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January 9, 2003
Woodside Doe Fund men keep streets clear of trash

by Dustin Brown
The men in the blue jumpers had been on the street for most of the morning last Thursday, sweeping up the litter that collects on the sidewalks of Roosevelt Avenue, the unwanted droppings of a bustling streetscape. They had already settled into the routine, although this was only their third week on the job.

Andreas Giannopapas, the owner of a diner that sits on the corner of 61st Street, peered out his doorway and smiled.

"A very good job they do. You see everything is nice and clean," he said as he pointed through the cold air to the sidewalk outside his restaurant. "It's a good idea. Everybody should do that."

Since last month, four men have been patrolling Woodside's streets for trash like cops rooting out crime. They are employees of Ready, Willing & Able, a Doe Fund program that hires homeless men while providing them with meals and social services at a shelter in Harlem.

City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Woodside) supplied funding to bring the workers to Woodside in an effort to clean up the neighborhood and galvanize the business community.

"We believe that Roosevelt Avenue ought to be just as clean as Park Avenue," Gioia said as he stood alongside the 61st Street train station last Thursday to announce the program.

The Doe Fund was founded in memory of a homeless woman who froze to death in the city in 1985. The fund's founder and president, George McDonald, remembered giving her sandwiches in Grand Central Terminal and identified her body shortly after Christmas in the city morgue.

The four formerly homeless men who are sweeping out a cleaner Woodside joined the Ready, Willing & Able program to get support as they put their lives back together, preparing to eventually re-enter the work force on their own.

"It's unlike any other shelter in the city," said Gary Burden, 39, one of the four Doe Fund workers assigned to the Woodside beat. "You work, make money. They help you save money, they give you a job and kind of help you get on your feet. I honestly think this is as close to a perfect program as there could be."

"I hope in the long run it'll do me some good," said Edward Lee Cooper, 33, one of Burden's colleagues. "It teaches you how to be self-sustaining and self-sufficient and focus on yourself instead of other things."

But the benefits also extend to the neighborhoods they serve as the cleaner streets improve local morale and, community leaders hope, bring in more business.

"This will be a catalyst for the business community to come together and grow," McDonald said. "Once we've been in a neighborhood for a while, they realize change is possible."

The Woodside effort comes a few months after the Doe Fund initiated a similar program with workers cleaning the streets of Flushing.

The target area extends along Roosevelt Avenue and parts of Queens Boulevard between 45th and 61st streets, which the four workers clean five days a week.

Woodsiders have already noticed the difference.

"This area especially was always dirty and littered. Look at how much nicer it looks," said Tom Ryan, the executive director of Woodside on the Move, a community development organization, as he gestured to a street clear of trash. "It takes the pressure off the merchants to keep this clean. This is a major intersection. I've never seen it this clean."

"The people are very appreciative. They come up to us and compliment us and thank us for being here," said Albert Rochet, 47, one of the Doe Fund workers. "We get out here before the merchants are in the stores."

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