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November 25, 2002
Homeless making a clean sweep

by Kelly McCarthy
For two decades, Joseph Pace has run a pizzeria and zeppole stand on Main Street in Flushing, and though he likes his neighborhood, he has disliked the garbage and dirt that collects outside. But now, Pace likes what he sees outside of his stand: men in bright blue jumpsuits collecting the junk on the sidewalks.

They aren't sanitation workers, but participants in Ready, Willing & Able, a program designed to clean up sidewalks and to help formerly homeless men rebuild their lives. The program began in Flushing this month, and signs of improvement are already visible.

"It looks like they are doing a good job," Pace said. "If they keep it up like this, it will help the area. People won't be drawn away [because of] the dirt and the smell."

A three-person team will sweep up litter in designated areas along Main Street, from Northern Boulevard to Sanford Avenue, and portions of surrounding streets, including Roosevelt Avenue and Kissena Boulevard, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week for the next year.

Ready, Willing & Able, which has already been sending teams to clean sections of Rego Park, Forest Hills, Brooklyn and the Bronx, was created by The Doe Fund, a nonprofit organization in Manhattan that helps the homeless. The fund has several other programs in its four residence facilities to help homeless individuals with HIV and AIDS, and help those who are on welfare find jobs.

The cleanup program, funded by Destination Flushing, a group of business owners working to improve the area, was brought in by City Council member John C. Liu (D-Flushing).

Liu heard about the nonprofit's other sites and decided it would help beautify the area, which has been growing, and attract new businesses and consumers.

"The cleanup effort is obviously needed," Liu said, pointing to the garbage that spills onto sidewalks and streets.

"We want to make Flushing a destination for all people throughout the region," Liu said. "Getting this place clean and attractive is obviously one of the first steps."

"If we clean up the sidewalks, I believe people will be much more conscientious, and I think that is going to be proven over the next couple of weeks," he said.

The Ready, Willing & Able program also has gotten strong support from businesses. Yee Leung, owner of International Entertainment Marketing and a member of Destination Flushing, said that he hoped the cleanup will have a "snowball" effect attracting new business and more large-chain retail stores. "We want to change our image so the investors from outside franchises will feel confident coming in here," he said.

Ready, Willing & Able also builds confidence and job skills. Trainees receive a minimum wage of $5.50-$6.50 an hour after training one month. They contribute $50 a week for rent and $15 for meals in a Doe Fund facility; $30 a week goes into savings accounts, and trainees' total savings are matched when they graduate to other jobs, usually in 12 to 18 months.

"It demonstrates to the people of Flushing that homeless folks want to work, be given an opportunity, and they can tell by their new pristine streets that that's true," said George McDonald, president and founder of The Doe Fund.

Since the program's inception in 1990, McDonald said more than 1,300 homeless men, some with histories of substance abuse and incarceration, have found jobs.

After he was released from jail on a robbery conviction, Kenneth Kelly was living with his sister when the building was condemned in June. Having nowhere else to go, Kelly, 37, went to a men's shelter and quickly became involved with Ready, Willing & Able.

"The program has really helped me out. It's showed me between right and wrong," he said. "They help you get your education, your driver's license, and they are there for you."

Kelly said he enjoys work every day. "I look forward to it, I really do," he said. "It makes me feel good when someone comes up and says to you, 'Thank you for cleaning the street.'"

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