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

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

ILO: Women Still Losing Out in Global Work Place

International Labor Organization says women are marginally better off now than they were 20 years ago More

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.
Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Studentsi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
March 05, 2015 9:04 PM
The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More