Good intentions are not enough
Last updated 8/22/2023 at 11:25am
According to ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer site, the Sisters Cold Weather Shelter (SCWS) officially became a registered nonprofit in January 2021. This fact is mirrored by Guidestar’s non-profit profile of the same organization.
The only IRS tax filing to date listed by both ProPublica and Guidestar is for fiscal year 2022, when SCWS filed a 990EZ to include Schedule A. The SCWS offered its justification as a public charity is because it is “an organization that normally receives a substantial part of its support from a governmental unit or from the public described in section 170(b)(1)(A)(vi). (Complete Part II.)”
When I spoke with Luis Blanchard, president of SCWS, last Friday, he offered his understanding that SCWS had filed its taxes for 2020 and 2021 and he would be contacting their accountant on this matter.
Per the IRS, SCWS as a nonprofit is required to file an annual information return (990, 990EZ, or 990N electronic postcard) yearly. Failure to do so for three consecutive years can result in its nonprofit status being revoked. Blanchard, who succeeded Molly Jones as president just three months ago, conceded the organization has yet to notify the IRS of the change in leadership and affirmed SCWS only incorporated in mid-2020.
Although the effective date of the IRS intent to grant exemption status for the SCWS was made on August 12, 2020, the actual ruling date, meaning all those documents submitted to the IRS for consideration had been reviewed and approved regarding its application was not made until January 2021. Blanchard offers the Sisters city attorney, when reviewing the new application, accepted the new document using the August 12 date as this would just give SCWS the required three years’ experience in providing professional services for the local homeless / houseless population.
However, my call to an IRS Tax Exempt and Government Entities navigator revealed the ruling date, or January 22, 2021, is the official start date of SCWS’s nonprofit status, not August 12, 2020. In short, the organization does not possess the mandatory three years of work and services in this field.
ProPublica and Goldstar accurately provide the true ruling date on their websites.
When asked how many beds would be available at the shelter, Mr. Blanchard stated the Sisters fire marshal just approved 40 “beds,” 20 “beds” more than the revised application states. And these are not beds, per se. “We provide pre-packed tote sacks to the clients,” explained Blanchard. He went on to say that sleeping bags are also provided and there are no beds [or even cots, apparently] available. Clients sleep on the shelter’s floor during their stay.
Safety-wise Blanchard made it clear that the State of Oregon’s criteria for the grant money SCWS would be using does not permit SCWS staff to search a client or his/her belongings when they come to the shelter. When asked if this meant a client could bring drugs and / or weapons into the shelter with them the response was, “Yes.”
Blanchard was swift to offer that in all the time he’s been involved locally with the homeless he has never heard of or experienced poor or illegal behavior taking place.
“We know many of our local homeless who are living in the forest,” he told me. “We’re a pretty good judge of character.”
Blanchard affirmed the initial involvement of Cheyenne Purrington in assisting his board in preparing its application for state funds. When asked if he was aware Ms. Purrington, hired by Deschutes County as its county homeless coordinator at $148,000 a year, had hurriedly resigned when it was learned her resume claims were inaccurate and the California Department of Justice, in lieu of an independent audit of the homeless nonprofit she was hired to manage in Lake Tahoe, assigned noncriminal mismanagement of the $8.1 million dollar state grant Purrington had wrangled from the state, he stated he was not aware of this.
For all its good intentions and layman’s efforts, it is clear the folks at SCWS are not yet qualified, or ready to assume the responsibilities required of those who truly understand how best to serve our homeless population while likewise remaining a good steward of the Sisters community at-large.
“Good intentions that are not clothed in reason lead to greater disasters than those actions built on ill will or stupidity.”
— Henning Mankell, “The Fifth Woman”