.Hounding Homeward – Novato shelter stops collecting “contributions” from residents

A chapter of the Marin Homeless Union declared victory this month after a Novato homeless shelter stopped charging residents a monthly “contribution.”

In mid-March, the union presented a list of 20 demands to the executive management at the New Beginnings Center, a shelter operated by Homeward Bound of Marin. Since then, the two sides have been at odds over a number of issues, although a few of the demands have been met. Homeward Bound has agreed to keep grievance forms in the lobby and to allow residents to bring a witness to meetings with staff.

A large conflict still remains: whether the controversial monthly fee paid by residents was a requirement.

Anthony Prince, attorney for New Beginnings Chapter #5, the newest chapter of the Marin Homeless Union, maintains the payments were mandatory rent. As recently as last month, the shelter threatened people with eviction for not paying contributions, Prince said.

Homeward Bound’s co-CEO, Paul Fordham, claims the residents’ contributions were voluntary.

Furthermore, Homeward Bound management has discussed ending the contributions at the New Beginnings Center for at least a year, according to Fordham. In January, the organization identified a financial resource to fill the budget void created by dropping the contributions, and it took a couple of months to access the new funding.

“As such, all of this has nothing at all to do with the self-declared New Beginnings Chapter of the Homeless Union,” Fordham said.

Why does it matter now that New Beginnings stopped the contribution policy? Because the homeless union thinks people are entitled to reimbursement and may file a legal claim against the nonprofit for unjust enrichment.

“New Beginnings has opened up the legitimacy of charging the contribution in the first place,” Prince said. “They can’t have it both ways. If they really needed it, why did they say it was not compulsory? Why did they send out letters to residents saying it was mandatory? Even if they received a funding source, they still have to prove they needed the contributions.”

The entire conflict could likely have been avoided if the shelter management had been willing to sit at the table with residents, along with their union representatives, to discuss the needs and legal rights of residents. Although the president of Homeward Bound’s board of directors committed to a meeting in March, it never took place.

The situation has since escalated and has been turned over to lawyers on both sides.

Nikki Silverstein
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