Archive for New York City

NYC’s Doe Fund Houses, Trains and Helps 700 Homeless a Year Find Work

English: The western ramp and pylon of Brookly...

English: The western ramp and pylon of Brooklyn Bridge, New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New York City currently has about 50,000 homeless people (nearly 8% of the U.S. total), as well as considerable poverty and unemployment. But, quietly, for the last quarter-century, the non-profit group The Doe Fund has operated a highly effective one-year program to move them from despair on the streets to contentment and comfort in homes and at jobs.

A 2010 Harvard study found that people who spent a year in The Doe Fund program were far less likely to commit violent felonies than others just released from prison.

Hamilton Nolan, writing in Gawkr explains:

They take in homeless people, referred to them by places like Bellevue Hospital. Many of these people are fresh out of prison, with little safety net. They house them. They ensure they’re sober and make them abide by a schedule. They give them a job for starters—cleaning up trash around the city, for a month.

After that, the fund gives them classes in life skills and specific job training (they can choose between pest control, catering, building maintenance, and other specialties) for the next six months or so. There are mock job interviews, to get the pitch right. Then they send each one out to pound the pavement and find a job. When they find a job, they find them a place to live.

About 25 years ago, George McDonald (social activist turned politician who is running for mayor but unlikely to win) was shocked to learn of the winter death of a homeless woman in the heart of Manhattan, right outside Grand Central station. For the next two years he went to the corner of 43rd St. and Vanderbilt, at 10 p.m., to feed homeless people. This was during the massive mid-80s crack epidemic, when mounds of vials covered the streets. During the time McDonald ran his ad hoc and officially unsanctioned program, he was frequently arrested for being a nuisance (disorderly conduct).

He obtained a city contract for his homeless people to work on city-owned apartment buildings, and he arranged free city housing for 70 of them in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant district.

Today the program has 700 formerly homeless workers residing in its facilities in Harlem, Bed-Stuy and Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood. They staff their own businesses, including a pest-control firm. At one point, during the Giuliani mayorship, their budget was cut in half, although today it has risen to $50 million/year.

Currently they are seeing many more military veterans and psychologically damaged adults who are former crack babies. The Doe fund has expanded and now operates a similar program in Philadelphia.

‘Doe Fund runs a deliberate, rule-based, common sense, step-by-step process that successfully solves society’s thorniest social and economic problems. At any given time, 700 people are making their way through this process, on a yearlong journey from Having Nothing to Having Something.

All of it exists because George McDonald—just some guy, really, not a radical revolutionary or professional camera-hogging pundit, just some guy who thought homelessness in his city was troubling—went out, with the help of some close friends and confidantes, and built it.’

One advantage of McDonald’s mayoral campaign is that it focuses public attention on homelessness, poverty, unemployment and related social ills. His approach should appeal both to both compassionate liberals and personal responsibility-conscious conservatives, since it provides a hand-up rather than a handout. In an ideal world, the Doe Fund’s services would be provided by government. Hopefully they will be expanded and will be attempted elsewhere.

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Wishing safety to those hit by Hurricane Sandy

The news is full of disaster footage today in the wake of Hurricane Sandy making landfall. Photos of Manhattan subway lines submerged in water are only the beginning. As a veteran of Hurricane Katrina, I know this dance far too well.

As the waters ebb and we are able to get more accurate info from the ground, I fear the bad news will keep on mounting. You see, the storm hitting is only the beginning. In it’s wake will come the counting of the bodies, the battling with insurance assessors, and the long slow grind of finding a way to bounce back from the losses she brought.

If it follows the pattern we have seen with other disasters, we will see many new faces entering the ranks of the homeless.

Our thoughts are with the East Coast today. Our friends and colleagues, the people weathering the aftermath from incarceration, the people with no home to go to for shelter – these are all on our minds today.

There are going to be rough weeks ahead, there is no doubt of that. You will find yourselves bonding with neighbors in ways never expected. You will experience the disconnect between your reality and the news reporting. You will find an inner strength you never suspected. And that is only the beginning. Trust me, I know from experience.

From our team on the West Coast and our blogger on the Gulf Coast we send our best hopes to all of you!

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The Lottery: Madeleine Sackler’s documentary on charter schools

Charter schools are a different breed. Unlike other schools they operate according to a charter with the city or state, usually for a period of five years, and if they are not producing results at the end they are closed.

While the funding comes from the government, charter schools are independent of the teacher’s unions.  They also boast other qualities that education proponents generally seek – a longer school year,  longer class days, and the ability to fire teachers whose performance is not deemed up to par.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Unfortunately there are not enough charter schools to go around, particularly in areas that need them most. Harlem is one of those areas. In Harlem there are 23 non-charter schools. Of those 19 have less than half of their students reading at the proper grade level, and the only means of escape into the charter system is completely random – a lottery. A lottery in which 3,000 children compete for less than 500 seats.

This one in six chance of getting a decent education inspired Madeleine Sackler to show the world what was happening. Take a look at the trailer for her recent documentary, The Lottery:

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle sums it up well:

By the time the lottery takes place, viewers understand all that’s riding on it. You look at all these beautiful kids, with all the potential in the world, and every expectation for a great life, and you know that at most one-sixth of them will come out of the room with a fighting chance. That shouldn’t be.

Let’s follow up with some of the media coverage, including this interview with the director on NBC New York:

View more videos at:

While the situation re: charter vs. public schools will vary from one community to another, the results and findings Sackler presents does make a strong argument for exploring them in other areas.

Education is one of the most fundamental assets a child can have, and it’s lack is a liability of tragic proportions.

Poverty Insights Analyzes NYC Homebase Program Study

HomelessThe people behind the Poverty Insights website have been following the New York Department of Homeless Services study of the city’s homeless services programs. The Department is under fire for performing a randomized controlled trial with a sampling of the families, all seekers of the DHS services, in two groups of 200 families each. The first group experienced no change in services, but the second grouping was simply given a list of nonprofits that engage in similar social services. The second group was then told they could receive no assistance directly from DHS for the duration of the study. The study is to last for two years.

Now, measuring effectiveness is vital, as it is something that is all too often neglected in the social arena. Still, this denial of services is a troubling thing. David Henderson, a blogger for and an editor for Poverty Insights, noted the following in his post on the subject from October 11:

DHS had the means to provide their service to all who demanded it, but chose not to for the sake of their study. While this style of research is typical in the medical world, where one group of patients is administered an experimental drug then compared to another group that did not receive treatment, it’s not clear that such an approach is appropriate in social sector evaluation.

This is an important issue for the sector to consider. Where do we draw the line in evaluation?

Where indeed? Michael Gechter, co-founder of Idealistics, Inc., comments on the Homebase program being evaluated in the study in his Poverty Insights post from October 19:

I’m willing to doubt that HomeBase’s mediation, budgeting, job training, and advocacy services have an effect on preventing families from falling into homelessness. Mediation may not prevent eviction, budgeting and job training may come too late, and benefits advocacy might be too little to stop a family from becoming homeless. But there is no doubt that emergency rental assistance prevents homelessness, at least temporarily, if it stops a family from being evicted.

New York City’s Mayor’s Management Report [PDF] suggests that the temporary respite offered by HomeBase may have a permanent effect: 94.6% of the families receiving preventative services in fiscal year 2010 did not enter the shelter system. This is not a rigorous evaluation by any means: we don’t know how many of those families would have entered the shelter system if they didn’t have help from HomeBase.

Once again, we come to the concept of a hand up rather than a hand out. While the data is, as stated, far from a solid study, it still points in an interesting direction — a direction that supports our own stance on preventative and rehabilitative programs. Gechter then goes on to raise a very important question about the study:

In the language of randomized control trials, there is still some doubt as to whether the treatment works. But it certainly raises the question: do we need an evaluation? Are we willing to risk the lives of 200 families to evaluate a service that, at worst, temporarily prevents homelessness?

Mary McLaughlin, Ph.D., a president of Emotional Education Services, LLC, then followed up with a brilliantly detailed examination of the ethics of the study, in which she raised additional questions. A few of them include:

  • Given that the rights of children have historically been vigorously protected by IRB’s, was the study protocol reviewed by an IRB at the City University of New York, the institution charged with oversight of this investigation?
  • Why is this $530,000 investigation being conducted at all given that the HomeBase program is already known to be highly effective as reported in the Mayor’s 2010 Management Report?
  • How does the city reconcile its denial of services to two hundred families for two years with its record of repeated losses and settlements in lawsuits against the city and state of New York that insure the right to shelter for homeless men, women, children and families in New York City and state beginning in 1981, pursuant to Callahan v Carey, and culminating as recently as 2008 with a court judgment in Boston v The City of New York which reaffirmed the right to shelter for homeless families with children?
  • Is the City prepared to pay damages awards including the possibility of punitive damages to study participants who subsequently sue?

There is much, much more. You can read it all in Dr. McLaughlin’s post on Poverty Insights. I would highly advise it even for those outside of the NYC area as it is a great way to get an idea of how complex the underpinnings of the situation are. The way in which data is collected and interpreted needs to be neutral and transparent in order to maintain its veracity. Embracing data-collection practices that do potential harm to those studied is not the proper approach to take.

My hat is off to the team at Poverty Insights: This is an excellent series of posts that illuminate the murky underbelly of our system. Please visit their site and leave them a comment. Let them know we all appreciate their efforts on this vital issue.

Source: “New York Department of Homeless Services Study Violates Research Ethics Principles,” Poverty Insights, 10/28/10
Source: “New York Department of Homeless Services Denies Two-Hundred Families Assistance in Name of Research,” Poverty Insights, 10/11/10
Source: “When Testing Hurts: Why the New York City Department of Homeless Services is Wrong,” Poverty Insights, 10/19/10
Image by aprilzosia, used under its Creative Commons license.
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