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Homeless donation boxes removed

Ashland removed three homeless donation boxes recently after all the paper bills inside were fished out and stolen.

The downtown boxes will be reinstalled once they can be redesigned to be theft-proof, said Graham Lewis, a member of Ashland's Homelessness Steering Committee, and the staff 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, 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 money was taken.

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

It's not clear how many people were responsible for the thefts.

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.

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. The boxes have a slot for people to insert money.

Before they are reinstalled, the white boxes may be painted a more eye-catching color, he said. The lettering on the boxes also could change, he said.

"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 and believe money from the boxes will be diverted to St. Vincent de Paul's Medford operations.

Organizers contend that the money will help Ashland and Talent people escape from homelessness. Some of the money will be used to help house people who are at risk of becoming homeless, they say.

People who want to make donations can send checks to People's Bank of Commerce, 1500 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland, OR 97520. Graham said checks should be made out to "Donation Box Account."

Homeless man Aaron Fletcher has been working on a competing effort, asking people to drop money inside a Plexiglas container he pulls around town in a small wagon. He also is gathering items such as toiletries.

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