Homeless agencies say recent scheme shouldn’t stop families from giving

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The long drawn out scheme that appears to have been unraveled regarding a GoFundMe scheme comes at a bad time of year. Agencies that address homelessness around the city said they hope the news doesn't prevent people from giving over the holidays.

A year ago, a couple from New Jersey said they befriended a homeless man and raised more than $400,000 to help him get on his feet. Months later, news broke that the man never received the money. Then Thursday, investigators announced it was all a scheme between the couple and the man at an attempt to get rich quick.

"We are very generous by nature," said Steve Kerr, the chief development officer at Wheeler Mission Ministries. "We really do want to help people, but it demonstrates that we need to take caution."

According to the Better Business Bureau serving Central Indiana, charitable organizations receive one third of their annual donations during the holiday season.

Kerr said the best thing anyone can do when they're considering where to give is to do research.

"People just need to ask some simple questions and not be afraid to ask those organizations questions like what are your overhead costs," Kerr said. "Every organization has overhead costs."

Kerr said a good rule of thumb is find agencies that spend at least 65 percent of their funds on programs that serve the homeless, with the remaining money going to expenses to run the organization.

He added its best for people to not give to individuals looking for money or panhandlers to avoid having your money not go to a good cause.

"There are just too many who are scamming," said Kerr. "There are obviously a good number of people who desperately need help, but they are also a lot of reputable organizations that can provide that help to those individuals."

Tim Maniscalo with the BBB said his office runs Give.org, which highlights organizations out to work in different areas. Agencies working with people experiencing homelessness can be found under the section labeled "Human Services."

"Unfortunately, there are people out there who will try to rip you off, but there are a lot of good charities out there and homeless is a huge need out there in our country," Maniscalo said.