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Trash Piles Up in Gramercy After Doe Fund Leaves, Residents Say

 After offering a year and half of free cleaning services, the Doe Fund has left Gramercy Park.
Gramercy Park Loses Doe Fund
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GRAMERCY — The Doe Fund workers who have been cleaning Gramercy's streets for more than a year have left the neighborhood — and residents say trash has already begun piling up.

The Doe Fund, which employs formerly homeless and incarcerated people through the Ready, Willing & Able program, began offering free garbage pickup and street sweeping services to Gramercy in November 2011, in the hopes that local residents would decide to pay for the services to continue.

But the free pilot ended on July 13, and without any organization stepping forward to provide the funding needed to keep it going, the five Doe Fund workers who were assigned to the area five days a week are no longer changing trash bags or picking up litter from the sidewalk.

"They don’t come here anymore, and suddenly there was this volcano of trash," said Pamela Vassil, a longtime resident of 60 Gramercy Park North, describing the overflowing trash cans she saw after The Doe Fund departed.

While the Sanitation Department's three-times-a-week garbage pickup schedule has remained unchanged, Vassil and other residents said it's not enough to keep up with the mounds of garbage in the neighborhood.

“It became shockingly apparent when the Doe Fund left,” said Arlene Harrison, president of the Gramercy Park Block Association.

“It was a combination of the summer months that [the garbage cans] were being filled more than ever, but when they left, that’s when it became an emergency.”

The Doe Fund's service area covered the perimeter of Gramercy Park, as well as the blocks between 17th and 20th streets, between Park and Third avenues, and 16th Street from Irving Place to the park.

Harrison and other residents flooded 311 with calls over the past two weeks as the trash pileup started attracting rats at night, Harrison said.

The Sanitation Department responded by doing an extra pickup on the afternoon of Aug. 5, after missing an earlier pickup because a garbage truck broke down, a spokeswoman for the agency said.

While the trash cans have appeared less full since then, Harrison and others said that relying on the Sanitation Department is just a short-term solution, and what the community really needs is for The Doe Fund to return.

The Gramercy Park Block Association is considering sponsoring The Doe Fund, but that will only work if residents help fund the services, Harrison said.

On the Upper East Side, The Doe Fund recently said its maintenance services were worth $300,000 per year to maintain the area around East 86th Street, paying workers $7.40 to $8.15 an hour.

Madeline Kaye, a spokeswoman for The Doe Fund, said she hoped the community would decide to spend the money to allow the "showcase" Gramercy program to continue.

“We were confident that, as in communities across the city, the people of Gramercy Park would embrace the ‘men in blue’ and value the service they work so hard to provide,” Kaye said.

“The Doe Fund received excellent feedback from Gramercy residents, and we are now exploring ways to return to the neighborhood on a permanent basis. We very much hope to continue to partner with the Gramercy Park Block Association in providing not only cleaner streets, but second chances for thousands of hard-working New Yorkers.”