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October 20, 2003
Clean Machine Returns

Happy, shiny Forest Hills again

by Ruth Bashinsky
After a five-month hiatus, the men in blue are back in Forest Hills, picking up trash from Austin St. and Continental Ave.

"I am breathing a big sigh of relief that we have the Doe Fund street-cleaning crew back. Clean streets are good for business," said Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce and a local merchant, who announced the return at a Friday news conference attended by Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) and other local officials, merchants and shoppers.

In May, the Doe Fund's Ready, Willing & Able initiative ended after the Austin-Continental Merchants Association, which brought the street-cleaning project to the neighborhood in October 2000, no longer was able to secure adequate funding.

To help get the $38,000-a-year, five-day-a-week program restarted, the chamber and local property owners and merchants all kicked in. Katz made a $5,000 contribution from her personal discretionary fund, while Assemblyman Michael Cohen (D-Forest Hills) secured $5,000 from the state.

"The Doe Fund was with us for quite a few years and when it stopped there was a marked difference on how Austin St. looked," said Katz. "We are so thankful they are back. When someone puts money into the Doe Fund, they are saying that this neighborhood is worth it."

Ready, Willing & Able is a nonprofit organization operated by the Doe Fund and provides a permanent solution to homelessness through paid work and a host of other social services. All this is done as these formerly homeless people get their lives back on track.

Carmelo Rivera, a former drug user who became homeless and is now a Doe Fund trainee, was armed with broomstick and shovel. "It's a good job and it's helping me get my life together," said Rivera, 44. "People have noticed the streets are cleaner and have stopped to thank us."

Marla Cornejo, owner of the 5 Burro Cafe, who also lives in Forest Hills, said she was suffering, seeing all the dirty streets.

"When we didn't have the Doe Fund, we had to clean outside even more rigorously for fear that we'd get fined from the Sanitation Department," said Cornejo.

"It's a relief now and a pleasure to walk down the street."

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