Only six months after sanitation crews from the Doe Fund began cleaning up the business streets of Rego Park, the non-profit organization could be on its way out of the neighborhood, unless the community can raise thousands of dollars.
Known as Ready, Willing and Able, the program, which utilizes drug-free, homeless adults, began in Rego Park last July under the direction of State Senator Dan Hevesi.
At the time, Hevesi appropriated a large portion of his 2001 discretionary budget to launch the program.
However, after the September 11 attacks—and the budget cuts that followed—the senator’s financing for the program has dried up.
Jay Parker, president of the Rego Park Merchants Association, had also pledged $5,000 to support the program. He said the association, which is now all but defunct, was well on its way to raising the funds, prior to the terrorist attacks.
Unwilling to let the program disappear from the neighborhood, Parker, Hevesi, and several other Central Queens political leaders have organized a fundraiser, scheduled for Thursday, January 10th at 5:30 p.m. at Ben’s Best Delicatessen, located at 96-40 Queens Boulevard.
Hevesi said that before the Doe Fund program was launched, “Rego Park was an absolute mess. But, this program is so good. The neighborhood is 100 percent better.”
The senator added that financially, it’s in the local merchants’ best interest to help fund the program. Doe Fund workers sweep the streets in front of area businesses, helping them to avoid fines for having litter within 12 inches of their stores.
Hevesi said he is confident that between 40 and 50 merchants will decide to contribute to the program, even if it’s only a few hundred dollars.
The Ready, Willing and Able program requires $44,000 per year to be sustained, or approximately $3,600 a month.
The program began in Rego Park last July prior to any funding reaching the Doe Fund. As of yet, Hevesi said, the fund still has not been paid.
“The Senate never got to finish the supplemental budget, so (the program) didn’t make it into last year’s budget,” he said. “And then September 11 happened. But, the Doe Fund will get paid.”
Although the money appropriated in the budget has since disappeared, there still may be one alternative solution.
Hevesi said approximately $200 million has been set aside by the state to fund non-profit, community-based programs. The criteria are stringent and he has no high expectations, but Hevesi said his office has filed to receive some of the funding
Locally though, contributions have begun to trickle in. Hevesi has already allocated an additional $7,000 from his budget, which has since been matched with $8,000 by local Assemblyman Michael Cohen’s office.
Cohen said the funds, which are appropriated for the fiscal year, which ends in April, are tentative, but probable.
The Duane Reade drug store on 63rd Drive has agreed to put up 10 percent of the program’s annual costs and Sears on Queens Boulevard has also tentatively agreed to contribute.
However, according to Hevesi’s spokeswoman Dalia Shapiro, for the program to succeed on more than a month-to-month-basis, private and public support is desperately needed.
“We are not going to let this program die,” Shapiro said. “Residents have been very grateful for these people, who are providing incredible support to the community. They are helping to develop a pride in Rego Park.”
Parker, owner of Ben’s Best Delicatessen, said the time seemed right to revitalize the merchants association and get behind a worthy cause.
“This is something so tremendous for the community,” he said. “Everyone really benefits from this program.”
The Rego Park program has been active on portions of Rego Park’s busiest commercial districts.
Their area includes 63rd Drive from the LIRR overpass to Queens Boulevard; one block north of the boulevard to 97th Street; the north side of the boulevard from 62nd Drive to 64th Avenue and the south side of the boulevard from the Econo phone shop to the Rego Park Jewish Center.
Two workers have been assigned to a seven-day-a-week schedule from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
In Forest Hills, a similar Doe Fund program, funded entirely by a small contingent of businesses that comprise the Austin Continental United Merchants Group, has flourished for the past year.
Jennifer Mitchell, planning and programming administrator for the Manhattan-based Doe Fund, said in three years of working with merchant associations and Business Improvement Districts, there has yet to be an occasion where an organization was unable to find funding.
“It would be a real shame,” she said. “Rego Park has been very welcoming to our guys.”
Mitchell said that according to its contract, the Rego Park coalition has 30 days to notify the Doe Fund if it is going to be unable to make payment.
In that case, she said, the fund would be forced to pack up and move workers to a new location.
The Doe Fund, which began 15 years ago by George McDonald, provides homeless men and women who have fallen on hard times a second chance.
Participants in the program are first assigned a case manager, who works with their social services staff to assess the client’s needs and abilities.
They are then drug tested and individually assessed so a plan can be developed to link the client’s abilities with a form of employment.
Clients receive training and a $15 a week stipend, in addition to free rent and meals.
Doe Fund employees are asked to spend four hours a day participating in the operation, security and maintenance area of the program.
Ready, Willing and Able participants are employed in sanitation work such as sweeping streets, emptying garbage cans, cleaning street poles and removing graffiti. In the winter they also help remove snow and clear crosswalks and bus stops.
After completing Phase 1, clients begin paid employment, earning $5.50 or more per hour; $50 is contributed for rent per week, $15 for meals and $30 is saved.
The savings are then matched by the Doe Fund upon graduation from the program.
According to the fund representatives, 62 percent of those who graduate from the program go on to find permanent work and remain housed for a follow-up period of three years.
For more information about the Doe Fund fundraiser, contact Hevesi’s office at 544-9750 or Ben’s Best Deli at 897-1700.