Ashland removes homeless donation boxes after thefts

Ashland has removed three homelessness donation boxes after thieves fished out all the paper bills inside.

The downtown boxes were taken down last week but will be reinstalled once they can be redesigned to be theft-proof, said Graham Lewis, a member of the city of Ashland's Homeless Steering Committee and photographer and volunteer coordinator for the Chamber of Commerce.

The boxes were installed in mid-June as part of a joint project of the city of Ashland, chamber and St. Vincent de Paul to help Ashland and Talent homeless people escape the streets.

When the boxes were opened earlier this month to see how much money they had garnered, they contained $90 in change, Lewis said.

"No bills were in any of the boxes," he said.

Lewis said organizers knew of people who had put in bills during the six weeks that the boxes were up, so it's obvious that the bills were fished out and stolen.

"I think it's sad that they would do that," he said.

It's not clear how many people were responsible for the thefts and who they are.

In late July, Henry Jesse Boswell, 48, was arrested for allegedly using a wire hook to steal money out of a box near the Black Swan Theatre.

Two other boxes were located near the downtown Plaza.

Ashland police said Boswell took a small amount of money.

Boswell, a homeless man, has a history of citations in Ashland that include possessing open containers of alcohol in public.

Lewis said he doesn't know how long it will take to come up with a theft-proof design for the donation boxes, which have a slot for people to insert money. They might also be repainted a more eye-catching color.

"We look forward to getting them back up in a way that we are confident that the money intended for St. Vincent de Paul will get to St. Vincent de Paul," Graham said.

The donation boxes have been widely disparaged by members of the homeless community.

They have said they want to receive donations from residents and tourists directly themselves, and believe money from the boxes will be diverted to St. Vincent de Paul's Medford operations.

— Vickie Aldous

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