If you had $1.5 million to give away, what would you do?

By Max R. Weller

Read the story about one donor’s generosity to Bridge House in the Daily Camera: Boulder Bridge House capital campaign gets anonymous boost. Quoting from the article below:

An anonymous donor who had already pledged $500,000 toward Bridge House’s new transitional housing project will donate another $1 million if the social service agency and day shelter for the homeless can raise half that much before it closes on a former office building in south Boulder.

Bridge House hopes to turn 4747 Table Mesa Drive into dormitory-style living for 48 people in its Ready-to-Work program, which provides homeless people with market-rate jobs, job training and other support to change their situation.

The 14,000-square-foot building is already zoned residential but would require significant renovation to turn it into living quarters with a dining area, common space, computer lab and garden.

Some participants in the Ready-to-Work program live in the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless’ transitional housing program, but there isn’t enough space for everyone, said Isabel McDevitt, executive director of Bridge House. Some participants camp out or sleep in their cars, which is illegal and makes it harder for them to stick with the program.

Obviously, this individual hasn’t taken the time to read Bowling for Bums: My Life as a Charity Whore . . . by A. Price, who worked in local nonprofits and reveals her firsthand knowledge in this book. With the author’s permission, I posted an excerpt here on my blog several months ago.

Unfortunately, this anonymous donor of up to $1.5 million to Bridge House’s transitional living project at 4747 Table Mesa is as clueless as he/she is generous.

Here’s what I’d do with such a bundle of loot, starting with two points in mind:

1) I’m independently wealthy and able to devote time to hands-on supervision of how my money would be used; and

2) My aim is to help homeless single adults without kids (actually, I’d prefer to help homeless families, but arguendo let’s pretend it’s single adults who have no parental responsibilities).

Under no circumstances would I donate to a so-called nonprofit; instead, I’d seek out worthy homeless men and women who would have the best chance of benefitting in the long-term, and then I’d help them DIRECTLY. Different life circumstances would call for different ways of spending — it could go toward rent and utilities for a few months, medical bills, acquiring a vehicle in good running order, tuition, etc. I’d set a limit of no more than $15,000 for any individual, in order to stretch the $1.5 million as far as possible but still make a substantial contribution to their well-being. It’s a financial hand up on a one-time only basis.

In addition, I’d recruit volunteers from various professional backgrounds to teach a Life Skills class to everyone I wanted to help.

What’s wrong with transitional living programs run by a nonprofit like Bridge House or Boulder Shelter for the Homeless? Based on my observations here in Boulder, CO during the past six years plus, NOBODY ever transitions to independent living, defined as being free of the social services system. At best, maybe 10% of homeless clients in a Transition Program will wind up in subsidized housing, and dependent on all kinds of other taxpayer-funded handouts for the rest of their lives.

Granted, a certain minimal level of emergency shelter/services is necessary for those who are unable or unwilling to cope on their own. More residential psychiatric facilities, more group homes for the developmentally disabled, more halfway houses for parolees (especially sex offenders), and in general MORE SUPERVISION in secure settings are desperately needed for people who are currently on the streets.

But, I digress . . .

The failure rate in transitional living programs is due to two factors, it seems to me:

1) Case managers at the nonprofits do an incredibly lousy job of screening applicants to their programs, choosing many who have no chance for success;* and

2) Clients in the programs aren’t being taught how to get along in the Real World, and are allowed to keep one foot in their old homeless lifestyle, with the same friends in the same environment.

In this way, the “transition” becomes nothing but a revolving door between the streets and the programs. Literally so; some of same faces I first saw back in 2008 when I arrived here in Boulder are still in the program at BSH for the umpteenth time. Those who get into subsidized housing get evicted, more often than not, because they can’t get along with either landlords or neighbors.

As far as I can tell, the only people who benefit by the current arrangement are those employed in the social services industry — and a big part of their reward is to Feel Good about themselves.

Reason to smile, if you’re Isabel McDevitt

Whatever amount of money you have to give away to a charitable cause, I sincerely hope that you’ll use good judgment and NOT flush it down the toilet of a worthless program run by a local nonprofit.


*Dallas Transient (DT) has an appointment with a case manager at BSH today; this morning, he was in the men’s shower area talking about other men’s penises. DT has nothing to recommend him as suitable for any serious program aimed at self-improvement, and by his own admission came here to Colorado because of “legal” marijuana.


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