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December 9, 2004
Honoring the Homeless

The Face of Philanthropy

by Nicole Lewis
On Christmas morning, a large crowd is expected to gather in Grand Central Station, in New York, for the 19th annual candlelight vigil to draw attention to the plight of the homeless by honoring the memory of "Mama Doe," a woman who died of pneumonia after she was evicted from the terminal on Christmas Day, 1985.

The event is organized by the Doe Fund, a charity that helps homeless people find permanent jobs and housing. The group's president, George T. McDonald, started distributing sandwiches to the homeless in the train station more than two decades ago after reading a newspaper report of a homeless woman who had died of malnutrition. "The idea that in the middle of the greatest city in the world a woman would die of malnutrition was unbelievable to me," he says.

But after homeless people repeatedly told Mr. McDonald they would readily swap the free food for "a room and a job to pay for it," he started the Doe Fund, named for the often anonymous people who live and die on the streets.

The charity's flagship program, Ready, Willing & Able, offers homeless men room and board, counseling to help them fight drug and alcohol addiction, and a minimum-wage job at one of the charity's businesses, which include a bulk-mail center and services that provide street cleaning and pest control. The program says it focuses on helping men since men outnumber women 10 to 1 among the homeless.

The Ready, Willing & Able program, which has expanded to Jersey City, Philadelphia, and Washington, also provides computer, general-education, and job-skills classes. It has helped 1,700 people who have completed the program find permanent housing, as well as employment as doormen, administrative assistants, and construction workers, among other positions.

Nearly 60 percent of the Doe Fund's $43-million budget comes from revenue earned from its businesses. Government and foundation grants, plus donations from individuals, provide 33 percent of the group's budget, with the remainder coming from investment assets.

Here, about 250 people gather in Grand Central Station's main concourse for last year's vigil for the homeless.

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