Cuomo Wants "Homeless Helpers" Off the Street - NBC New York

Cuomo Wants "Homeless Helpers" Off the Street

Lawsuit alleges that organization to collect money for homeless is a sham



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    "Help feed the homeless. We need your support."

    You may hear a few less cups jugs with change for the homeless this holiday season if Andrew Cuomo has his way. The attorney general filed papers in court yesterday to shut down the "homeless helpers" – you know, the volunteers behind the red folding tables that stop you on the street to ask for a penny.

    But it's not because Cuomo's a Scrooge. The politician says the United Homeless Organization is a sham run by scam artists who keep most of the cash donated to them, which can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, according to a published report.

    We're all familiar with the cry, "Help feed the homeless. We need your support."

    But while most passersby may assume these volunteers are saying "we" in a figurative sense, Cuomo's lawsuit, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, charges that it's the homeless who are doing the collecting. And rather than funnel the money into shelters, they keep the dough themselves – most of it anyway, reports The New York Post.

    UHO founder Stephen Riley and director Myra Walker take a portion of the money to fund their extracurricular activities and pay some of their bills, according to the Post.  

    The organization, which operates out of Walker's apartment, didn't return a call from the Post seeking comment. Attempts to reach their Web site,, Tuesday morning reached a page that says, "Sorry! This site is not currently available.'

    Cuomo first wants the organization temporarily shut down, then for it to be permanently broken up and an injunction preventing Riley and Walker from ever partaking in charitable activities again – ever, according to the lawsuit cited by the Post.

    The operation appears to be more of a business than a charitable venture, if reports are correct. Riley, who has received nearly a decade of tax-exempt status for the organization he founded in 1985, charges a fee of $15 to $25 to rent an empty water jug and a table per four hour shift, reports the Post.

    "In exchange for paying a fee to Riley, UHO workers received tables and UHO-branded materials, including a tablecloth, apron and plastic jug, and the right to claim membership in UHO," the lawsuit charged, according to the paper.

    Once "volunteers" pay the flat rate, they get to pocket all the donations, which can reach up to about $80 per day during the prime holiday season, reports the Post.

    But, if the allegations are true, a little math indicates Walker and Riley are really the ones raking in the money. There are about 50 tables around Manhattan, each being used for up to three shifts a day, seven days a week, reports the Post. That means the two UHO heads could be making well over $100,000 annually.

    "Riley and Walker treated the 'fees' as their personal kitty, dipping into them whenever they choose," the lawsuit reads.

    Cuomo told the Post that Riley and Walker have misused UHO for their own benefit.  

    Undercover investigators interviewed "homeless helpers" across Manhattan as part of Cuomo's investigation. While most stuck to the script, some eventually confessed the money ended up in their pockets.

    "We don't own any shelters or soup kitchens," Rodney Borders, a self-professed UHO "manager," said in an interview, according to the Post. "The money provides us with everyday money."