Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Is it Charitable to Make People Suffer?

Change of Fortune… FOR THE WORSE!

For those of you unaware of the situation, we here at NEOCH have run afoul of a “charitable” organization known as Change of Fortune Foundation. This foundation is a program of Skyline Financial Group based in sunny LA, an investment and MORTGAGE COMPANY. The beginnings are outlined in this Free Times article from June 29, 2007 (scroll down to “Help From Above”):

If you don’t feel like reading it, the short version is these big wigs from California showed up in little old Cleveland to buy up homes and give them to homeless families rent-free so they can get back up on their feet. They had bought four houses for four families and planned to have 10 families moved in by the end of 2007. In addition, the families would receive free investment, financial, and job training.

However, that article was written in June 29, 2007, and could therefore only report on what the Change of Fortune Foundation said they were going to do. What they actually did, after they were out of sight of the cameras and reporters, was give keys to only three families. Here’s how this worked out:

  • The first family, LaTosha Hanna’s family, was given keys to a home with a broken furnace, missing windows, and broken locks.
  • The second family was given keys to an unlivable house with a broken furnace, busted water pipes, and missing windows. This family NEVER MOVED IN to the house due to the problems and wound up finding housing on their own.
  • The third family we don’t know much about, but we do know this:
    • the third family to receive keys was not the homeless family that was selected by the mayor’s office to live there, and
    • the third family is PAYING RENT.

Luckily, the Free Times revisited the situation recently and published a new article about the goings-on. Please check it out here (scroll down to “No Good Deed”):

Anyways, now that you’re caught up, I wanted to offer some response to Skyline’s remarks in the article as well as some personal insight into the Big Wigs of foundation who are acting more like the Three Stooges.

The rent-free window is supposed to pad savings, [Ken Miller of Change of Fortune] says, allowing tenants to build the financial wherewithal to fix credit problems [Cleveland Free Times, April 9, 2008]

That’s funny, didn’t you say you were going to provide help in fixing credit and financial problems originally?

[Change of Fortune CEO Gene Parker] also is commited [sic] to helping [the families] get back into the game of life with; job training, credit repair, investing. [Change of Fortune Press Release, June 18, 2007]

Whoops. It looks like you did make that promise, albeit in a grammatically incorrect way. In Change of Fortune’s defense, they aren’t very savvy in the ways of the normal world.

So, why aren’t they doing anything? Well, they respond to that with:

Change of Fortune had hoped that minor problems with the houses would be covered by the new tenants. [Cleveland Free Times, April 9, 2008]

I was taken aback by this, because when I asked them why they were not making repairs, they informed me that I was a clown. They seem to have taken a different strategy in responding to that question when speaking with a member of the press, which, in retrospect, is probably a wise decision.

However, we’ve been asking Change of Fortune for months about making these repairs, and not once did they say, “We were hoping LaTosha would take care of it.” Instead, they usually told us, “We’ll get on it… let me get back to you… we’re sending someone out right now to take care of it.” Not that expecting a struggling homeless single mother with a sick child to make repairs that they should’ve made before they gave it to her is admirable, but at least letting us know that they expected Ms. Hanna to make the repairs instead of giving her false hope that "Change of Fortune" staff were about to make those repairs any moment now would’ve probably been a better strategy.

"Some people, they want a big screen and not just a TV," Miller says. [Cleveland Free Times, April 9, 2008]

LaTosha never asked for any TV, let alone a big screen TV.

They want a mansion and not just a house.” [Ken Miller, Cleveland Free Times, April 9, 2008]

LaTosha never asked for a mansion, just someone to keep his word.

“We've bent over backwards to make sure LaTosha had a home.” [Ken Miller, Cleveland Free Times, April 9, 2008]

Here is their definition of bending over backwards:

  • October 28 – November 10
    • Ken Miller received a phone call almost every day letting him know LaTosha Hanna’s furnace was not working and that the water company is going to shut off Ms. Hanna’s water because of a past due bill from before she moved in. He did not return these calls.
  • November 16
    • Change of Fortune pays some of the past due water bill, but not all.
    • Ken Miller is informed that LaTosha found someone on her own to fix the furnace.
  • November 17
    • Change of Fortune arrives at LaTosha’s home in order to see what needed to be fixed. Nothing is fixed, but they do make the following promises:
      • the windows will be fixed,
      • the locks will be fixed,
      • a screen door will be installed
      • a motion light for the backyard will be installed.
  • November 18 – January 20
    • Nothing is done.
  • January 21
    • LaTosha’s lawyer sends a letter to Change of Fortune demanding the repairs to be made in 30 days.
  • January 22 – February 19
    • Nothing is done.
  • February 20
    • Change of Fortune shows up at LaTosha’s house and tell her they will find someone to make the repairs.
  • February 21 –
    • Nothing is done.

Perhaps I’m a little “old school”, but where I come from, “bending over backwards” for somebody implies that you actually do something. Saying you’re going to do something does not actually get that thing done. You don’t just make declarations, there’s a whole process involved after you declare what you’re going to do, and it usually involves doing what you declare. Really, you can do almost anything, just as long as what you’re doing isn’t nothing. If you’re doing nothing, you’re doing it wrong.

“Very seldom do I get a call and it's like, ‘Hey, thanks, I'm going to school now.'” [Ken Miller, Cleveland Free Times, April 9, 2008]

You didn’t get that call because LaTosha isn’t going to school now, nor has she received any help from Change of Fortune in her attempts to return to school. Do people usually call you and thank you for things you had nothing to do with? If so, I can understand why you’re so disappointed no one’s called you about returning to school. I never get a call from anyone about school, either. I understand your pain.

“It's, ‘Hey, there's a knob that needs to be fixed' or something.” [Ken Miller, Cleveland Free Times, April 9, 2008]

All the knobs in the house work fine. Do you even listen to us when we call? We have never said anything about broken knobs.

"What happened is, all the resources under Change of Fortune, with all the repairs that had to be made, had become exhausted," Miller says. [Cleveland Free Times, April 9, 2008]

So, all the resources of a self described “financial empire” [Change of Fortune Press Release, June 18, 2007], all the resources that were intended to be used to house 10 families by the end of 2007, were exhausted half-repairing one house for one family. I would love to see an itemized list of expenses next to the moneys they set aside for rehabilitating 10 houses for 10 families for 2 years. Either they were building these houses from the ground up out of solid gold wood or they just set aside a shot glass of dollars out of the bathtub of moonshine that is their financial empire.

"We went to get other nonprofits involved to assist us to make this work, but they didn't want to help." [Ken Miller, Cleveland Free Times, April 9, 2008]

You needed money and you went to nonprofits? A MORTGAGE COMPANY needed money, so they went to not just any nonprofits, but nonprofits in Cuyahoga County, the foreclosure capital of the nation and one of the poorest communities in the US? Of course they didn’t help. If I walked down to LMM’s 2100 Lakeside Men’s Shelter and said, “Hey, Duane [the director], I’m gonna give free homes to all your clients, but I don’t have any money, so can you give me money to do it?” of course he is gonna say no. If we had the money to put homeless people in houses, we’d be doing it already.

"But we'll do a better job during the selection process from now on," [Ken Miller] adds [Cleveland Free Times, April 9, 2008]

You didn’t have anything to do with the selection process. The clients were chosen by Bridging the Gap and the City of Cleveland. Perhaps instead of “we’ll do a better job during the selection process” you should reword it to “we’ll do the selection process.”

and yes, that's a dig at Hanna, whom [Ken Miller] says has "just been totally unreasonable" [Cleveland Free Times, April 9, 2008].

Change of Fortune apparently defines totally unreasonable as a single mother living alone with her young daughter asking to have locks on her home. A group that said, “It is unconscionable that men, women and children are living in shelters,” [Change of Fortune Press Release, June 18, 2007] also finds it unreasonable that homeless families should live somewhere safe.

These guys really irk me. It’s not enough that they’re totally taking advantage of a vulnerable single mother, but they have to have really annoying personalities to boot. Whenever I listen to them talk, I feel like I’m at a medicine show. They flew in with free gifts, and we accepted the gifts on behalf of our client and expected that these businessmen would live up to their words.

In the end, all that’s important is that these repairs get made so LaTosha and her daughters can move on and begin to get their lives back in order. If anyone out there in cyberland wants to help out, the number for Skyline Financial Group, the parent organization of Change of Fortune, is 818.716.3610.

The CEO is Gene Parker III. He’s the one who signed LaTosha’s lease. Please call and remind him that LaTosha Hanna still needs locks and her windows fixed. He doesn’t respond to either myself or LaTosha, so maybe you’ll have some luck. Also, ask him if he switched the water bill into Change of Fortune’s name like he’s supposed to. I know he said he was going to, but he said a lot of things. Finally, ask him to keep his promises on all the City of Cleveland by offering free housing to homeless people.

Joshua Kanary
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.


Anonymous said...

Well, these guys are douches, but the basic idea of buying up foreclosed homes and letting homeless families live in them rent free a while so they can get their lives back together seems solid. Aside from capital (and douchebaggery) is there any reason someone else can't start doing this?

Anonymous said...

It seems that the intention was to help homeless people get into shelter. So as far as Im concerned it looks like Change of Fortune did a good deed. wherether it worked out or not. "You can lead someone to water, but you can't make them drink.