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October 17, 1994
Board 10/Central Harlem Neighbors Prefer a School To a Work Program for Formerly Homeless

by Phil Rubin
Neighbors of a homeless shelter at 157th Street and Eighth Avenue want to turn it back into the school it once was, not use it for a new social-welfare program, said Kevin Daniels, who spoke at the Oct. 5 meeting of Community Board 10.

Mr. Daniels, a board member who lives near 157th Street, the district's northern tip, said neighbors oppose a plan by The Doe Fund Inc. to turn the city-run shelter into a federally funded work-housing program.

But many of his fellow board members, after hearing about the program on nationwide television newscasts, praised The Doe Fund's Ready, Willing & Able program in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which puts formerly homeless residents to work. The program has applied to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for $1.5 million over three years to run a similar program at the former John B. Russworm School, which for the last 12 years has been a 197-bed homeless shelter run by the city's Department of Homeless Services. Competion for the money is fierce, said George McDonald, the fund's president.

Mr. McDonald showed up for the meeting with five "clients" for the program. But he wasn't met with approval from neighbors who for the past three years have called for turning the shelter back into a school. The board wasn't scheduled to take any action on the matter.

Crime seems to be a worrisome fact of life near the shelter. But crime is less an issue than overcrowding in schools, he said, especially with the partially constructed Bradhurst Project, a massive housing plan designed for 2,000 families. In short, he said, neighbors fear that the existing elementary school, P.S. 46, is already too small to handle an expected influx of students.

Mr. Daniels blamed the difficulty of life in "the Valley" on poor urban planning in the 1960's. "We knew it would come to this ? We're in the Valley, surrounded by rock, by bridge, by river ? [T]he only way out is down Eighth Avenue. We're victims of geography and it's impossible for our children to go long distances; kids tend to go to school more often if there's a school close by."

Mr. McDonald of The Doe Fund told The Observer that Ready, Willing & Able's creative solution to homelessness is the best option for the space. He also stated that the current shelter is supported by city and state funds, but that his program would be supported by Federal funds.

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