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April 27, 1997
Neighborhood Report: Upper West Side

Putting Out Word on Picking Up Trash

by Janet Allon
When a small group of men wearing royal blue uniforms began sweeping Broadway from 71st to 96th Streets two weeks ago, some residents and officials were puzzled.

"I'm not saying the streets don't look a lot better," said Pat Hetkin, president of the Sanitation Council, a volunteer group that monitors sanitation on the Upper West Side. "But who are they and why did they suddenly plop themselves here?"

The answer is the men were sent by The Doe Fund, a nonprofit organization for the homeless, under its Ready, Willing and Able program, which tries to help men with a history of homelessness, drug problems and prison stays back into work and housing.

Eight men showed up the first day, and the cleaning corps is expected to grow to 40. The problem was that Community Board 7 and neighborhood groups had not been notified. "I guess there are some ruffled feathers," said Michael O'Donnell, The Doe Fund's director of work and training, after meeting with the community board and the sanitation superintendent. "We're playing catch-up now and trying to coordinate with everyone. We're dealing with some hurt feelings and breaches of protocol, but I think we'll be able to surmount that."

Pete Sampieri, the superintendent for the sanitation district, would have preferred to be consulted. "They should have come here and talked to me and told me when they were working and when," he said. Still, Mr. Sampieri said he was pleased by the quality of the work. "I applaud the work they do," he said. "I have to accept anything that makes the area look better."

The group has also received kudos on the East Side, where community groups sought them out a year and a half ago to clean and beautify the area between First and Lexington Avenues from 47th to 96th Streets. "It's been incredibly positive," said Judy MacLennan, president of the East 60's Neighborhood Association, which works with Ready, Willing and Able on graffiti removal and other projects. "I hope the West Side sees the kinds of changes the East Side has seen."

Despite the good reception there, the program has not been without controversy. When the Doe Fund took over the Harlem Men's Shelter on 155th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, which had been city-operated and plagued with drugs, last May, it instituted the Ready, Willing and Able program, which requires the workers to pay a weekly fee for a bed. The Coalition for the Homeless argued that the men often land in dead-end jobs and that most of the money they earn goes toward beds that should be free.

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