“How to Solve Homelessness: The Mundane Miracles of the Doe Fund”

On his own initiative, and with the help of a lawyer friend who played fundraiser, George McDonald started going to the corner of 43rd St. and Vanderbilt every night at 10 p.m. and feeding the homeless. While he was doing this, the crack epidemic struck. Small mountain of crack vials covered the streets. He was dealing with desperate and dangerous addicts. In the course of running his ad hoc and officially unsanctioned program, he was arrested several times (though never convicted) for disorderly conduct—basically, being a nuisance. Still, he went on feeding the homeless, for 700 days in a row. He talked to them. What did they want? “What they really wanted was a room, and a job to pay for it.”

So McDonald decided to devise a way to give homeless people a room, and a job to pay for it. After nearly two years of firsthand work on 43rd Street, he had developed a bit of a public profile. The papers had discovered him. He was the sort of perma-advocate that reporters could reliably turn to when they needed to write something about the homeless issue. “I was an advocate, meaning a critic, of the government,” McDonald says. “I became a thorn in Ed Koch’s posterior. They said, ‘Give him what he wants, and he’ll fail.’”


About Eve Tushnet