Homeless man stole donations, police say

A homeless man was arrested for allegedly using a wire hook to steal money out of a downtown Ashland donation box set up to benefit homeless people.

Henry Jesse Boswell, 48, was arrested at about 9:30 p.m. Saturday on a charge of third-degree theft, according to the Ashland Police Department.

A witness saw Boswell using a wire hook to fish money out of the box, located near the Ashland Chamber of Commerce and Black Swan Theatre on Main Street, said Deputy police Chief Corey Falls.

The witness flagged down a police officer, who then stopped Boswell, Falls said. "He denied it at first, but then he came around," Falls said.

An exact dollar figure was not available, but Falls said the amount was small.

Falls said it's not clear whether all of the money in the donation box was taken, or only a portion.

Boswell has had at least two citations for possessing open containers of alcohol in public in 2011 and this year, according to Ashland Municipal Court records.

He was cited 15 times in Ashland in 2010, although records from that year do not disclose what the citations were for.

In mid-June, the city, chamber and St. Vincent de Paul teamed up to install three donation boxes downtown in the hope they would better help the homeless and cut down on panhandling.

Donations will be removed and counted for the first time later this week, said Graham Lewis, a member of the city's Homelessness Steering Committee.

"We haven't looked inside the boxes yet. We decided to give it a good six weeks," he said.

Graham said it was disappointing that anyone would steal from the boxes.

"It's sad that someone would do that. The other side is the person must be optimistic that people are donating," he said. "I hope people will continue to put money in them and that this act of theft doesn't deter donations."

The donation boxes are widely disliked by many members of the local homeless community.

They have said they would like to receive donations directly themselves and worry that donations made in Ashland will be syphoned off to St. Vincent de Paul operations in Medford.

Some homeless people also have said they don't like that part of the money could be used to help people who are on the brink of homelessness but still have housing.

Chamber officials have said the money collected here will be used to help people in Ashland and Talent.

The three donation boxes in Ashland are at the Black Swan, in front of City Hall and near Mix Sweet Shop.

If people want to donate but not use the boxes, they can give to an account set up at People's Bank of Commerce, 1500 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland, OR 97520.

Checks should be made out to St. Vincent de Paul.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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