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September 7, 1997
The Lives Behind The Brooms

From a shelter to a job. And then who knows?

by Janet Allon
When men in blue uniforms first began plucking garbage from the sidewalks and gutters along Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue from 72d to 96th Street in April, residents were delighted but somewhat puzzled. Who were these men and where did they come from?

Now that the 32-man crew is a regular feature of the Upper West Side landscape, their white trash bags on every corner, the streets are much cleaner. As for the residents, they are still curious. Are these sanitation workers? Are they earning welfare payments?

At 3:30 each afternoon, white vans drive the men from the neighborhood to the Harlem Men's Shelter at 155th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, where they live. They shelter is run by The Doe Fund, a nonprofit group. The men were referred there by the city shelter system or a detoxification program. Many are recovering alcoholics or drug addicts.

All have signed up for the group's work-oriented program: Ready, Willing and Able. They are paid $5.50 an hour for a 40-hour week and they in turn have to pay $65 a week for their shelter, and to save $30 a week, which The Doe Fund withholds from their earnings. When they successfully complete the program, one condition of which is saving $1,000, the money is returned to them along with another $1,000 as a matching gift.

Financing for the program comes from the Federal and city governments and private donations.

Although Upper West Side residents have occasionally complained of too many social-service programs in their neighborhood, this is one project they seem to welcome.

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