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November 28, 2004
Community Champions: The Doe Fund, Inc.

Giving Hope to the Homeless

by Claire Curry
New York City's homeless crisis moved George McDonald to take action 15 years ago. Then a private-sector executive, he volunteered for 700 consecutive nights, distributing sandwiches to homeless people around Grand Central Terminal. On Christmas morning in 1985, one of the homeless women he befriended, known only as "Mama," died of pneumonia after being forced outside in the cold. This tragedy inspired McDonald to launch a nonprofit organization named in honor of anonymous homeless people who die on the streets of New York each year.

The Doe Fund provides disadvantaged people with a chance to rebuild their lives and become self-sufficient. "We accomplish this by offering them paid work and training opportunities and comprehensive support services designed to help them attain and sustain permanent jobs, housing and sobriety," McDonald says. The Ready Willing & Able (RWA) Program is a residential paid-work and training program that provides the homeless with transitional housing, employment and support services. "Trainees" are mostly young men facing long-term drug addictions, legal problems and criminal records. Nonetheless, most willingly relinquish old habits and welfare benefits in favor of jobs paying $5.50 an hour, warm beds, hearty meals and counseling. Some of their wages go toward room and board and personal savings accounts. During the 9 to 18 months participants spend in training, they learn marketable skills and work a variety of jobs ranging from cleaning sidewalks to light construction to preparing meals and working on computers. The Doe Fund's uniformed workforce -- known as the "Men in Blue" -- enhances quality of life for all New Yorkers by improving the city's landscape with sanitation and safety services. "We are one of the largest street-cleaning operations in the country, covering more than 150 miles of New York City streets and sidewalks every day," McDonald says. Since 1990, over 1,700 formerly homeless individuals have graduated from the RWA program.

Last year, The Doe Fund opened the Peter Jay Sharp Center for Opportunity in Brooklyn. This state-of-the-art facility houses 400 homeless people. "All residents have agreed to be drug-tested and engage in 'life plans' to positively exit the system," McDonald says. "The Center confirms our belief that many homeless people will seize the opportunity to leave drugs, crime and the streets behind to go to work." The extraordinary success of The Doe Fund's training, employment and housing programs proves McDonald's theory all along, that work really does work.

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