Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Charity Refuses to Show Proof of Housing Homeless

Originally aired on WESH 2 News on May 13, 2014

ORLANDO, Fla. —Hundreds of charities vie for your donations and time. One local charity claims it houses the homeless in campsites throughout Central Florida.
And he has repeatedly refused to show us proof the charity has provided shelter to anyone at all.
Inside a nondescript Leesburg thrift store is a charity that claims to be housing the homeless.
For James Worley, who lives out of his van, the promise of living on a tented camp site seemed like the hand up he'd been looking for.
"That could be possibly something to my advantage to help me get back on my feet," he said.
Before WESH 2 News Investigates began asking questions, The Foundation for America's Homeless website offered up photos of serene tented camp sites, even a cabin in the woods with working electricity.
After Worley called WESH saying he was told the campsites did not exist, we called the charity's founder Larry Hamer.
Hamer first told WESH 2's Matt Grant by phone that there are no campsites, but he hoped to build them eventually. However, when they met in person, he claimed to run several sites in Lake, Marion and Sumter counties.
"Where are these homeless camp sites?" Grant asked.
"I'm afraid I can't tell you," Hamer said.
Hamer says that's because he wants to protect the privacy of his clients. Last month, WESH 2 News Investigates met with Hamer to talk about the work he's doing to help the homeless.
"The pictures of the tents and the cabin on your website, those are actual places?" Grant asked.
"Mm-hmm," said Hamer.
"That are housing homeless people right now?" Grant asked.
"Mm-hmm," said Hamer. "Those are absolutely places that are housing homeless people."
But remember that cabin in the woods? It's actually a bathroom at Yellowstone National Park. And a photograph of a tent on the website was actually taken by a blogger in Canada who told us she never gave permission for the Foundation to use her photo.
WESH 2 News Investigates confronted Hamer with this information and he added a disclaimer to the website saying, "Pictures are a representation of furture (sic) goals. May or may not be factuel (sic) at this moment."
Over the weekend, WESH 2 News Investigates began promoting this report. And by Monday morning, several more changes had been made to Hamer's website. The photos of tents and campsites were removed and the headline on the Foundation's website had been changed from, "We are housing America's homeless," to, "We provide needs for America's homeless."
We asked Hamer to explain why he made the changes, and he said, "Because you pointed out my flaw (sic)" and "because the actual campsites are not pretty."
"Everything is inconsistent. It just raises more questions than it answers," said Ken Berger, president of Charity Navigator, an independent charity watchdog.
While Hamer refused to open his financial books to WESH 2 News, the Foundation's federal tax documents are public record. We showed the 2012 documents to Berger, who said there were a number of potential red flags, including not reporting administrative expenses and listing a salary expense while claiming the charity has no paid employees.
"You need to be able to trust a charity, and when they are manipulating images, when they are refusing to give you basic information. This seems like an organization that is questionable at best," he said.
Hamer updated his website again, writing a response to our story before it aired, insisting they do house the homeless, writing, "Do we or don't we house homeless? For those that just need to know the answer is yes! Will we ever tell where?  No!"

2 comments:

Donald Truitt said...

I am a totally and permanently disabled Vietnam War veteran.
Today I received a solicitation letter from Wounded Warriors Project that featured a Iraq veteran named "Jeremy" who was an Army Ranger in Iraq when he was wounded and had brain injuries and lost his sight in both eyes.

However, upon reading the letter it became apparent that any money I donated would go to Wounded Warrior Project, not to "Jeremy". I find this extremely misleading and wonder if "Jeremy" is aware of his name and image being used is being used in such a fashion. What is the management of WWP is being paid? Are they receiving bonuses?

I am a contributor to Charity Navigator and wonder why Wounded Warrior Project is receiving such a high rating, despite the questionable tactics they use to get contributions.

Ken Berger said...

Donald,

We rate charities on two broad areas of their performance – financial health and accountability & transparency (A&T). WWP currently scores well on the A&T portion as it follows industry recommendations regarding good governance practices – such as having a diverse, independent board, having a conflict of interest policy in place and so on (we look at 17 metrics in this area).

On the flip side, it doesn’t get high marks for its financial health. Specifically, as you have noticed, it spends a lot more on fundraising than other similar charities. But taken together (the financial rating and the A&T rating), WWP ends up with an overall 3 star (out of a possible 4) rating.

Regarding the compensation of WWP’s CEO, you can see that on the charity’s rating page on our site, http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=12842, (just below the pie charts and bar graphs).

As far as your questions about the specific ads the WWP is running, I strongly encourage you to ask WWP directly. An open and informed discussion between charity and donors is something we at Charity Navigator encourage.

Best,
Ken