George McDonald felt he was doing the right thing by handing out food to the homeless in New York City's Grand Central Station.

But the responses he received for his good deeds told him he was missing the mark."They would say they appreciated the sandwich, but what they really wanted was a job," said McDonald, who founded the Doe Fund Inc. to help homeless find work and care for themselves.

McDonald will be bringing his "work-is-the-cure" message here on March 5 and 6, when the city plans to hold a conference for state, county and local leaders on solving what many consider a crisis in housing and services to a homeless population of at least 2,051 - 62 percent of which live in Salt Lake City.

McDonald said Salt Lake City is not alone in its struggle to find a place for the homeless and get them back into the mainstream. But he said too much energy is spent on locating shelters and placating property owners than answering the question, "Why are (the homeless) here?"

"In my mind it's all economics," McDonald said. "All these folks need is a structured opportunity to work to get these people out of the circumstances that they're in.

"We aren't doing them a favor by giving them a handout. They need a hand up."

Utah's booming economy, with unemployment at a 45-year low of 2.8 percent, would appear to be the perfect climate to test McDonald's program.

Rob Vose, who runs the state's Workforce Services employment counseling office at the Travelers Aid Society homeless shelter, said employers are constantly calling him to fill temporary and permanent jobs. Some are willing to provide transportation and food.

And while the people may be available to fill the jobs, not all of the homeless are ready, qualified or willing to go to work.

"Last month I was batting about .400 and this month out of the 24 people I have seen, I have placed about 10 in permanent positions," Vose said, noting some homeless or transient people prefer temporary work because they don't want the daily commitment of showing up on the job.

Vose said he doesn't always wait for people to come to him. He often walks outside of the shelter telling those hanging out on the street that work is available. Few take advantage.

"There are about 200 people just hanging out who don't want to work," Vose said. "But we can do just what we can do."