Sunday, September 25, 2011

Haven House, Barbara Anderson and Financial Management

COLUMN NOTES: The topic of this column concerns a long-running controversy in the local area. There is a lot of back story and history but my main concern is the ability to financially manage. I mentioned this issue once before when it looked like others were going to take over. Unfortunately, even after the property was auctioned off for payroll taxes that were intentionally unpaid, the property still ended up in the same hands. Now the shelter has been in the news again, here and here.

HARBESON: Haven House needs new direction

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Due to concerns about the ability to make financially responsible decisions, it’s generally agreed that if you encounter homeless people on the street, it’s not a good idea to give them money.

I feel the same way about Haven House, at least as long as Barbara Anderson is in charge.

I cannot in good conscience give money to this local organization helping the homeless because the management has simply not proven to be financially responsible. The most recent example is the discovery that Executive Director Anderson decided to ignore the shelter’s sewer bills since 2008, which has now resulted in a lien being placed on the property.

This is not the first time Anderson made her own decision on what she shouldn’t have to pay. The property was taken from her once and sold at auction for unpaid payroll taxes. (Yes, the property ended up back in her hands.)

I was actually a bit sympathetic the first time, since it was a tax she chose not to pay. Too bad she didn’t take this action based on the principle of taxation being theft — I would have supported her in the protest. That wasn’t the case, of course.

Anderson thinks the work her organization does is important. She’s right. It is important. But it’s not exclusively so. Many people do important work that helps their neighbors — important work that is done in charitable organizations, in for-profit ventures and simply within a circle of family and friends.

Yet, somehow everyone is supposed to believe that what she does matters more than the hard work everyone else is doing. It’s just not so. Even a single individual who can only manage to take care of his or her own needs is doing something that matters.

I do not find her financial decisions on behalf of the Haven House organization acceptable. I do not accept her decision to simply not pay the sewer bill because she determined in her own mind, based on her ideas of how society should work, that they should not have to pay.

She tells us that her organization deserves free sewer service, which of course really means that she wants to force other people to pay. Her attitude of entitlement is certainly not an example I want to see set for the people currently living at the shelter. In addition, ignoring utility bills doesn’t exactly teach lessons of financial responsibility does it?

The problem is complicated even further since government operates sewer service. Politics can easily get intertwined and there is potential for corruption in deciding who gets special favors and who does not.

Anderson herself complained that the private citizen who brought this to everyone’s attention only did it for political reasons.

Anderson claims Haven House deserves special treatment because it provides a service to the city. But the city is merely an abstraction. The service is actually provided to people in need and, again, helping people is something many others are busy doing every day in a variety of ways, while still paying their sewer bills.

So I will never give money to Haven House as long as the current management structure exists. Even though the problem may be directed at a certain individual, let’s be clear that it’s specifically tied into the relationship and involvement the person has to the organization in question. My feelings and actions are no different than deciding not to fund any other entity if it has leadership I do not trust for whatever reason.

I’d rather give money directly to a homeless person to get drunk than give it to an organization that has Anderson making financial decisions.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson sometimes solicits money on the street. Not to get drunk, but to get sloshed on soft serve ice cream.

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