Door-to-door "education" - Page 3

Helping the homeless or helping themselves?

"This group has to have one legitimate provider," Boden said. "One pimp group as the basis for all this funding — it's a scam that's as old as poverty."

Boden and Seth Katzman, director of Conard House, filed complaints with the SFPD that the SFHSC was vioutf8g the terms of its charitable-solicitations permit. An SFPD permitting officer confirmed the department had received concerned calls and a revocation hearing was held Aug. 15. Capt. Tom O'Neill said a backlog of work has kept him from releasing the final decision, but his staff has recommended the permit be revoked.

"Find out more before a gift is made," Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer of the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, told us. He said legitimate nonprofits should make their annual report and other financial details publicly available and posted on a Web site.

And at the very least, they should have some flyers. "Not to have any literature available does raise potential concerns in donors' minds," Weiner said. "It is something we encourage people to ask for."

Rotman told us the lack of literature was a fluke and the SFHSC always sends its canvassers out with four packets of envelopes to give to citizens. They're required to knock on 75 doors, so it's easy to imagine they might run out of envelopes.

The BBB also recommends that any such group be overseen by a board that meets three times a year, composed of at least five members, who should not make more than 10 percent of the organization's total take. Rotman told us his board has three members — the IRS's minimum legal requirement — and that he makes $36,000 a year. He could not provide annual reports or financial statements, explaining that the SFHSC is new and has had to rely on partnerships with fiscal sponsors.

Lisa Watson, executive director of the Downtown Women's Center, said her group's 17-member board of directors decided to terminate its relationship with the SFHSC after receiving $30,000. "Our board decided they didn't think the canvassing was the way they wanted to go, because a certain percentage went to canvassing. Only a certain percentage went to us."

The LA Youth Network is the LAHSC's current beneficiary, and director of administration Katherine McMahon expressed satisfaction with the relationship. "We work with homeless teens, and they've been an awesome advocate for us." The group has received more than $600,000 during the past two years.

Both Watson and McMahon said one of the benefits of the relationship with the LAHSC had been access to a new pool of donors, something that can be as important to many groups as money. "It's more than raising money. Its building brand identity," Rotman said. In this case the "brand" is the problem of homelessness. "We have found more than anything that people in the community, based on our canvassing and talking to people one-on-one, there's a general aggression from citizens and residents in the Bay Area towards the homeless." He wants to "talk to people on a one-on-one basis and say, 'Hey look, it's not necessarily what you think.'<0x2009>"

He said they're raising empathy and support for public policy measures and "try to build up a little support for homeless services themselves." The SFHSC now partners with a different group every month, which will receive 15 percent of the net of its canvassing fruits.

"That specific setup, going door to door ... this isn't the way nonprofits in San Francisco raise money," Kisch said. "They're pressing people to give $150 off the street. I would never give anyone that kind of money without more background on them. We were getting 15 percent after expenses. Where's the rest of it going?"