2017-03-17 / Front Page

Free clinic forges ahead

Nonprofit picks up where Under One Roof left off
By Melissa Simon


POSSIBILITIES— The former East County office of the Ventura County Human Services Agency at 2003 Royal Ave. may become the home of an expanded Free Clinic of Simi Valley and other nonprofit satellite offices if the clinic can secure a lease for the property. 
RICHARD GILLARDAcorn Newspapers POSSIBILITIES— The former East County office of the Ventura County Human Services Agency at 2003 Royal Ave. may become the home of an expanded Free Clinic of Simi Valley and other nonprofit satellite offices if the clinic can secure a lease for the property. RICHARD GILLARDAcorn Newspapers Despite recent complications relating to the city’s long-planned Under One Roof project, the Free Clinic of Simi Valley is continuing efforts to bring together more than a dozen nonprofits in a multi-services center in the southern end of town.

Fred Bauermeister, executive director of the clinic, said the nonprofit has been in negotiations with the Ventura County Board of Supervisors since December to move into the building at 2003 Royal Ave., the former East County office of the Ventura County Human Services Agency.

“There’s a lot of forces at play here and now we just have to wait for the time when all the stars line up, everyone is in agreement and then we can execute the lease. But I would say we’re very close,” Bauermeister told the Acorn last week.

The Free Clinic, which has provided legal aid, counseling and medical and dental services to those in need since 1971, was originally the planned anchor tenant for the city’s new Under One Roof building, a project spearheaded by the nonprofit Simi Valley Community Foundation.

The clinic had planned to occupy about half of the city-owned 15,800-square-foot building at 3855-A Alamo St., which was leased by the foundation to house the one-stop human services facility. Fourteen other nonprofits, including the Samaritan Center of Simi Valley, Many Mansions and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ventura County, were to use the remaining space for satellite offices.

But last July, the project hit a roadblock when the foundation discovered evidence of “financial malfeasance” relating to donations, expenses and administration of city-issued grant funds for the Under One Roof project.

After a seven-month investigation by the Ventura County district attorney’s office, 58-year-old Joanne Abruzzese of Simi Valley, the nonprofit’s former executive director, was arrested Feb. 15 on suspicion of embezzling $55,000 from SVCF; she was charged with three counts of grand theft and one count of forgery. She is due to be arraigned April 13 in Ventura County Superior Court.

New plans

Bauermeister said the clinic was saddened to learn of the recent developments with the SVCF.

“It’s hard enough to do a project like this. And then having something like this (alleged embezzlement) lingering in the shadows is just really sad,” the clinic co-founder said. “There was a lot of work that went into Under One Roof, and it’s basically gone now.”

Bauermeister said he hopes opening a multi-services center in the Royal Avenue building will serve as a replacement for the “encumbered Under One Roof project.”

“I’m keeping the other nonprofits who were going to be part of Under One Roof in the loop with what’s going on, and they’re absolutely interested in participating at this (new) center if everything works out.”

Even if all goes as planned, it would take at least a year before the Free Clinic can start a fundraising campaign to cover the building improvement costs, Bauermeister said.

“The first step is to have a tentative agreement with the county that’s economically viable for us. Then we can find out what we’d be responsible for in the build-out,” he said. “Then we have to raise the money before we begin building, because it can’t be done any other way.”

Brian Miller, representative for Ventura County District 4 Supervisor Peter Foy, said the clinic has “a keen desire” to bring additional dental care services to the Royal Avenue building because it is “badly needed” by the lower-income population.

And the community, he said, has expressed a need for a multi-services center like this for some time.

“The goal is to bring in nonprofit agencies that currently do not have a presence in Simi Valley, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters (of Ventura County) and foster care,” Miller said. “Simi residents using these services must travel west to Camarillo and . . . as far as Ventura. Having local offices will increase visibility and access.”

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