Homeless men say they were recruited by Army veteran to pose as displaced New York vets

Homeless men say they were recruited by Army veteran to pose as displaced New York vets
File photo: Sharon Toney-Finch, founder of the YIT Foundation in Monticello on December 6, 2022. Photo credit Patrick Oehler/Poughkeepsie Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Several homeless men who were among a group of 15 men claim they were recruited by a U.S. Army veteran to portray homeless veterans who were evicted from Orange County, New York hotels by a busload of migrants from New York City, according to multiple media reports.

The story began when Sharon Toney-Finch, an Army vet, claimed that some 20 homeless military veterans that the charity she founded, the Yerik Israel Toney Foundation, had been paying to stay in hotels were evicted from The Crossroads Hotel in Newburgh last week to make room for a group of migrants bussed 70 miles from New York City to the area. However, after the story gained traction following a New York Post report, the Mid-Hudson News reported that the hotel's manager said there were no veterans at the hotel, none were kicked out and no guests were told to vacate.

The YIT Foundation, a small 501c3 nonprofit based in Monticello, New York, claims to offer assistance to premature births and their families and help homeless veterans in need of living assistance. Toney-Finch the foundation was forced to find the vets accommodations after they were asked to leave the Crossroads. Doubts have also been raised about Toney-Finch's claims she was awarded a Purple Heart.

Now, seven homeless men have spoken to the Mid-Hudson News that two individuals came to a homeless shelter looking for 15 men aged 40 to 60 who would be willing to take a trip to meet an elected official in Connecticut for a discussion on homelessness. The men were promised $200, plus food and alcohol. The Times-Union spoke to two of the homeless men who said the offer was $100 for two or three hours of work and that no heavy lifting would be involved.

The recruited homeless men were taken in vehicles to a diner where a third person, identified as Toney-Finch, told the men they could order anything from they ordered would be paid for, according to the Mid-Hudson News.

One of the homeless men told the paper, Toney-Finch said that at the meeting they were going to they were told to say they had been kicked out of a hotel to make room for migrants.

“She told us to act like we were the veterans that had been displaced. And she told us that if asked, we were supposed to say we had been kicked out and Sharon found us rooms in Fishkill," one man told the Mid-Hudson News.

The men were taken to meet Orange County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Heather Bell-Meyer. Toney-Finch admitted to the Mid-Hudson News on Friday that the meeting was done because Bell-Meyer had asked to meet the homeless veterans displaced from the hotels and that she had provided the men from the shelter to appear as if they were those veterans. However, she denies she paid them to act, only that she bought them lunch.

The homeless men have said they were not paid either the $100 or $200 they were promised.

“She was talking all this good stuff, but it was all a lie,” one man told the Times-Union. “Everything was a scam. She didn’t have the intention of paying us anything.”

“We’re just aggravated,” another told the Times-Union. “We’re homeless at the shelter, they’re dangling a carrot in front of us and then they took it away. We had plans to use that money to help us and they’ve totally taken it away.”

Featured Image Photo Credit: Patrick Oehler/Poughkeepsie Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK