When my wife Catherine e-mailed me earlier today with an article identifying the United Homeless Organization as a fraud, her note read, simply, “No duh.” As someone long dedicated to helping the less fortunate find their way in the world (among other jobs, she’s run a youth homeless shelter and was the director of a summer camp for disadvantaged children), Catherine has always been disgusted by groups like the U.H.O. And, truth be, told, we all should be. For years, this horrible operation has fleeced the homeless of New York Cityâ€”robbing them of money, hope, opportunity and, most important, dignity. I asked Catherine to offer her take on today’s news. Here she goes …
For years I have been plagued by the scene of needy children hocking chocolate bars to supposedly help pay for “football uniforms.” Or well-dressed minority young men and women ringing my doorbell and asking that I buy magazine subscriptions to help pay for college.
What especially gets my ire, however, is the spectacle of men and women from the United Homeless Organization (aka U.H.O.), who stand on street corners and ask passersby to donate change to assist the homeless.
I consider myself to be a giving and compassionate person, but I have steadfastly deemed the practices of the U.H.O. to be harmful, and thus I have never donated my money to such a cause.
What has long bothered me is the warped idea that â€œorganized beggingâ€ can somehow help a person better his/her life. Having worked as a social worker for nonprofits for 13 years, I am appalled at these practices. We, as society, should be building the disenfranchised up with opportunities and resourcesâ€”not belittling them with what amounts to forced begging. Imagine the humiliation. Imagine the rejection. How can the benefit of the money possibly outweigh the undeniable damage?
I have been married to a journalist for nearly eight years, and over that span I’ve been begging Jeff to write an article about the U.H.O., the granddaddy of organized begging. Who are they? Where does all of that money go? Who decided this was the best way to help formerly homeless people to get into the workforce?
Jeff agreed it sounded like a good story, but he never got around to it. Earlier today, Nicholas Confessore of the New York Times wrote this piece, about how, after investigating the U.H.O., Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo deduced that it is just an elaborate fraud.
I wish I could say I’m shocked.
If you’ve spent any time in a city, you’ve inevitably passed someone on the street asking for money. Instead of encouraging organized or unorganized begging by handing out pocket change, try a different tact. Provide an internship, a job offer, food, diapers, strollers, cribs, shoes, books. Better yet, be a mentor … volunteer your time.
Make the most of your donations by finding a reputable nonprofit.
I assure you, you won’t waste a minute wondering whether it was worth it.
The following are three organizations I have worked for over the course of my career. For those looking to help this holiday season, you have my word that these charities are incredibly worthy …
â€¢ Covenant House