Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Spare change?

Rodney Williams working at one of the United Homeless Organization’s tables in Union Square in New York on Tuesday.

I often wondered about these.

In Manhattan, they are as common a sight as the homeless themselves: the United Homeless Organization’s street-corner donation tables, operated with little more than a large plastic jug and a worker pleading for coins and bills for the needy.

The workers, clad in aprons bearing the group’s logo, are all homeless or formerly homeless, and the organization says that the donations help pay for food pantries, clothing, detox centers and other services. Skeptical New Yorkers who wondered over the years just where the money ended up wondered just as often if they were perhaps being too skeptical.

One begins to wonder: am I being too cynical? too skeptical? Is my heart hard?

Until Tuesday, that is, when New York’s attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, described the United Homeless Organization as a sham. His office filed a lawsuit against the group, alleging that its president, a formerly homeless Bronx man named Stephen Riley, and its director, Myra Walker, used tens of thousands of dollars from the group for personal expenses while failing to provide any services for the homeless.

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