Social responsibility needs to play a crucial role in the cannabis industry. At Union Square Travel Agency, our partnership with The Doe Fund is just one example of how two organizations can come together to make a significant impact on our city for the better.
30,000 people uplifted: The Doe Fund’s impact on the Big Apple
With a heartfelt mission and unwavering passion, The Doe Fund stands as a source of hope for New Yorkers facing homelessness or reentering society after incarceration. Founded by George T. McDonald, the organization offers immediate relief and longer-term support, empowering individuals to shed their past and embrace a new sense of purpose. Since 1985, the organization has assisted more than 30,000 individuals through affordable housing, job training, and more. The Doe Fund served 2,323 individuals just in this past year.
With a focus on economic opportunity, housing, and career training, The Doe Fund continues to lead the charge against homelessness and recidivism. They provide economic opportunity, housing, and career training to help New Yorkers transform their lives and forge a path toward a brighter future.
According to Chris Luggiero, Director of Donor Relations and Communications at The Doe Fund, around 30% of those served by The Doe Fund have a history of incarceration, and most of those individuals have drug offenses on their records, including non-violent cannabis charges.
“For anybody who has a record around cannabis that can be expunged, we provide referrals to legal services that can help provide certificates of good standing to expunge those records,” Luggiero said. “We are working toward helping people get a leg up and get the opportunity to overcome the discrimination against those with histories of incarceration, particularly around drug consumption.”
“What we have found just in general, and what is readily knowledgeable to anyone in this field, is that someone having a history of incarceration greatly limits their ability to reenter society successfully, and to provide for themselves and their families,” explained Luggiero. “While legislation like The Fair Chance Act offers some protections, the fact is, discrimination is still real.”
The Ready, Willing & Able program
The Ready, Willing & Able program is a core component of The Doe Fund’s services. The 12-month program offers eligible participants immediate access to paid work opportunities, transitional housing, and comprehensive support services to allow unhoused and formerly incarcerated men to begin their next chapter. Once the program is complete, The Doe Fund supports graduates with a small monthly stipend to help them stay on track.
“We start people off in a paid work assignment,” said Chris Luggiero, “They acclimate in the first month, and we transition them into paid career training… so folks are able to achieve a career-based living wage.”
Known for their street cleaning program nicknamed the Men in Blue, Luggiero said that the Ready, Willing & Able program offers multiple employment training programs, including culinary arts, commercial driver’s licenses, and training in trades.
“For many folks within our demographic, skilled trades are an excellent avenue to independence,” noted Luggiero. “Beyond the classes themselves, we guide participants on how to prepare a resume, search for a job, handle an interview, and what onboarding entails, among other aspects of what they can expect in the workplace.”
Housing in an expensive and competitive rental market
Expunging records and finding employment is only half the battle for those reentering the workforce and society at large. The housing crisis in New York City is reaching record heights, with nearly 70,000 people, including more than 20,000 children, sleeping each night in the city’s primary municipal shelter system.
Stable housing is crucial for those reentering society, increasing the likelihood that someone will successfully retain employment and access the support services they need. To that end, The Doe Fund offers an affordable and supportive housing portfolio that serves as a lifeline for low-income workers at risk of housing insecurity. The portfolio includes homes across all five boroughs, as well as supportive units suitable for individuals with severe mental and physical health conditions that prevent them from working. More than 1,000 people are currently in The Doe Fund’s housing program.
How The Doe Fund and Union Square Travel Agency joined forces
The first adult-use cannabis licenses in New York State were issued in November 2022 with the intent to offer restorative racial and economic justice for populations disproportionately impacted by America’s failed drug war. This cannabis retail license structure prioritized both justice-involved individuals as well as nonprofit organizations, awarding licenses based on their community work.
The Doe Fund became one of the first eight nonprofits to receive one of these licenses, called a Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) license, from the New York State Cannabis Control Board in February 2023. Union Square Travel Agency opened its doors later that month as a majority-owned subsidiary of The Doe Fund.
“We partnered with the understanding that if cannabis is going to be this big economic powerhouse for New York State, populations disproportionately impacted by overly harsh drug laws and mass incarceration should be the people who primarily benefit from it,” Luggiero explained. “We view it as a public-private partnership and a social enterprise, which is at the heart of what we’ve done through our programs [at The Doe Fund].”
At USQTA, we’re proud to channel more than 50% of our profits to The Doe Fund’s life-changing work. In addition to donations, we hope to help repair the damage done by the War on Drugs by supporting BIPOC-, women-, and LGBTQ-owned brands, as well as hiring incarcerated and legacy operators.
“USQTA is grateful for our partnership with The Doe Fund, to be able to reach such a large number of people who were harmed by the War on Drugs. We hope that this unique public private partnership will serve as a model for the cannabis industry worldwide as a way to show that it takes alignment from all sectors to make the biggest impact,” states Arana Hankin-Biggers, President and Co-Founder of the Union Square Travel Agency.
How does your purchase at USQTA help The Doe Fund?
According to Ruggiero, proceeds from USQTA enable The Doe Fund to expand its programming and serve more New Yorkers in need.
Part of the revenue is directed toward searching for and securing affordable housing for The Doe Fund participants. Luggiero said that proceeds have been applied to hire additional housing specialists who can more quickly put people into stable housing.
“One thing we noticed over the years is that it’s been more difficult to place folks because of the scarcity of housing,” he explained. “Funds can go directly to supporting the individuals we serve.”
Proceeds are also applied to strengthening current job training programs and expanding into new fields. Luggiero said that welding was recently added to The Doe Fund’s roster of training programs, and more are planned in the months to come.
“We can explore more, new avenues for our workforce development program with these proceeds,” Luggiero said.
Funds have also been used to increase financial stipends to help clients once they graduate from the Ready, Willing & Able program.
The Doe Fund and USQTA: Empowering change through cannabis
With partnerships like USQTA and The Doe Fund’s, hope is high for a cannabis industry in the Empire State that’s truly built for all New Yorkers. Strong alliances between the cannabis industry and not-for-profit organizations continue to uplift thousands throughout the city and the state.
“Cannabis was legalized in New York State with restorative justice at its core, to uplift those who are disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration,” Luggiero said. “It’s only appropriate that justice-involved people have first access to the economic benefits of the cannabis industry here.”
Every time you choose to shop at Union Square Travel Agency, you’re not only indulging in a vibrant retail experience but actively supporting a great cause and making an impact on the community. So next time you stop by, take pride in knowing that your purchases are making a positive difference and contributing to a bright future in New York City.