her crisis line down for the night, Heather Dearing went home to a comfortable bed.


from Heathers

On February 23, 2012, Republican California 32nd District Assembly Member, Shannon Grove introduced a bill to both codify the 1984 statute and make the money competiitive (AB 2186), but was shot down by Democrat Caifornia 24th District Assembly Member, Jim Beall, Jr., whose claim to fame is his proposal to raise California's tax on beer from two to thirty cents per can. The Assembly Committee on Human Services, through which Grove's bill passed, and of which Beall is chair, was told by both Dearing and Cal-EMA that, yes there were problems with the line in the past, but that it was an equipment glitch that was quickly repaired. Beall had all language in the bill removed that would have potentially taken away the contract from CCY. The cost, he claimed, of making the money competitive, would be unaffordable.

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On June 15, 2012, a counselor for the CCY hotline said it was "inappropriate" to ask how many hours CCY workers actually manned their hotline.

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Update: May 19, 2012, 5:40 AM:

CCY Recording:"Thank you for calling the California Youth Crisis Line. Your call is important to us. Please hold while your call is being routed to the next available counselor. If the counselor is unavailable at this time your call will be routed to the Boys Town National Hotline. Thank you."

[rings 6 times]

CCY Recording:"Thank you for calling the California Youth Crisis Line. Our counselor is unavailable at this time. Press zero to be routed to the Boys Town National Hotline. Thank you.

[Pressing Zero does nothing]

Messaging System Recording: "The mailbox is full and cannot accept any messages at this time. Goodbye."

___________________________________________________

Update: June 23, 2012 3:40 AM through 6:58 AM (gave up trying to call) June 23 11:35 AM; June 26, 2012 5:32 AM:

CCY Recording:"Thank you for calling the California Youth Crisis Line. Your call is important to us. Please hold while your call is being routed to the next available counselor. If the counselor is unavailable at this time your call will be routed to the Boys Town National Hotline."

[rings 1 times]

CCY Recording:"Thank you for calling the California Youth Crisis Line. Our counselor is unavailable at this time. Press zero to be routed to the Boys Town National Hotline. Thank you."

[The system then immediately states:]

Messaging System Recording: "The mailbox is full and cannot accept any messages at this time. Goodbye."

At 8:30 AM, June 23, 2012, a different recording came on:

CCY Recording:"Thank you for calling the California Youth Crisis Line. Your call is important to us., however, at this time we are unable to answer your call. If you are a youth in need with family, runaway or homeless issues, please press 1 for the National Runaway Switchboard. If you are in need of youth or adult crisis counseling, please press 2 for the Boys Town National Hotline. If this is a medical emergency, please hang up and dial 911. Thank you.

[Pressing 2 connected the call to the Girls and Boys Town National Hotline, where there was a more than 30 minute hold with "jiviin" music before anyone picked up the line. Calling without pressing a number caused the message to repeat twice, followed by:]

CCY Recording:"Thank you for calling the California Youth Crisis Line, California's 24-hour hotline for youth and parents in crisis. Our counselors are all currently assisting other callers, and we are redirecting our overflow calls to our collaborative partner, the National Runaway Switchboard. Please stay on the line while we connect you."

Then it would hang up on the caller.

June 23, 2012, 8:40 PM: When asked how many hours their hotline was staffed, the CCY counselor replied, "Twenty-four." When asked how many hours their hotline was staffed by their own personel, she again repled, "Twenty-four." Perhaps she means that they are staffed 24 hours a week, not 24 hours a day.

___________________________________________________

On June 29, 2012, after repeated attempted contacts wtih numerous board members of CCY, Walter Phillips, Chairman of the Board of CCY and Executive Director at San Diego Youth Services (Heather Dearing's take-home pales in light of his $160,584 salary) phoned to acknowledge that he had read this article, but that he "disagreed" with all that it had to say. No one else, he maintained, has ever found fault with how CCY operates its hotline, and that it is staffed 24-hours a day without fail. Phillips stated that his fellow CCY board members shared his opinion and that he welcomed an investigation by the FBI regarding allegations of fraud and misuse of Federal funds.

Update: June 29, 2012 from at least 6:58 AM—8:58 AM, and July 1, 2012, 4:25 AM:

CCY Recording:"Thank you for calling the California Youth Crisis Line. Your call is important to us. Please hold while your call is being routed to the next available counselor. If the counselor is unavailable at this time your call will be routed to the Boys Town National Hotline. Thank you."

Immediately follows:

Messaging System Recording: "Welcome to the message management system. Please enter the number of the person for whom you wish to leave a message. If you want to access your own mailbox, please press pound.

"Please enter the number now."

"It is only possible to use this system if you have a touchtone phone."

"Please enter the number of the person for whom you wish to leave a message. If you want to access your own mailbox, please press pound."

"Please enter the number now."

"It is only possible to use this system if you have a touchtone phone."

"Please enter the number of the person for whom you wish to leave a message. If you want to access your own mailbox, please press pound."

"Please enter the number now."

"It is only possible to use this system if you have a touchtone phone."

"Unfortunately, the system cannot process your entry. Please try again later. Goodbye."

Update: July 5, 2012

According to Michelle Church-Reeves, a lawyer in the Cal,-EMA Public Records Act Office, despite alerts to nearly all of the Cal-EMA staff, since our May 2011 reporting of the California Youth Crisis Line's automated hotline hanging up on callers, there has been no investigation into CCY's activities or lack of services.

Update: November 3, 2012 at about 6:00 AM:

CCY Recording:"Thank you for calling the California Youth Crisis Line. Your call is important to us. Please hold while your call is being routed to the next available counselor. If the counselor is unavailable at this time your call will be routed to the Boys Town National Hotline. Thank you."

Rings 5 times:

CCY Recording:"Hi, you've reached the California Youth Crisis Line scheduling phone. If you're calling this phone to leave a message for general schedule change, which is vacation or school or work, then you need to find a replacement counselor and call us back and let us know who that will be. If this is a youth or an illness or emergency, then staff will try and find a replacement for you. The schedule is very important for us to maintain complete coverage, and we trust you will get all those changes to us, and appreciate your time and energy. Take care."

Messaging System Recording: "At the tone please record your message. When you have finished, you may hang up or press one for more options. To send a fax, press 4 now. To leave a callback number, press 5."

Beep.

"We didnt get your message either because you were not speaking or because of a bad connection. To disconnect press 1. To record your message press 2."

'We didnt get your message either because you were not speaking or because of a bad connection. To disconnect press 1. To record your message press 2."

'We didnt get your message either because you were not speaking or because of a bad connection. To disconnect press 1. To record your message press 2."

'Unfortunetly the system cannot precess your entry. Please try again later."

'Exiting the system."

'Goodbye."

Update: January 27, 2013 at about 6:40 AM:

The Boys Town National Hotline answered after about three minutes Conversation with youth caller as follows:

"Boys Town National Hotline."

"I was the calling the California Youth Crisis Line..."

"No, sorry. Good luck."

Click.

NOTE: WE DO NOT TEST CALL THE LINE REGULARLY. THE ABOVE MERELY REPRESENTS RANDOM TEST CALLS.

From 2006-2009 CCY spent more than half a million dollars lobbying to influence how laws are written (or in some cases, how they are not). AB 3075 and AB 743 remain uncodifed statutes, buried within the statutes of 1987 and 1985. But they assure that money continues to funnel into CCY to fund a 24-hour hotline that by proven performance does not operate 24 hours. Lobbying assures that enough politicians are influenced so that this will not change.

Nor is there answer or accountablity from either Heather Dearing or Cal-EMA. For the Cal-EMA staff to censure CCY at this late date would mean admitting that they themselves were not doing their jobs for nearly a decade. To wit, Cal-EMA's site assessment of CCY, dated July 27, 2011, reads, "[CCY's] awareness of the homeless problems and barriers facing youth is phenomenal." Indeed, but awareness is not the same as intervention. It goes on to say that "staff morale is exceptional." Well, of course—they only work two-thirds of the time they're supposed to. But everything is fine... so long as it looks good.

CCY's kneejerk response was to block our number to try and prevent us from us from determining how extensive their failure to provide the services they are required to do really is. They most certainly didn't do it because it interfered with their calls. After all, we didn't reach anyone to be able to interfere. When asked why no lawsuit was filed by CCY against Fried Marbles or the author of this article, Walter Phillips calmly stated, "We have more important things to take up our time.

And indeed they probably do. Spending all that money their administrative staff is paid is not an easy undertaking—but that is a rather bad choice of words, considering that some children may have already died as a result of their dereliction. The fact of the matter is, CCY cannot sue. Defamation does not exist where only the truth has been told, and, besides, a lawsuit would bring the facts out into the open. And that would be a bad thing for them where their money is concerned. To hell with the children who have gotten hung up on. Heather needs a new pair of shoes.

On February 11, 2013, Dearing slept down from her post. Following in her path of sleep came Paul A. Curtis. "Paul comes with over twenty years of experience working in both the for-profit and non-profit world in Sacramento. He has an extensive background in developing businesses, non-profits, community programs and partnerships;  directing fundraising, public relations, marketing, and public advocacy efforts; and building strong relationships across the non-profit, for-profit and government sectors. He has been very active in empowering and mentoring youth, especially among LGBT homeless and foster youth." [from the CFY website] Straight on, Paul, but unfortunately...

Update: August 24, 2013 at about 5:45-8:30 AM:

CCY Recording: "Thank you for calling the California Youth Crisis Line. Your call is very important to us. Please hold while your call is being routed to the next available counselor. If the counselor is unavailable at this time, your call will be routed to the Boys Town National Hotline.

Rings 4 times:

Messaging System Recording: "I'm sorry, the person you are trying to reach has a voicemail that has not been set up yet. Please try your call again later. Goodbye."

Update: May 22, 2014 at about 2:45 PM:

My Friend's Place Recording 1 (888) YOUTH 50: "Hello, and thank you for calling My Friend's Place. The mission of My Friend's Place is to assist and inspire homeless youth to build self-sufficient lives. If you are a young person in need of assistance, please press 1 now."

We pressed 1.

My Friend's Place Recording 1 (888) YOUTH 50: "If you are a youth in a life-threatening crisis, please hang up and dial 911. If you are a young person calling outside our business hours, and are in need of resources, please hang up and dial 211. Or, if you are a youth in crisis, press 4 to be connected to the 24-hour California Youth Crisis Hotline at 1 (800) 843-5200
."

We pressed 4.

System Recording: "Your call cannot be completed"

The system then hung up.

It is unfortunate that calls are referred to the California Youth Crisis Line. This is just one more example of how their services are not sufficiently in place, and can actually do harm.

Update: July 25, 2014 at about 2:15-4:30 PM:

is a campaign organized by Sears and endorsed by Khloe and Kim Kardashian and Kris Jenner. On the home (and apparently only) page, it says, "if you need help now, please call (855) 201-2121, or text 2120 with the keyword '121help' or visit www.121help.me." We tried calling. A recording answered:

"You have reached 121 help. We're glad that you called. If your call concerns child abuse, press 1 now. Otherwise, stay on the line, and a counselor will be with you shortly."

We waited on hold for two hours, fifteen minutes until we finally gave up.

121help.me is run by a Chicago-based organization that calls itself the North American Alliance of Child Helplines or NAACH. And who is the treasurer and who is the secretary on thier eight member board of directors? None other than, drum roll please...

drum

Heather Dearing and Paul Curtis, who is the new Executive Director of the California Coalition for Youth.

And although, the North American Alliance of Child Helplines describes itself on its website as "a registered charity in the State of Illinois," our search on the Illinois Attorney General's website's Charitable Database Search yields no results; nor does a charity search on the IRS website or Guidestar or Charity Navigator display any nonprofit so named.