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March 18, 1997
Group Accused Of Disrupting Work Program

by Rachel L. Swarns
In an unusual dispute pitting one homeless advocacy group against another, the operator of a homeless shelter in Harlem accused the Coalition for the Homeless yesterday of disrupting a 10-month-old program that requires residents to work and pay for shelter.

The operator, George McDonald, said he planned to file a lawsuit against the Coalition in Federal District Court this afternoon. He said that the Coalition, which monitors the city's shelters, encouraged homeless residents to boycott the work program. The city-financed program requires residents to work for $5.50 an hour -- sweeping streets and performing construction work -- and to pay $65 a week for their beds with their earnings.

"They have overstepped their role as a court-appointed monitor," said Mr. McDonald of the Coalition. "They've interfered with the operation of the program."

But Steven Banks, a lawyer for the Coalition, said that the homeless men in the 198-bed shelter at 2690 Frederick Douglass Boulevard objected to having to pay for shelter, when the city guarantees free beds for all who need them.

"The government is obligated to provide shelter and it is counterproductive to deduct rent from meager wages which could otherwise allow homeless people to get permanent housing," said Mr. Banks, a lawyer at the Legal Aid Society who is representing the Coalition.

The dispute between the two non-profit groups began shortly after Mr. McDonald's group, The Doe Fund, won a three-year city contract worth $7.5 million last May.

The program, which is called "Ready, Willing and Able," requires all residents to work, to participate in drug and alcohol rehabilitation sessions if necessary, and to save a portion of the money they earn. Mr. McDonald says the goal is to move homeless men from the streets into permanent housing and jobs.

But the Coalition argues that the men often land in dead-end jobs and that most of the money they earn goes toward beds that should be free.

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