Altruism Today

Stories of those Homeless Who Don’t Fit the “Housing First” Model

October 28th, 2015  |  Source: NPQ

For those who are concerned about homelessness in the United States, it is worthwhile read the “street papers” that are produced and sold by homeless persons in many parts of the country.

The perspectives to be gleaned are frequently revealing, as in the October 7th print edition of Washington, D.C.’s Street Sense. Its cover story by editorial intern Alexandra Pamias asks about those who don’t get served in Housing First programs in Washington—“who get left behind,” according to the headline.

The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness defines Housing First as:

An approach that offers permanent, affordable housing as quickly as possible for individuals and families experiencing homelessness, and then provides the supportive services and connections to the community-based supports people need to keep their housing and avoid returning to homelessness…

While Housing First can be used in both short- and long-term interventions, the approach is closely tied to permanent supportive housing and…to rapid re-housing as well.

In Washington, D.C., Housing First has been a part of the city government’s response to homelessness since it was first launched during the administration of Mayor Adrian Fenty. Current mayor Muriel Bowser has populated her cabinet with experts who bring extensive Housing First experience to the table, notably Department of Human Services director Laura Zeilinger, whose official bio credits her as having “designed and implemented” the District’s Housing First initiative, and Department of Housing and Community Development director Polly Donaldson, whose prior work at the Transitional Housing Corporation included placing homeless families in transitional housing and permanent Housing First units. In DHCD’s RFP for affordable housing funds issued in August, the commitment to the Housing First model was evident in a requirement that five percent of the housing units in a funded project must be set aside as permanent supportive housing (PSH) units which would be made available following a Housing First model “in which clients don’t have to meet prerequisites before accessing housing and services…[which is] a recognized best practice in combatting homelessness.”

That is a solid expression of DHCD’s intention regarding the prioritization of its use of local affordable housing trust fund dollars, but the challenge is always one of making the model work. Pamias talked with Beau Stiles, the program coordinator for the Georgetown Ministry Center, about the homeless people he meets at his weekly gatherings for guests at the homeless drop-in facility.

Describing a story about one of his guests who believed that Stiles was trying to kill him through sorcery, Stiles averred that one major challenge is how to provide services to homeless people who might be suffering from a mental disorder. The executive director of the Georgetown Ministry Center, Gunther Stern, explained the challenge as “anosognosia”:

It is a syndrome associated with neurological disorders. About half of people with mental illness also have some degree of anosognosia, which is the inability to understand that they have a problem. So they might be yelling and howling at the wind but they don’t perceive that they have a mental illness.

In its Winter Plan for getting homeless people off the streets during hypothermia season, the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness has expanded street outreach services to the homeless accompanied by the District’s commitment to Housing First. Stern says there will still be people who fall through the cracks of the policy; potentially as many as half of the homeless community will refuse Housing First assistance because of distrust of the system or other reasons, even if there is widespread adoption of the Housing First model.

“The people that I work with are mostly missed by [Housing First] for two different reasons,” Stern told Street Sense. “One is that they don’t get hit because they are too low functioning. Or the second is that they are too low functioning that they are unsuccessful once they receive housing.”

Sean Parker plans to spend his fortune disrupting philanthropy

June 24th, 2015  |  Source: SFChronicle

Napster co-founder and former Facebook President Sean Parker says he used the election cycle as “a laboratory for learning” on how the ballot initiative process works.
Next year, he plans to expand with the opening of San Francisco startup Brigade, dedicated to political engagement. He is planning to go bigger in 2016.

Before he became a billionaire venture capitalist, Sean Parker blew up the music business by founding the file-sharing service Napster. Now he plans to spend his fortune upending another calcified industry: philanthropy.


June 22nd, 2015  |  Source:

·       An online and mobile platform for nonprofit fundraising that provides organizations the tools they need to develop and launch engaging crowdfunding campaigns.

·       Industry Community & Education

·       Location New York, NY

·       Goals To help nonprofits fundraise online and through mobile devices.

·       Company URL

·       Twitter @WeDidItNYC

How the Red Cross Raised Half a Billion Dollars for Haiti ­and Built Six Homes

June 3rd, 2015  |  Source: ProPublica

Even as the group has publicly celebrated its work, insider accounts detail a string of failures

In late 2011, the Red Cross launched a multimillion-dollar project to transform the desperately poor area, which was hit hard by the earthquake that struck Haiti the year before. The main focus of the project — called LAMIKA, an acronym in Creole for “A Better Life in My Neighborhood” — was building hundreds of permanent homes.

Today, not one home has been built in Campeche. Many residents live in shacks made of rusty sheet metal, without access to drinkable water, electricity or basic sanitation. When it rains, their homes flood and residents bail out mud and water.

The Red Cross received an outpouring of donations after the quake, nearly half a billion dollars.

The group has publicly celebrated its work. But in fact, the Red Cross has repeatedly failed on the ground in Haiti. Confidential memos, emails from worried top officers, and accounts of a dozen frustrated and disappointed insiders show the charity has broken promises, squandered donations, and made dubious claims of success.

The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people. But the actual number of permanent homes the group has built in all of Haiti: six.

After the earthquake, Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern unveiled ambitious plans to “develop brand-new communities.” None has ever been built.

Aid organizations from around the world have struggled after the earthquake in Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. But ProPublica and NPR’s investigation shows that many of the Red Cross’s failings in Haiti are of its own making. They are also part of a larger pattern in which the organization has botched delivery of aid after disasters such as Superstorm Sandy. Despite its difficulties, the Red Cross remains the charity of choice for ordinary Americans and corporations alike after natural disasters.

One issue that has hindered the Red Cross’ work in Haiti is an overreliance on foreigners who could not speak French or Creole, current and former employees say.

In a blistering 2011 memo, the then-director of the Haiti program, Judith St. Fort, wrote that the group was failing in Haiti and that senior managers had made “very disturbing” remarks disparaging Haitian employees. St. Fort, who is Haitian American, wrote that the comments included, “he is the only hard working one among them” and “the ones that we have hired are not strong so we probably should not pay close attention to Haitian CVs.”

The Red Cross won’t disclose details of how it has spent the hundreds of millions of dollars donated for Haiti. But our reporting shows that less money reached those in need than the Red Cross has said.

Lacking the expertise to mount its own projects, the Red Cross ended up giving much of the money to other groups to do the work. Those groups took out a piece of every dollar to cover overhead and management. Even on the projects done by others, the Red Cross had its own significant expenses – in one case, adding up to a third of the project’s budget.

Read on here:

Italian resistance film is being censored...

May 23rd, 2015  |  Source: Kickstarter

The Secret of Italia is a historical film, housed within a love story, that shares details about the "Massacre of Codevidgo" in 1945

New Boston Public Art Installation Astounds, Reminds Us Where the Ocean Is

May 8th, 2015  |  Source: NPQ

Source: Boston Globe

Public art is supposed to disrupt our states of mind, and very close to the place where the Boston encampment of Occupy could have been found three and a half years ago, an eerie hovering of light hangs, brightly colored and wafting around in the breeze.

The artist is Janet Echelman, and her two-thousand-pound aerial rope sculpture stops people in their tracks when they first catch sight of it above the Greenway parks, where you can hear the seagulls and the boat horns through the sounds of the traffic. Up close, you see it is a suspended sculpture made up of huge nets that change with the light and the wind, like almost everything else in this city. You can read some of the details about the piece here, but here is how it is described in a local community paper:

“When any individual element of the sculpture moves, every other element is affected. Enormous in scale and strength but as delicate as lace, the fibers used are 15 times stronger then [sic] steel but are extremely lightweight.”

The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway is meant in part to reconnect Boston to the ocean, and this sculpture—even suspended as it is between tall buildings—calls to mind the familiar but wild and harsh beauty of fishing nets. But in this case, there are 100 miles of rope involved, and a half-million knots. The installation helps wake the city up after its long winter. The sight astounds and interrupts and lures us to the spot, and that is what we need as the last of the snow melts.

Echelman’s piece will have its opening ceremony on May 11th, and will remain in place until October. The majority of the funding for this piece comes from the Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation, the Lynch Foundation, Autodesk, ArtPlace America, and anonymous donors. Also, public arts grants were awarded from the Boston Cultural Council ($3,000), Massachusetts Cultural Council ($2,500), and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Greenway Conservancy has five more years of temporary art installations planned for the Greenway, which is almost a median strip with traffic on both side—but what a median strip, with a diversity of food trucks and art exhibits and even a merry-go-round. And now it has its own version of the Northern Lights that invites people to take a little lay-down in the grass and stare up at it and the sky. Next week, the Conservancy is apparently bringing in hammocks.

How to donate to Nepal earthquake relief

May 1st, 2015  |  Source:

Scores of charities are providing assistance to help people devastated by the magnitude-7.8 earthquake that hit Nepal on Saturday.

But how can you be sure your donation will make a difference? 

"You need to do your homework," said Sandra Miniutti of Charity Navigator, which rates nonprofit organizations on a four-star scale based on their financial condition and board governance policies. "We are working on how to evaluate charities based on their impact in our ratings methodology, but we think that if a charity is in good financial shape and is transparent, it will have the resources to carry out its mission well."

Read MoreTechnology to the rescue as Facebook, Google tools help easeNepal jitters

Charity Navigator identified 11 nonprofits that have a three- or four-star rating and allow people to designate their donations to go specifically to earthquake relief in Nepal.

The company isn't the only ratings game in town. The BBB Wise Giving Alliance listed 37 charities collecting donations for Nepal that met the organization's 20 standards for charitable giving.

Jacob Harold, president and CEO of GuideStar, a company that maintains of a database of 2.2 million IRS-recognized nonprofits, recommends people who want to immediately support earthquake relief efforts in Nepal donate to GlobalGiving. The nonprofit is an online marketplace that connects people who want to give cash to international causes. GlobalGiving has received top accolades from the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator and GuideStar

"It's usually better to give money than stuff after a disaster because it gives charities more flexibility to address the immediate needs of the affected communities," Harold said.

The rush of charitable contributions after a disaster is helpful, but Nepal and other regions hurt by catastrophes may need financial support for years, said Bob Ottenhoff, president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

Read MoreCharitable giving for the average investor

"Earthquakes are more complicated than most disasters because they often strike without warning and require rebuilding of major infrastructure," he said. The center has set up a fund to focus on long-term recovery projects in Nepal.

"There is this intense interest now, but people tend to forget about the area once the cameras go away," Ottenhoff said.

Concussion expert Goodell Tells Owners: NFL Will End Its Tax-Exempt Status

April 28th, 2015  |  Source: Bloomberg

The commissioner informed team owners and members of Congress of the decision in letters dated Tuesday, saying he was eliminating a “distraction.”

The National Football League’s central office will become a taxable entity, ending its tax-exempt status in a move with minimal financial effect and significant symbolic value.

Commissioner Roger Goodell informed team owners and members of the U.S. Congress of the decision in letters dated Tuesday, saying he was eliminating a “distraction.”

“Every dollar of income generated through television rights fees, licensing agreements, sponsorships, ticket sales, and other means is earned by the 32 clubs and is taxable there,” Goodell wrote. “This will remain the case even when the league office and Management Council file returns as taxable entities, and the change in filing status will make no material difference to our business.”

The league’s decision pre-empts a move to revoke the tax break that had been led by former Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. That effort has gained some momentum in recent years, but not enough to pass either the House or the Senate. The NFL’s action removes a point of leverage for Congress in its continuing inquiries into the league’s handling of concussions and domestic violence.

For the NFL, the costs of losing the tax break are minimal, an estimated $109 million over the next decade. There are benefits for the league, too, including the end of federal disclosure requirements that put Goodell’s salary and some other league information in the public domain.

Tax Returns

The U.S. requires that non-profit groups file annual federal tax returns and make portions of them public. Goodell received $35 million in salary and bonuses in 2013.

“The NFL just probably realized it didn’t have much to give up and they’re gaining the ability to not reveal salary information,” said Michael McCann, a professor at the University of New Hampshire who specializes in sports law.

The league will switch its status this year, which means it will still file a public tax return as a nonprofit for the fiscal year that ended March 31. The NFL typically releases its tax return in February.

The NFL is the biggest sports league in the U.S. with a record $10 billion in revenue in 2013, up from $7 billion when Goodell took over as commissioner in 2006. Much of that revenue goes to the teams, which already face taxation.

The top members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said they were “extremely pleased” with the NFL’s decision.

‘Basic Fairness’

“It is rewarding to see such an important and positive step toward restoring basic fairness,” Republican Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Democrat Elijah Cummings of Maryland said in a joint statement. “We hope other professional sports organizations in similar situations will follow the positive example set by the NFL, and we look forward to rightfully returning millions of dollars to the federal treasury as a result.”

According to Goodell’s letter, the league has been studying its tax status for more than a year and the full ownership approved the decision in March.

“The big question is: Why now?” said Andrew Brandt, former vice president of the Green Bay Packers. Brandt is an NFL business analyst at ESPN television and director of the Jeffrey S. Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. “It seems like Congress has been making a big deal out of it. Without this status there’s no requirement to disclose, which helps in the PR battle.”


The NFL’s move mirrors one made by Major League Baseball in 2007. The National Basketball Association never was tax exempt. The National Hockey League is now the only major professional sports league in North America with the status.

The Internal Revenue Code specifically provides a tax exemption to “professional football leagues” under section 501(c)(6), the same portion of the law used by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The only way to change that would be an act of Congress or a decision by a league to forgo the tax exemption.

“The NFL doesn’t need this public perception headache,” said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. “With little effect on its bottom line, it was an appropriate move.”

The NFL’s decision wasn’t enough to satisfy some of the league’s critics, including Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, who said he would continue pushing legislation to limit sports leagues’ antitrust exemptions.

Senator Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, continued pressuring the league to change the name of the Washington Redskins, which Reid says is offensive to native Americans.

“That tax break that they got is $100 million,” he told reporters in the Capitol Tuesday. “They’re treating that as if it’s nothing because they have such problems with other issues, not the least of which is kowtowing to the owner, especially one that has a team here in Washington.”

Bertrand Olotara: the US Senate cook struggling to get off food stamps

April 23rd, 2015  |  Source: The Guardian

The single father of five children works two jobs, including in the cafeteria of the US Senate, but still must rely on food stamps. Now he’s striking for a living wage

Bertrand Olotara has two college degrees, works two jobs and is on public assistance.

The 44-year-old divorced father of five gets up five days a week at 4.30am to commute nearly an hour each way to the US Capitol. There, he works at the deli station in the Senate cafeteria as an employee of a multinational conglomerate called Compass. He comes home weary but ready to cook dinner for his school-aged children and eager to check their homework, which he insists gets done right after school.

On weekends, Olotara gets up at the same time and goes to work in the freezer section of Whole Foods. Even in the middle of the sweltering mid-Atlantic summer, he has to wear three coats to stay warm.

An immigrant from the Republic of Congo with a law degree from his homeland, Olotara came to the US and got a second bachelor’s degree from Strayer University, a for-profit school where he studied business. But Olotara doesn’t complain about his job. He’s not dissatisfied with the early start, the long commute or the conditions. Instead, he worries that at a wage of $12.30 an hour, his family will be unable “get out of the system [of public assistance]” and can never achieve “a decent life”.

His op-ed in the Guardian on Wednesday, in which he described his days cooking for US senators and his nights relying on food stamps to feed his five children, went viral. In it, he called for Barack Obama to issue an executive order to mandate that federal contractors like him receive a living wage of $15 an hour with benefits and the ability to collectively bargain. The op-ed coincided with Olotara joining around 40 other coworkers, one of whom is homeless, in a one-day strike to call for higher wages.

Disability Protesters Arrested at White House to Mark 25 Years of the ADA

April 22nd, 2015  |  Source: NPQ

Source: Disability Scoop

Persons with disabilities could and should be considered a population whose civil rights are, unfortunately, regularly ignored if not trampled. While some advocates have raised the civil rights dimension of disability issues, somehow the press and the public don’t address disability issues in this way. In light of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act coming on July 26th, some disabled-rights advocates are taking their concerns to the streets—actually to the street in front of the White House.

A group called ADAPT organized some 200 persons to protest at the White House on Monday, with 54 of the demonstrators arrested for “blocking passage.” Specifically, the demonstrators called for enhancement of community-based living options as an alternative to institutionalization of persons with disabilities.

This isn’t an issue to be brushed off. One of the demonstrators, Flip Polizzi Rivera, who came as part of a contingent from Rochester, New York, tweeted that he would “rather go to jail than die in a nursing home.”

“I am forced to live in a nursing facility,” the 27-year-old Rivera said in a Twitter message before he was arrested. “I want to live in my own home. It’s important @BarackObama understands what we face.”

The alternative that Rivera and his colleagues are asking for is in-home attendants that allow persons with disabilities to continue living in their own homes. According to C. Jean Grover with the Regional Center for Independent Living in Rochester, providing in-home attendants is less expensive than forcing people into nursing homes.

“There is an institutional bias in our funding streams,” Grover told the Democrat & Chronicle. “The bias is that if somebody ceases to be able to function as they used to, the bias is to throw them into a nursing home rather than assisting them in managing their services. We have to readjust how the money is allocated. It’s a matter of managing services effectively to allow people to stay in their own homes.”

Grover sees this as a civil rights and human rights issue for persons with disabilities, which is the approach that ADAPT takes in its organizing. According to a statement on its webpage, ADAPT “is a national grass-roots community that organizes disability rights activists to engage in nonviolent direct action, including civil disobedience, to assure the civil and human rights of people with disabilities to live in freedom.” Like the organizing of traditional civil rights groups, ADAPT is pushing for new legislation to expand the rights of persons with disabilities to stay in their own homes, specifically by adding a new title to the ADA, the Community Integration Act, which would require states to offer community-based services first and offer people currently in nursing homes a community- or home-based alternative to their current living arrangements.

Although rights for persons with disabilities is not necessarily a partisan political issue, Congress hasn’t been in the mindset of passing much legislation that expands the rights of anyone, persons with disabilities or others, so ADAPT’s presence at the White House was aimed at getting President Obama to issue an executive order that would acknowledge the inhumaneness of warehousing persons with disabilities in nursing homes and take steps to affirm the rights of persons with disabilities to live in “integrated, least restrictive settings in their own homes and communities.” That tracks the language of the Supreme Court’sOlmstead decision, a landmark civil rights decision that is sometimes little recognized outside the disability community and subject to widely varying state-level implementation. Therefore, the ADAPT position also calls for the executive order to provide greater federal oversight over states’ implementation of Medicaid and specifically to promote adequate wages for home attendants. (ADAPT also calls for the president to name Vice President Joe Biden the nation’s “Ambassador for Community Living,” have him visit ten model programs for transitioning persons with disabilities into their communities, and convene roundtables across the country to develop effective community living integration systems.)

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