Attributing much of her success to her visionary goals, dedicated advocacy and extraordinary tenacity against all odds, Harriet McDonald holds considerable expertise in fundraising and designing and implementing solutions to homelessness. Starting out as an actress and screenwriter in Hollywood, California, she was commissioned to write about a young girl named April, who was homeless, battling addiction and living in Grand Central Station. Despite the help Ms. McDonald tried to provide, April ended up taking her own life, which impacted Ms. McDonald deeply and spurred her into action. At April’s funeral, she was further inspired by the man who had given the eulogy, an advocate for the homeless community named George McDonald. Embarking on a project together, they were married not long after and spent the rest of their lives fighting homelessness.
In the late 1980s, Ms. McDonald and her husband established The Doe Fund and the Ready, Willing & Able program. They obtained a contract with the city to employ homeless men and acquired a building to renovate and make their home base. Their goal was to provide housing, paid work, and drug treatment programs to homeless individuals to help them get back on their feet. Starting with 70 or so individuals who had been living in Grand Central, they have now expanded to more than 500 employees, over 40% of whom are graduates of the program. Today, Ready, Willing & Able operates as a 12-month residential program that combines paid work with social services, career and workforce development training, continuing education, and sobriety support for homeless individuals as well as those reacclimating to life after prison.
Ms. McDonald served as the executive vice president of The Doe Fund from 1990 to 2021 when she became The Doe Fund’s president. Over the course of the 30 years that Ready, Willing & Able has been in operation, she has always been closely involved in bringing in skilled professionals and trades people to provide job training and she intends to continue in that work as they adapt their methods to manage the various economic changes and hurdles that occur. Under Ms. McDonald’s leadership the program has become the gold standard in recidivism reduction and their methods have been replicated in seven localities across the United States with ongoing plans for further programs.
In addition to her work directly with the individuals at The Doe Fund, Ms. McDonald has also worked with elected officials to help shape policy on criminal justice reform, poverty and affordable housing, and is regularly asked to contribute her expertise on the work-first model of combating homelessness by academic, professional and political entities. Having accomplished much over the course of her career, Ms. McDonald is incredibly proud that her organization has impacted the lives of over 28,000 individuals and continues to help more every day. For her excellence, she has received various awards from organizations in New York and was presented with an honorary doctorate.
Ms. McDonald was inspired early on to help others by her parents, Francis and Emanuel Karr, who were dedicated activists, but particularly by her mother, who was a court stenographer at the Korinberg trials. Matched in dedication by her late husband, George, who had left a private sector job to work as an advocate for homeless people, she has now been joined at The Doe Fund by her son John, who serves as the executive vice president. Her family also includes three daughters, Andrea, Ashley and Abigail, and three grandchildren, Johnny, Tommy and Emma.