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District Takes Funds Away

A program that helps homeless men and women become self-sufficient will close after this week because the D.C. government has decided to discontinue funding it.<P>
While the 11-year-old Ready, Willing &amp; Able (RWA), which is run by the Doe Fund of New York, is considered one of the most successful programs in that city, a District official called the D.C. branch a "slipshod operation" with "incredibly bad" record keeping.<P>
Program staff and supporters deny those charges, arguing that Ready, Willing &amp; Able, which has operated in the District for five years, changes lives and provides valuable services to the community. They say the program has always been resented here because its funding was placed in the D.C. budget by Congress.<P>
In New York City, the program has won area Housing and Urban Development awards and is known for helping hundreds of homeless people get high school equivalency degrees, complete job training and placement and find housing.<P>
"We have had no problems with their bookkeeping practices," said Jodi Hall, assistant commissioner of public affairs in the Department of Homeless Services in New York City. "If they had any history of bookkeeping problems we would know about it, because we keep all of our contractors on a tight leash."<P>
Harriet McDonald, vice president of the Doe Fund, had hoped the program would be able to serve more homeless people in Washington. Thus far, it has graduated about 200 people locally.<P>
"I think we delivered, but when it came to the locality accepting us, we were not," she said. "But it shouldn't matter, because the program works."<P>
Carolyn N. Graham, deputy mayor for children, youth and families, said she will ask the city's inspector general to audit the program, which received $1.2 million from the city over two years.<P>
She said a city monitor found, in one instance, that the program's first director was still on the payroll three months after his termination.<P>
Mahmoud Rashid, Ready, Willing and Able's program director for the past year, said the agency's previous director remained on the payroll after he was terminated, because he was given three months' severance pay. "I didn't replace him until after those three months had passed," Rashid said.<P>
He also dismissed Graham's suggestion that the program's record keeping is sloppy. "We have regular, independent audits done, and this has never come up before," he said.<P>
Earlier this month, the District RWA graduated 28 formerly homeless men and women to private-sector jobs and apartments of their own. The program, located at 457 Florida Ave. NW, currently serves about 50 men and women. Closing means that some of its clients may again fall between the economic cracks. The Doe Fund has offered to pay for them to transfer to New York, but there is no female facility there, so only men will be able to go, and some participants are not willing to leave behind families and friends who have supported them.<P>
"It is not only the current residents who are put at risk by this tragic development but hundreds of former residents who depend on our alumni program," said Rashid, who was once homeless himself. The program emphasizes follow-up and support as a method of helping graduates maintain self-sufficiency.<P>
Rashid, 58, graduated from Ready, Willing and Able's first class in New York City 11 years ago. "I was one of those homeless substance abusers living in tunnels under Grand Central Station," he said. "I had 28 years as a substance abuser. One of the first things the program did for me was get me in a structured 18-month treatment program. When I completed that I was able to return to RWA and graduate."<P>
Rashid, who had only a seventh-grade education at the time, received tutoring and eventually his high school equivalency diploma. Today, he said, he has a master's degree in social work.<P>
District resident Marshall Steven-Bey, 60, was in Lorton when he heard about Ready, Willing &amp; Able. He was released to the program in 1996. "I didn't have anywhere to go, because I had burned all my bridges," he said. "I was a career criminal. I got my first job through them. If the program closes, I have some options, because they gave me a foundation."<P>
Paul Latimer, 35, also came from Lorton to the program in April 1999. Now he is security operations manager for the program. "I could not have accomplished that anyplace else with my history," he said. "There are thousands of guys like me. My concern is for those guys like me who won't be given this opportunity."<P>
Patricia Brosmer, a Georgetown business woman and former executive director of the Georgetown Business and Professional Association, became a supporter of the program after it was hired to provide workers to pick up trash in the community.<P>
"I watched people from the first day, as they started cleaning streets, and I followed them until they graduated. I saw incredible changes. People who never met their children began to pay child support."<P>
Brosmer has written a letter to the mayor to complain about the program's termination. "I was always amazed at how little attention RWA got when they have made such a big difference. That letter could hurt me politically. I said, 'Shame on you, Mr. Mayor.' Believe me, I wouldn't say it if I didn't believe it, not for anything less than this program."<P>
Staff writer Michael H. Cottman contributed to this report.