Solano nonprofit executive lived in domestic violence safe house rented from city of Fairfield
SafeQuest Solano, the main provider of domestic violence services in Solano County, allowed an executive to live in a shelter rented from the city of Fairfield for $1 a year.Vallejo Sun, by Scott Morris, June 28, 2023
Cassandra Chanhsy, an advocate who worked for the nonprofit SafeQuest Solano, was doing yardwork outside a Fairfield safe house for victims of domestic violence and rape in early 2021, when she was surprised to see a man walk out. Not only was it unusual to see a man at the safe house, she thought it was empty, as it had been shut down for months. Chanhsy recognized the man as Richard Bruce Paschal Jr., SafeQuest’s business officer, who typically went by his middle name.
“And I’m like, ‘What are you doing here?’” Chanhsy recalled.
“I live here,” he told her.
SafeQuest — which has provided services for victims of domestic violence in Solano County for nearly 40 years — rents the house from the city of Fairfield for $1 per year, according to the city’s contract with the organization. But Chanhsy said she hadn’t worked in the shelter since late 2019, when the organization closed it. Her manager told her and the residents that the shelter was closing because of a plumbing issue, Chanhsy recalled in an interview.
When the Fairfield house closed, Chanhsy and the roughly 10 people who were staying there went to a different safe house in Vallejo. But she occasionally returned to Fairfield as a volunteer when the grass was overgrown or leaves needed raking.
It’s unclear how long Paschal lived at the Fairfield safe house, but three other former SafeQuest employees said they were aware that Paschal lived there. One former employee who requested to remain anonymous said that SafeQuest executive director Mary Anne Branch told her that Paschal was living in the house as part of his compensation. In a brief phone interview, Paschal declined to say whether he ever lived in the house.
An anonymous complaint that was emailed to the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services in May 2022 that the Sun obtained states that he lived there from sometime in the summer of 2020 until March 2021. “No victims were taken in instead,” it states.
Meanwhile, Chanhsy and another victim advocate said the Vallejo shelter was largely empty. One advocate who worked there for a month before she resigned provided documentation that SafeQuest turned away 10 women in that time, saying there was no room when plenty of beds were available.
When operational, the Fairfield house had a capacity of 12 people per night, according to records submitted to the city of Fairfield. An advocate who worked in the Vallejo house said that its capacity was similar. But employees like Chanhsy said those beds sat empty while they worked alone in Vallejo with nothing to do. The organization received hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal and state grant funding, yet a log of late payments obtained by the Sun shows that many employees weren’t paid on time. The records show that the organization at times owed thousands of dollars in back pay and penalties.
The lack of services draws into question a bedrock service for Solano County that governments throughout the county rely on to protect victims of violent crime. SafeQuest has operational agreements to provide advocacy for victims of sexual assault and other services with nearly every police agency in Solano County, the Solano County District Attorney’s Office and Solano County Superior Court.
Millions in funding, few services
Former employees, including Chanhsy, said that the shelters in Fairfield and Vallejo were mostly empty for two years starting in late 2019. Records the organization submitted to the city of Fairfield showed that the safe house there was used very little in 2020 and 2021, even as the city had effectively donated it to the organization for that purpose.
But SafeQuest’s services were particularly necessary in those years as the COVID-19 pandemic drove an increase in domestic violence incidents around the world. A 2021 United Nations report found there was a global “shadow pandemic” of violence against women following stay-at-home-orders. A study by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine reported a spike in domestic violence-related calls to police immediately following lockdown measures in the United States.
According to SafeQuest, there was a 9% increase in instances of domestic violence in Solano County during the first two months of the pandemic. “Meanwhile, shelters, childcare centers, and rape crisis centers are overwhelmed and understaffed,” a 2020 grant application by SafeQuest stated.
The kinds of services SafeQuest is supposed to offer — in particular, emergency housing for people escaping domestic violence and transition services — can also help to prevent homelessness as the region struggles with a crippling shortage of affordable housing.
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