Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Homeless in Need

Back when we lived in TN, I worked in the banking industry, in the downtown Memphis area. One of the major issues you encounter when working downtown is homeless people. There are signs around asking you not to give panhandlers or homeless individuals money. Some of the homeless shelters "sell" cards that you can buy and handout ensuring the recipient a meal and a bed for a night. This is a program with excellent intentions, as I have seen on multiple occasions, murder scenes outside the bank I worked at, where homeless people were killed when being robbed. Some people aren't comfortable giving money for fear that it will be used for drugs or alcohol, and in some cases that is true, but robbery is probably the largest threat. It is very sad and upsetting to see these scenes and people walking by as if it is just the norm, because it happens so often.

With that said, there is also a huge issue with homeless shelter management. It is on the news frequently across America that especially in this economic situation that donations are down and shelters are in trouble. However, even several years ago when we were in Memphis, the management would be on the news because they were in danger of having their utilities turned off and other dire circumstances. This has not changed, and is not different in Oklahoma. Many people are not inclined to purchase these "gift cards" from a shelter that is in financial crisis itself.

Sunday morning when I was reading the paper, I saw an article in the paper about how the director of one of the primary shelters here, The Jesus House, had to take a huge pay cut to allow the shelter to stay open. This shelter has been in the news frequently due to financial mismanagement, and the accusations are quite frankly appalling. The board ultimately kept the current director on staff, despite the allegations, yet cut her pay from $177,940 to $80,000 and cut her son's (Asst Executive Director) by 10 % to $45,592. I am disgusted that the salary for these positions is so high, even after the cuts. It's not that I think they should work for free, but if you are working to help people who have nothing, and are in danger of losing the shelter because you can't pay the electric bill, you should be ashamed that you can take home a paycheck of such a large amount. I cannot fathom on a moral level, how these salaries were not capped. It is my understanding that they get a base salary, and then take home a percentage of donations brought in. This job is one that obviously requires a passion for helping those in need, and in my opinion, that passion should be your fuel for fund-raising, not the percentage that you get to take home. Also, volunteers and employees should not be allowed to take "loans" from donations. Ever. For any reason. If you need a loan, go through proper channels to get one, do not take money intended for food or shelter for someone in need.

While I do think it is our responsibility to help out those less fortunate in a time of need, I am very careful about where we donate, and I do thorough research. I once attended a board meeting for a Boys and Girls Club fundraiser, where we were raising money to provide free lunches to a local school. Previously they had donated 75% of funds raised to the school and kept 25% for the organization for overhead costs. When I saw the numbers though, I raised questions. The anticipated 25% was well above the cost of running this particular chapter for an ENTIRE YEAR, and they had other fundraisers throughout the year where the same thing happened. I argued my point, and insisted that only a specific amount of the money raised from the project I was participating in be kept for the organization, and the remainder go to the school so that more kids could eat. We ended up donating 97% of what was raised. People CANNOT just sit back and let things go on as they have in the past, just because it is easier, and less confrontational. Doing the right thing is not always the easiest, but it is your responsibility.

Just this week with Thanksgiving approaching, there are so many news stories and blog articles about donating food for the holiday to shelters that do not have the money or food on hand to feed the number of people they are anticipating this year. Can you imagine how much food can be bought with the near ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLAR pay cut that one director alone took. That is a ton of turkey and dressing. What if everyone who took the Sunday paper redeemed the coupons in the paper and combined them with sales to get canned vegetables for $0.10 per can and donated them to a shelter. How many people would that feed. Sparing one dollar would get 10 cans of vegetables, and feed about 40 people.

I donate extra food and household goods that I get when doing my deals at the drugstores, to food pantries or to a different shelter supported heavily by our pediatrician. She donates her services for FREE and accepts these items, as well as children's clothes and toys, and she takes them to the shelter. I do not donate cash to these organizations. If I have extra cash or a gift card I have gotten, that I am able to donate, I prefer to donate anonymously to a person that I know has a need. As individuals, we may not be able to help everyone, but you can help someone.

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