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The Power of Giving

Man Turns Vans into Living Spaces for Homeless

Jason Thorwegen was homeless for most of his life, since he was eight years old. 

“Having been homeless for so long,” he said in an interview with ABC News, “I know what people need, and I know how to provide that. It’s simple, you put a roof over a man’s head.”

His story isn’t one of classically inspiring success. He lives in a van himself in Bakersfield, California, and thinks his savings account once got as high as $8,000, but he put that the same place he puts all of his energy – into building vans into living spaces for homeless veterans and the disabled homeless.

Over the past three years, since before he was secure in somewhere to live, he has converted three vans with beds and storage so that people can have comfortable, safe places to live, where they can feel free and secure.

 Thorwegen heard a news story about a veteran who had his van stolen while his wife was in hospital, along with his dog and everything the couple owned. He contacted the news studio, and donated the van he himself was living in at the time. When the stolen van (and the dog!) was recovered, Thorwegen got his own back, but he realized he had something he could give his fellow man after all.

“One person can take care of every single need that one other individual has,” he said. “They just have to put in the time, and allow that person to grow.”

Some few people have donated to help Thorwegen in his cause, but only to the tune of about $400. If you wish to donate, a page has been set up for him on GoFundMe. More importantly, please vote against measures to criminalize homelessness, such as the 2019 law which passed in San Diego and made it illegal for people like Mister Thorwegen to live in their vans inside the city.

Source: ABC 23 Bakersfield

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News

Viral GoFundMe Campaign Was A Hoax, Prosecutor Says

Remember that heartwarming story about a homeless man who gave his last $20 to a stranded woman who ran out of gas? Well, as it turns out, it was all a lie.

Court documents show that Johnny Bobbitt (the homeless man) conspired with Katelyn McClure (the stranded woman) and her former boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, to devise an uplifting tale about a generous vagrant. The goal? To convince the public to donate money to a GoFundMe campaign that was set up in Bobbitt’s honor.

The campaign was enormously successful, and raised approximately $400,000 in funds. But things went south when Bobbitt claimed that he didn’t receive all the money that he should have.

Photos posted on the couple’s social media accounts suggested that they used the funds to go on lavish vacations and expensive shopping trips. An investigation was launched, and the couple’s newly purchased BMW was seized in the process.

But things took an even worse turn when investigators discovered that the homeless man himself, Johnny Bobbitt, was in on it. A text message that McClure sent to her best friend revealed the deceptive nature of the story.

“Okay, so wait. The gas part is completely made up, but the guy isn’t,” McClure wrote. “I had to make something up to make people feel bad. So shush about the made up stuff.”

The prosecutor said the trio likely would have gotten away with it if they hadn’t run out of money and started fighting. Now, all three are facing charges of conspiracy and theft by deception.

“This type of case can damage the psyche of the public,” said prosecutor Scott Coffina. “A case like this can make generous people skeptical and a little more hesitant to help someone else in need.”

GoFundMe has promised to refund everyone who donated.

Photo courtesy of Sharaf Maksumov / Shutterstock

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Donation News

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Unveils $2B Philanthropic Fund

Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world, with a net worth in the realm of $160 billion. Money like that, wielded philanthropically, can alter the shape of the world. Bill Gates is already doing that, with his anti-disease efforts worldwide. Andrew Carnegie did it by donating nearly 3,000 libraries to towns and cities around the world.

Now, Bezos is making a run at it, with a $2 billion donation to his new “Day 1 Fund”—a two-target foundation to aid low-income communities. One branch is earmarked for homeless families, the other for preschool education.

The first half, called the Day 1 Families Fund, is inspired by a nonprofit in Seattle. Mary’s Place, a family-oriented homeless shelter, has the vision statement of, “No child sleeps outside.” The Fund will issue grants and awards to organizations providing shelter and food to young, impoverished families.

The second half, the Day 1 Academies Fund, is more hands-on. It will operate a network of “tier 1” full-scholarship preschools in low-income areas.

Bezos has been open about his desire to operate both branches like a business as opposed to a nonprofit. This decision has drawn a reasonable amount of criticism from the public.

In a tweet posted on September 13, Bezos explicitly called his potential students “the customer,” which many say shows that he inherently misunderstands education and the way that schools work. Nevertheless, this type of donation can still do a tremendous amount of good. Thus, the public has begrudgingly tolerated his faux pax.

On the same token, it’s also worth noting that $2 billion is a drop in the bucket for Bezos, as it equals a mere one percent of his assets. But it does mark a large upswing in his charitable giving; previous known donations from himself, his wife, and family only amounted to $135 million, a paltry 0.0008 percent. Hopefully, his latest donation marks the beginning of a new trend.

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News

Couple Under Investigation for Defrauding Homeless Man

Last year, Kate McClure was in an unfortunate situation: out of gas and stranded on the side of the freeway outside of Philadelphia. She was spotted by John Bobbitt Jr., a homeless man who was a regular to that stretch of road. He only had 20 dollars, but he spent it to get her a can and a few gallons of gas, which got her home.

McClure and her boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, said they were determined to pay back his kindness. They gave him warm clothes and $100, but didn’t stop there. They began a GoFundMe on his behalf. Bypassing all expectations, it raised more than $400,000 from 14,000 donors. Bobbitt compared it to winning the lottery.

But this is where this warm tale turns cold.

A year later, the money is gone, and where it’s gone is unclear. Bobbitt claims he was only ever given $75,000 and less than a third of that in cash. The attorney for McClure and D’Amico claims he was given over half of the raised funds.

During the time the GoFundMe was active, the couple promised donors they would use the funds to buy Bobbitt a house and set up two trusts to maintain him and turn the massive windfall into an income. Instead, a tip led Action News of Philadelphia to discover that the two had gone on expensive vacations, helicopter rides, and massive shopping sprees. Suspicious activity, as both McClure and D’Amico’s incomes together would barely stretch to be called middle class.

No house for Bobbitt materialized, nor trust. The couple bought him a used camper van, but as he pursued the rest of the money raised in his name, they evicted him, and he is once again homeless. In an interview with the Inquirer, D’Amico said he would continue controlling the money until Bobbitt is drug-free, which was never a part of the fundraising disclosure, and is at odds with the lawyer’s statements that there is no money left.

GoFundMe is participating in the courts’ investigation, and if the couple is found to have exploited Bobbitt and all 14,000 donors, has stated they intend to reimburse all donors up to $1,000 a head. They have also provided Bobbitt with $25,000 to help with living expenses.

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Donation News

Tech Giant Cisco Addresses San Fran’s Homeless Crisis

Homelessness is a massive problem in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the average rent is between $3,000 and $4,000 a month. A comfortable minimum salary to live in the neighboring city of San Jose is $87,000 a year, or $42 an hour, but precious few make that much. Food service in the area pays about $12 an hour, and healthcare support pays $19 an hour. So many people and families—even employed people—wind up homeless.

“Though homelessness seems intractable, I believe that it is a solvable issue,” wrote Chuck Robbins. “I also feel very strongly that we have an opportunity—and a responsibility—to do something about it.”

Chuck Robbins is the CEO of Cisco Systems, maker of internet gear like routers and data cables. He recently announced that the company would be donating $50 million over the next five years to help address the growing homeless crisis.

The donation will be given to Destination: Home, a public-private partnership focused on obtaining housing for those living on the streets. That housing is considered the first step in alleviating many problems, including healthcare, joblessness, and family reunification. The funding will also include a budget for data collection, to evaluate how resources should be used most efficiently.

Ray Bramson, chief impact officer for Destination: Home, hopes that Cisco’s noble move will inspire more Silicon Valley companies to offer their support. “No one agency, no one organization can really do it alone,” he said in the partnership’s response to Cisco’s donation, which may be the largest donation ever from a Silicon Valley company.

Employing over 73,000 people, Cisco Systems is a part of the worker boom that’s driving up the housing prices in the Bay Area. So Robbins’s words about responsibility mean exactly that. Hopefully, more tech giants will devote resources on this level to help solve the problems they cause.

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Donation News The Power of Giving

The Right Gifts for the Homeless

If you live in or near a big city, chances are you’re fairly accustomed to seeing homeless people. With colder weather already settled in and the holidays coming up, now would be a good time to spend some time putting together care packages for the homeless people in your area who could really use your help. But not everything is going to be useful for them, like gift cards to be used over the internet or jewelry. Here are some better options to pack into care kits for your homeless friends!

Toiletries.

It’s very difficult to keep clean living on the street. Fill your packs with things that promote health, wellness, and hygiene, like hand wipes, tissues, toothbrushes and toothpaste, Band-Aids, a small first-aid kit, combs, and nail clippers. However, make sure you keep things like scented soaps or lotions away from any food items you want to pack so that they don’t start to smell and taste like each other. Additionally, try to keep anything alcohol-based out of the kit, like hand sanitizer or mouthwash.

Additionally, consider donating things like tampons and sanitary napkins, which are often not provided at homeless shelters.

Food.

Include soft, nutritious snacks like applesauce, pudding, trail mix, or beef jerky, and avoid hard or crunchy things like granola bars or candy. Most homeless people don’t have regular access to a dentist, so softer snacks will usually be preferred over crispy ones. But beef jerky, despite its leathery texture, is a popular item because of how much protein it provides.

Other items.

Things besides food and toiletries are likely to be appreciated, too. Things like sturdy travel mugs, socks, and mittens could really help someone out. But don’t give cash or used items, as used items can feel insulting. Putting religious literature into the pack is also generally not preferred, though many people do it out of kindness; but for homeless people who receive Bible verses and tracts all the time, it gets old.

When you give your kits to your homeless friends, be kind about it. Don’t be rushed, don’t throw the pack out of a car window, and don’t go alone. Stop and get to know the person you’re trying to help and let them talk to you—if they want to, which they may not. But if you’re prepared to listen, they might tell you their stories.

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News Resources

Helping Homeless Families

The common image of homelessness is a man in layers of ragged clothing, begging for change in a big city. This is, however, far from the full picture. Most people don’t think that much about the issue, and so many aspects of homelessness get ignored.

One of those aspects, often overlooked by even the most generous of people, is family homelessness. As the name implies, family homelessness affects whole families, which can find themselves without a home for any number of reasons. Eviction, job loss, fires, medical bills and so on, anything that might drive a single person into the street can put entire families there as well.

Homeless

Safe Haven Family Shelter works to alleviate these problems in the Middle Tennessee region. Centered around a shelter-to-housing program, Safe Haven begins looking for housing for families as soon as they bring them in, with space for up to 10 families in their shelter. Thanks to a variety of community grants, they are able to help 30 families at a time with housing.

In addition to helping families find and attain housing, Safe Haven provides a variety of educational assistance. They offer assistance with financial literacy, job training and job placement, and offer intensive case management. They use evidence-based methods, influenced by such theories as trauma-informed care or Parent Child Interaction Therapy, to ensure that families receive the best, specific help possible.

Safe Haven accepts a variety of aid from donors and supporters. They accept both money and donations of goods which families can use, such as linens, baby goods, and household items. They also offer volunteer opportunities for people who wish to help out more directly.

If you want to help address the problem of family homelessness, but you can’t make it to Tennessee to volunteer or want to help families closer to you, there are a number of other shelters and programs you can support. A simple Internet search for family homelessness and your zip code or city should get you started.

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Profiles

Homeless to Howard’s James Ward Proves Even the Homeless Can Be Successful

James Ward and Jessica Sutherland
James Ward and Jessica Sutherland
IMG: via Homeless to Howard

James Ward is a freshman at Howard University.  He is on track to become a physicist. He also used to be homeless.

James’ mom, Sherell, raised three kids as a single mom who suffered from alcoholism.  Growing up, the family hadn’t ever had a stable home until they moved into the Union Rescue Mission when James was 17.  That year, James got a mentor in Jessica Sutherland who also used to be homeless.

Jessica volunteered at the mission to show that, even if you start out homeless, you can go on to great things and be successful.  When she started, she asked the kids what the hardest thing about living at the mission was.  She revealed that most kids said things like the food or not having a room of their own.  James said he was worried that living at the mission would impact his time management skills.  She knew right then and there that this was one driven individual.  She took him under her wing and promised him that he would go to college and that she’d always be there for him.

James applied to 14 schools and was accepted into Howard University.  The problem was that he could not afford the tuition, and many of his loans were denied.  Jessica worried that she wouldn’t be able to keep her promise to James.  However, she soon came up with an idea.

She started a Tumblr blog using James’ image, with his permission.  The hashtag said #HomelesstoHoward, and was labeled with the words “See the Potential.”  Within eight hours, people had donated $2,075 on Paypal.  In a week, that number rose to $13,687.07.

Jessica says there is something about James that touches people, and they want to help him.  James says that he is so grateful for all the people who donated so he could go to college.

We expect great things from him in the future.

Check out Ward and Sutherland’s interview on the Ellen show:

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Organizations Profiles

#Amys30 Event Supports Amy Winehouse Foundation

Amy Winehouse Foundation
Featureflash / Shutterstock.com

Mitch Winehouse, father of late singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, has organized a series of events for the singer’s 30th birthday this month called #Amys30.  Mitch Winehouse says that he wants the world to understand that his daughter was just a normal person “from a good family”, and that people struggling with addiction are human after all.  They have planned a series of events, including an exhibit at the Jewish museum in London.  All events will take place in Amy’s home neighborhood of Camden.  Proceeds from the events will benefit the Amy Winehouse Foundation, established in 2011 after the pop-star’s death from alcohol poisoning.  The purpose of the charity is to help people suffering from drug addiction.

To learn more about the Amy Winehouse Foundation, read our profile.

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Organizations Profiles

Hopelink Reaches Those in Need

Hopelink
IMG: via Twitter

It may be difficult to know where to turn when you are feeling down and out.  It may seem like nobody cares or that nobody is willing to help.  However, there is a nonprofit organization that is looking out for people in need.  Hopelink does, and it works with a diverse population from children to seniors.

Every day there are thousands who are looking for jobs, food, housing or training.  Last year about 1,500 people used the job training resources.  Students who dropped out of high school went there to earn their GED. Families in crisis went there to find safety.

Since 1971, Hopelink has been a resource connecting people with the services they need to survive and thrive.  It has put food on the table, assisted in finding a parent a job or helped to heat homes over the winter.  Whatever the emergency, Hopelink has stepped in to solve the problem.

From the shores of Lake Washington to the crest of the Cascades, they have helped many people find the hope they were searching for.

For the entire profile on Hopelink, click here.