News / USA

    Homeless Clean Up Their Lives While Improving City Neighborhoods

    George McDonald's Doe Fund advocates for hard work, self-respect and opportunity

    Multimedia

    Audio

    Founder George McDonald's the Doe Fund has helped more than 4,000 people move out of homelessness and into productive lives.
    Founder George McDonald's the Doe Fund has helped more than 4,000 people move out of homelessness and into productive lives.

    After establishing a successful career in the garment industry, George McDonald founded the Doe Fund, a New York-based non-profit organization dedicated to housing the homeless, offering them jobs, and setting them on a course to independence and self-respect.

    'To whom much is given...'

    George McDonald was born in 1944 to an Irish Catholic family in the eastern state of New Jersey. At Catholic school, he learned the importance of service to others. He still quotes the nuns, who taught him, "to whom much is given, much is asked."

    When McDonald was 12, he started collecting discarded beer and soda cans on a nearby beach and redeeming them for coins at a local grocery store. For him, this was a life lesson in the rewards of personal initiative and hard work.

    "It showed me right away that, in America, no matter who you are, if you want to take personal responsibility and work hard, the sky's the limit."

    After a stint in college studying political science and business, McDonald set off for New York to begin a successful career in the clothing trade. "There were great days. There was wine, women and song, and I had a lot of fun," he recalls. Still, McDonald suffered pangs of conscience.

    He recalls stepping over homeless people in the doorway of the restaurant one evening just after he and his friends had spent $200 on dinner. "It made me ask myself 'Is this what I want to do with my life? Pile up little pieces of paper? Money?' It didn't make me feel good about myself."

    From business to hands-on advocacy

    In 1980, McDonald went to work for Sen. Ted Kennedy's unsuccessful presidential campaign, then later ran for the U.S. Congress himself, mostly on a platform to end homelessness. When he lost that election, he became an advocate for the homeless, lobbying city officials and foundations to help. He also went to work feeding the homeless. He spent 700 consecutive nights serving them food.  

    The Doe Fund participants and workers pose for the organization's annual Christmas card.
    The Doe Fund participants and workers pose for the organization's annual Christmas card.

    "During that process, I came to know individual homeless people. I saw there wasn't anything different about them other than their circumstances and lack of opportunity." That is when he started the Doe Fund. "We simply wanted to help people who were on [society's] margins [and] left behind and didn't have any opportunity."

    McDonald started the Doe Fund in 1985, an economically depressed time in New York when urban decay was on the rise.

    The city owned thousands of vacant and derelict apartments it hoped to renovate and sell off to help the city's budget and promote home ownership. McDonald bid for a contract for homeless men to do that work in exchange for a decent wage. Meanwhile, the Doe Fund would house the men in buildings they had renovated themselves. From the start the project was a "win-win."

    Times of crisis

    By 1990, more than 70 formerly homeless men had meaningful jobs and a place to live. But a crisis hit in 1993, when city budget cuts caused the city's apartment renovation program to be slashed. It seemed that at least half of the men would lose their jobs and might have to go back to living on the streets. McDonald hit upon an idea: buy the men bright blue uniforms with a "Doe Fund" logo and an American flag patch, give them a broom and a pail, and send them out into the neighborhood to clean the streets.

    He recounts with satisfaction that "people from the neighborhood would walk up to them [as they swept the streets] and ask them what they were doing. And when our guys explained it to them, they would come and put money underneath our door at the office." 

    George McDonald with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (left) and the Doe Fund trainee Mark Seymour.
    George McDonald with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (left) and the Doe Fund trainee Mark Seymour.

    The Doe Fund attained the visibility and the popularity it did because, according to McDonald, neighborhood residents appreciated two things: the streets were getting cleaned, and in those days, the streets were pretty dirty, "… and the Doe workers were cleaning themselves up and their lives, at the same time. They were becoming productive, contributing, taxpaying citizens."

    McDonald says it was a key moment in the history of his organization. "Our backs were up against the wall, we had no place to turn but to ourselves, and we solved the problem. And that's the Doe Fund philosophy."

    By 2010, the group had generated over $650 million in revenues and graduated over 4,000 program participants, each of whom had his own place to live, paid for with wages earned from his own job.

    Taking aim at the root causes of homelessness

    McDonald believes that helping the homeless may be a simple matter, but the causes of homelessness are complex. The persistence of racism is a key factor, he believes. It is a fact that blacks are incarcerated at a rate far exceeding whites, and when they are released from prison, they often become homeless, and commit desperate crimes that land them back in jail. These days, McDonald is absorbed in the problem of how to help ex-offenders re-enter society in a dignified and productive way.

    "I think that's the civil rights issue of our time," he says. "I don't know how much time God is going to give me but I want to use every one of those days to bring attention to the solutions to this problem. I am committed to that."

    Due to a weakened economy and other factors, homelessness is on the rise in America, and the Doe Fund has seen a surge in applicants at its facilities in New York and Philadelphia.

    When life will improve is anybody's guess, but this much seems certain: George McDonald will do everything in his power to make sure that all citizens get both the respect and the opportunity they deserve.

    You May Like

    Hope Remains for Rio Olympic Games, Despite Woes

    Facing a host of problems, Rio prepares for holding the games but experts say some risks, like Zika, may not be as grave as initially thought

    IS Use of Social Media to Recruit, Radicalize Still a Top Threat to US

    Despite military gains against IS in Iraq and Syria, their internet propaganda still commands an audience; US officials see 'the most complex challenge that the federal government and industry face'

    ‘Time Is Now’ to Save Africa’s Animals From Poachers, Activist Says

    During Zimbabwe visit, African Wildlife Foundation President Kaddu Sebunya says poaching hurts Africa as slave trade once did

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora