Dogs are replacing the homeless
by Anita LeBlanc
For the past ten years, black steel bins marked with a big red heart have collected used clothing and shoes to benefit the nonprofit Homeless Empowerment Relationship Organization (HERO). But early this year, HERO's red-and-white signage disappeared from bins in gas stations and mall and grocery store parking lots, replaced with a doleful English springer spaniel encouraging donations in the name of the Michigan Humane Society (MHS).
The bins, it turns out, belong to neither HERO nor the humane society. They're owned by a private business, Houston-based American Textile Recycling Services Corporation (ATRS).
Marti Rodwell, executive director of HERO, says she got into the bin business in 2003 through Ali Hashem, who ran his own import-export company, M.H. Textiles. (At the time, HERO had operations in Ann Arbor, but it has since moved its base to Canton.) Rodwell says she had an "excellent partnership" with Hashem, who initially placed fifty HERO bins throughout Washtenaw County. "Every week he gave me a breakdown of the contents, gleaned out clothing and shoes for us to give to our clients, and paid us on a regular basis. He kept me informed every step of the way."
Hashem brought ATRS into the relationship in 2005, saying he needed someone who had a better understanding of the bin business; in 2007, he bowed out entirely. In 2008, Rodwell says, ATRS operated 300 HERO-tagged bins throughout southeast Michigan, and HERO's share of the donations covered roughly 50 percent of its sub-$100,000 budget.
But when her contract with ATRS came up for renewal, Rodwell says, she was told that the company planned to partner with the Michigan Humane Society instead of HERO, because "they felt that MHS was better known in more Michigan counties and would bring in more bin donations." She asked for a one-year delay in the changeover in Washtenaw County so that "HERO would have time to explore its options." But that grace period is up, and even the former HERO bins in Washtenaw County now promote--and benefit--the suburban-Detroit based MHS.
An ATRS public relations consultant, who asked not to be named, insists the changeover is completely amicable. But Rodwell isn't giving up without a fight: she says she's looking into getting into the bin business herself. She envisions setting up fifteen customized, heart-shaped bins, and hiring former clients to collect and sort the donations.
[Originally published in April, 2013.]