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December 1, 1994
Budget Cuts Hurt Renowned Homeless Program

by Ben Farrington
The directors of Ready, Willing and Able, a non-profit program which takes homeless men off the street and puts them to work renovating city buildings, have issued an appeal for help. Harriet Karr-McDonald, director of development for The Doe Fund, which runs the program, says she is faced with the prospect of dropping people from the program four weeks before Christmas.

Karr-McDonald says, "We need funding urgently from anyone interested in a long-term solution to homelessness in New York. We have a budget shortfall of $200,000, but we don't want to put people out on the streets before they can look after themselves."

Ready, Willing and Able, which is funded by a combination of city, federal and private contributions, matches the willingness of homeless men to work with a comprehensive training program that actually costs less than half the $18,000 a year the city spends to keep one man sleeping in a city shelter or welfare hotel.

The program is suffering because of cutbacks to the city's Department of Housing Preservation Development.

Ready, Willing and Able teaches homeless men how to look after themselves, trains them in self-reliance, and then puts them to work for a small salary. In addition to paying for food and accommodations at the program, each man is required to save at least $30 a week.

In a year when welfare reform is the hottest topic on the legislative agenda, this model program is one of only a handful given national awards as practical solutions to homelessness by both Republican and Democratic administrations. Jack Kemp and Henry Cisneros have both given Ready, Willing and Able national awards for excellence and have suggested that it be replicated nationally.

Stephen DiBrienza, chair of New York City's General Welfare Committee, says he would like to help out. "The Doe Fund has developed an innovative and successful program to enable formerly homeless individuals to become self-sufficient. I support this program and urge the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to reconsider their decision to reduce the program's work contracts."

The figures for the success of Ready, Willing and Able are compelling. Although over 70 percent of the program's entrants have extensive criminal records on entry (one man with 54 convictions), not one has been convicted of any crime after graduation. Although many entrants had never held a job in their life, 60 percent of those who stayed in the program for 12 to 18 months have secured jobs in the private sector and have been able to rent their own apartments.

The program also rebuilds broken families. Karr-McDonald says that most of the homeless men in the program had become homeless due to a combination of problems. "It is never only one factor, but many of the men in our program come from foster homes or single-parent homes where the parent had drug or alcohol problems. With little preparation for life, they end up on drugs, repeating the cycle. Access to drugs was the last straw for many of the people we meet."

But Ready, Willing and Able is also trying to break that cycle for the next generation. Eighty-seven percent of the men with children who have graduated now support their children financially and emotionally. "There is a lot of talk these days about rebuilding the family," Karr-McDonald says, "but we have had fathers who have taken over custody of their children from mothers with serious drug problems and some who have recovered their children from foster homes to look after them."

To draw attention to the success of the program, Ready, Willing and Able has put crews of men in uniform and with ID tags to work cleaning up the streets around 86th Street on the East Side. The men working on the clean-up project are optimistic and very positive about their experiences in the program. Juan Wright, in the program for five months, says, "I needed work experience to get a permanent job with decent pay. This program will help me get one."

Leveal Cromwell, 38, pushes his broom briskly along the sidewalk on Second Avenue. "This work gives me a sense of hope that I can get back into the mainstream of society," he says, breaking into a big smile.

Karr-McDonald says she wants people to understand that Ready, Willing and Able's approach helps homeless men far more effectively than by just giving hand-outs in the street. "If someone is hungry then we should feed them, but we know that does not improve the situation. We offer people the tools to take care of themselves. Employment is the key."

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