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December 12, 2002
Swept Away -- Lacking Funds, Rego Park Doe Fund Calls It Quits

by Robert Brodsky
Street cleaning and sanitation services in Rego Park took a major hit last month as the much-lauded Doe Fund program pulled up stakes due to lack of funding.

The program, which utilizes drug-free, homeless adults to sweep neighborhood streets, empty trash pails and clean graffiti, had been a popular fixture in Rego Park since its debut in July of 2000.

Initially the program was subsidized by grants and discretionary funding from state Senator Daniel Hevesi. The senator, however, said his intention was always to turn the then publicly-funded endeavor over to private businesses ?- a plan which has been replicated in several other Doe Fund programs citywide.

Consequently, when the state funds to support the program dried up after September 11th, Hevesi turned to local shopkeepers to ante up and keep the Doe Fund alive.

However, without a viable merchants association, the plan lacked organization and failed to take off.

The Rego Park Merchants Association -? which was nearly defunct at the time ?- had hoped to raise the necessary $44,000 to cover the Doe Fund's annual costs but fell well short of their expectations, gathering only $5,000.

"I'm really disappointed with the major tenants in Rego Park," said Hevesi, who will be out of office in January. "They didn't step up to the plate the way I had hoped they would."

Hevesi thought he had found a stop-gap measure last April, announcing that he had secured $37,440 in state funding devoted to non-profit organizations directly impacted by the terrorist attacks.

However, as the city's financial situation deteriorated over the past months, Hevesi said the funding got held up due to "internal senate" wrangling.

With no other viable financial alternative, the Doe Fund's contract expired on October 31st and was not renewed, becoming the first such program to fail in its two-and-a-half-year history in New York City.

The senator said the Doe Fund is still owed several months worth of funding for services provided through the summer and early autumn, which he promises will be paid before he leaves office.

However, the ill effects of the Doe Fund's departure has already been felt on the streets of Central Queens, officials said.

"Rego Park has gotten dirtier," Hevesi said. "Sanitation services are not what they used to be and will probably be cut further. I'm really nervous about the conditions."

Kathleen Reilly, district manager for Community Board 6, said her office has received several complaints about conditions on Queens Boulevard and 63rd Drive, two of the major commercial districts that were formerly cleaned by the Doe Fund.

"They made a tremendous difference and this is a great disappointment for the community," she said. "But, it is still the shopkeepers' responsibility to keep their area clean."

In addition to keeping the streets clean and attractive for consumers, the Doe Fund also served a dual purpose -? saving merchants potential fines and summonses for filthy sidewalks on their property. With the program no longer active, Reilly suspects inattentive business owners could take a hit in the wallet.

"I don't understand why Rego Park never got their act together," Reilly said. "It's a viable commercial area, but they need an organization -? like a chamber of commerce -? to assume a leadership role."

That mantle could be picked up, at least temporarily, by Assemblyman Michael Cohen, who said he would be working again in January to re-acquire the funding.

Doe Fund officials said they would welcome Rego Park back to their program if a secure funding agreement was reached.

"We would love to be back there," said Jennifer Mitchell, planning and programming coordinator for the Manhattan-based program. "It was a great experience and everyone worked very hard to keep it going. It just wasn't enough."

Mitchell said that her office has received several calls from Rego Park residents expressing their desire for the group to return. That enthusiasm, she said, has not been matched by area merchants, who have been far from vocal in their outreach efforts.

"It's not too late, though," Mitchell urged. "I just hope that someone in the community sees how important this program is."

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