Ready, Willing & Under Fire

Community Fights Doe Fund Shelter

But McDonald has never operated a shelter program for those who haven't volunteered, advocates say. His RWA "trainees" typically endure a tailored program that can last as long as 18 months; Porter Avenue, primarily, will be used to handle those entering the city's 21-day assessment period. Doe's security team concedes that mixing their drug-free trainees with transients could lead to problems, and the prospect brings back memories of riots during Doe's first days taking over their Harlem facility, when the city's regular shelter folk tried to organize RWA clients to boycott the work program. "It'll be a challenge," says McDonald. "We're more than ready."

Even though Mayor Bloomberg's DHS administration inherited the controversial Porter Avenue project, it remains committed, and touts Doe's track record as nothing but success. One of 70 homeless service providers, the Doe Fund recruits troubled men and women from shelters, offers clean beds, food, and counseling in exchange for a stipend equivalent to minimum wage—$5.50 for the first sixth months, $6.50 for the next six—for sweeping streets in uniform, cooking, or packing mail. Founded in 1985, Doe receives nearly $11 million a year in government grants and private donations. "We see the potential in people," says McDonald. "The system doesn't."

McDonald's moxie has long been appreciated by housing policy wonk Andrew Cuomo, a Democratic candidate for governor. Just before Doe offered its bid to the city to build Porter Avenue, Cuomo, then secretary of Housing and Urban Development, offered Doe over $1 million to start an RWA program in Washington, D.C.

Receipts often were not provided, client medication wasn't always properly secured, and staff credentials and qualifications were not always provided, along with simple supplies like toilet paper, according to an unreleased report signed by Susie King, the District's homeless services contract administrator.

The report also states that start-up funds were paid in advance—another violation of their agreement—and that the money was used for air travel, petty cash, and staff salaries. Above all, the District charged, Doe failed to serve the minimum number of 60 homeless adults stipulated by the contract; on average, the facility served 36. The report's recommendation was to never again do business with Doe. The District requested a full financial audit.

"To think the city awarded $180 million to Doe when they couldn't handle 60 men in D.C. raises some serious red flags," says Needelman. "There definitely was a hidden hand somewhere."

In defense, King's office had philosophical differences with the Doe fund, says Harriet McDonald, the group's VP, and her office's report "couldn't be more inaccurate. We're an asset to the community."

"None of this is true," says McDonald. "It's slander, by not-in-my-backyard."

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