United Homeless Organization

Q What’s with those sleazy-looking people who sit at tables with empty water jugs, barking, “Help feed the homeless”? I’m told they make a neat living from guilt-inspired contributions. Are they legit?—Stu Gottfried, Manhattan

A They’re representatives of the United Homeless Organization, a Bronx-based public charity formed in 1987 by the then-homeless Stephen Riley. UHO’s 2006 tax filings reported revenues of $84,561, with $33,412 spent on support stipends and $46,215 on management expenses. “The program is an organized form of fund-raising that allows the homeless or formerly homeless to legally request donations under a recognizable name,” says UHO consultant Todd Averyheart. Dozens of tables throughout the city see two shifts of workers each day. For every person who mans a table, UHO gets a $15 cut; the rest goes to the worker. Averyheart says UHO’s take goes back into the program for promotional literature, tables and supplies, but would not elaborate; TONY’s repeated follow-up calls were never returned. Katie Martin, New York Philanthropic Advisory Service program manager for the Better Business Bureau, says UHO “refuses to send us information”; the last report the BBB filed on the organization was in 2003, and UHO failed to pass its Standards for Charity Accountability. “UHO doesn’t have a lot of information on where their money is going,” says Martin. “Personally and professionally, I would advise people to be cautious if donating to them.” If you want to help New York’s needy but find this whole thing fishy (it doesn’t help that UHO’s website is nonfunctional), consider donating to more-established organizations like Help USA ( helpusa.org) and Project Renewal ( projectrenewal.com ).

See previous What’s up with that?