Saturday, May 27, 2017

It's Mind Over Matter: Another Failed 5-Year Plan -- DC Mayor Muriel Bowser

"It's mind over matter. I don't mind; 'cause, you don't matter"
(A dismissive remark sometimes said to someone who is expressing anger)

So, the good news here is that I'm ever more convinced with each passing day that DC Government's ICH (Inter-agency Council on Homelessness) sees the work of advocates in general and myself in particular as posing a major threat to the status quo of costly failures by well-paid derelicts -- which the city's five-year plan called "Homeward DC" is on track to become. This is due, in part, to the impending cuts to the federal safety net programs and, in part, to major missteps by the administration of DC Mayor Muriel Bowser. As we approach the two-year mark in the five-year plan with about 200 more homeless people than we started with, it's beginning to look as though this plan will suffer the same fate as the 10-year plan of 2004 which a group of poverty pimps simply ignored after three years.

Even so, we can revel in the notion that those who designed a failing system are smarting at the thought of a sustained effort by local advocates to bring those failures to the forefront -- and to offer better ideas. One such effort is a June 29th media blitz about homelessness which is being planned by Street Sense. That's not to speak of the fact that the National Alliance of HUD Tenants with whom I've collaborated since 2011 will hold its annual DC conference from June 24th to 27th -- followed by a direct action.

The bad news here -- apart from the fact that the suffering of the poor will soon worsen -- is how I learned that the local government is at its breaking point. I'm reminded of the words of Gandhi who said, "First they ignore you; then they laugh at you; then they fight you; and, then you win". I'm also reminded of an expression that I heard while living in Florida. If someone got angry, the object of their ire might say, "It's mind over matter. I don't mind; 'cause, you don't matter" There was a time that my critiques of a system that seems to have been designed to fail didn't seem to phase power brokers. My friends and associates would question whether or not I had the ability to make government cringe. They'd suggest that I might not wield enough power or influence to force positive change. That is changing and certain ICH member agencies are becoming antagonistic towards me. Great. I'm having an impact.

  The government and its contractors are starting to fight me -- which means I'll soon win. I hope others will join the winning battle. As strange as it might seem, I'm elated to see a burgeoning wave of passive-aggressiveness toward me on the part of ICH (dys)-functionaries. Bring it on, ItCH!!!!! You might ask, "Why would an administration that vowed in the spring of 2015 to make homelessness "rare, brief and non-recurring" (in much the same way that Albuquerque mayor Richard Berry vowed to make homelessness "rare-short-lived and non-recurring" six years earlier) have any feelings of disdain toward me, being as we share the same goal???

There are several reasons. Interestingly enough, you can do these things that I do too and make city officials and their partners in crime just as angry at you. I strongly advise it:

1 -- I've taken to repeatedly pointing out that, despite the 877-person decrease in homeless people from 2016 to 2017 (8,350 to 7,473), we are still  over the 2015 count result of 7,298 people by 175 and now would need to accomplish a NET decrease of 2,500 homeless people in each of the remaining three years of the plan (most of which post-dates the Bowser administration) in order to satisfy the plan. I see another high-priced failure on the horizon and that, while the ICH duscusses a lot of data, it never discusses how much further behind the ball we are getting -- 7,300 people divided by 5 years vs 7,473 divided by 3 years.

2 -- I'm one of many people who are watching what's going on with the Trump budget whose full impact might not be known until mid-October (two weeks after the DC budget goes into effect, if 2008 is any indication). Additionally, Washington, DC is seeking statehood and greater budget autonomy (freedom from the budget oversight that Congress exerts on DC). This makes it all the more annoying that anyone would highlight the city's need for federal assistance. I really don't care how the Bowser admin feels about me mentioning the federal umbilical cord; because, there are poor people whose lives will become even harder if it were cut. We might find a saving grace in the fact that a conservative supreme court justice pioneered a ruling that can now be turned against him insomuch as it might prevent Trump from decreasing federal funding to DC on the basis of ours being a sanctuary city.

3 -- I also continue to point out that the feds might not need to withhold funding; because, even when they DO give DC money, DC fails to use it and gives it back. What's more is that they might never again get that missed opportunity.

4 -- With Polly Donaldson who is the director of DC's Dept. of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) having stated that the $15.8M grant from HUD (in item #3) went unused because her department couldn't find developers who wanted to participate in the program, I've wondered out loud as to how a department that works so much and so closely with developers is unable to find developers. (They're hiding under your desk, Polly Donaldson.) I was given a couple of leads (the day before writing this post) that I'll soon follow-up on. One is a documentary about the failures of affordable housing programs in different cities. The other is the possibility that the federal requirements for participation in the program are too stringent and off-putting to developers. I'll dig further into both. That gives local officials another reason to hate me. That's fine.

5 -- I continue to point out how that the city has focused their housing efforts on the most vulnerable (also called the "chronic") homeless since September 2008 -- adding families with children after an eight-year old girl was abducted from the family shelter in early 2014. On May 9th, 2017 -- two days before this year's count results were made public, I was at an ICH committee meeting where attendees were homing in on the fact that, despite a 10.5% annual decrease (which would have been too small to satisfy the five-year plan even if it weren't for the 14% spike in homeless people in the first year of the plan), there was only a 2% decrease in "chronic homeless people". I immediately saw that they were building the case for ignoring able-bodied homeless people for yet another year.

6 -- As with the June 29th media blitz being organized by Street Sense, I too make it a point to unravel the jargon and government-speak so that the average citizen who doesn't attend meeting after meeting with government can understand government's doings (as well as can be expected) and go so far as to develop strong opinions concerning what government should do with our tax dollars.

7 -- I'm always reminding people that a mayor who comes off to me as having made addressing homelessness something in the way of a pet project is getting further and further behind the ball -- opening the door for the city's first elected attorney general to defeat her in the June 2018 mayoral primary. I've begun to give him fodder for the fight by sending him material like this post.

8 -- I also remind people that the DC General Family Sheter sits on prime real estate which the developers who fund the mayor's campaign want badly. This doesn't mean that Ms. Bowser doesn't genuinely care about homeless families with children. It just dilutes her stated reason for closing the shelter and raises questions as to why she isn't more forthcoming about her development plans for the DC General campus once it is vacated and which if her developer-donor friends she plans to give it to.

9 -- I tell people who ask about the future of the CCNV Shelter that it will likely be closed by October 31st, 2022 -- just months before the nearby Capitol Crossing construction project is finished. I encourage people to push the city to bring services into the building and connect its residents to living-wage jobs and affordable housing. I continue to predict that DC Government will intentionally do too little too late; because, they don't really want to make it possible for low-wage workers to find housing in the city where they work.

That said.....

When I began to ask in August 2015 what city officials planned to do with the CCNV Shelter whose nine-month task force ended 13 months prior, ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt told me that the city didn't have a plan for the then-1,350-bed building (including the 250 hypothermia-season only beds). Long story short, she eventually became passive-aggressive toward me and it got ugly in the middle of 2016 and remained that way until April 2017. She and I now say very little to each other, though I'm perfectly willing to discus our differences -- as I've always wanted to do. She preferred a more under-handed and indirect approach for which I actively states my forgiveness last month.

I now see multiple ICH functionaries becoming passive-aggressive toward me. This time around, I don't need to respond in anger because, I'm keenly aware that a number of forces are beginning to come against a body that has functioned poorly since its inception in 2006 and which has missed awesome opportunities both during and before the Bowser administration. The case may be that media, the DC Council and others are asking the ICH challenging questions that play off of my juxtaposition of certain irrefutable facts (some having been published by the ICH itself). It may be that Mayor Bowser is furious about me helping her strongest opponent in next year's race and has made that known to her cabinet - much of which siis on the ICH. Maybe it's all that and then some. But, ItCH,no matter how mad you get at me: "It's mind over matter. I don't mind; 'cause, you don't matter.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Use Media to Force a Gentrifying Mayor to End Homelessness & Housing Insecurity -- Mayor Muriel Bowser

Announcement: Street Sense -- DC's newspaper about homelessness and poverty -- will hold a meeting with journalists to discuss how media covers homelessness. See the unadulterated announcement below:


Community Meeting for Reporters & People Experiencing Homelessness Tuesday, May 23 | ​4:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. Church of the Epiphany sanctuary (1317 G Street NW, Metro Center)

This meeting is a precursor to a June 29th event that is intended to identify solutions to homelessness.
DC's current and future mayors Muriel Bowser and Karl Racine received the following. Maybe he'll learn from her mistakes and do better...starting now.

Below are six ideas as to how DC homeless advocates might politicize homelessness and force the mayor to come up with real solutions. If we play our cards right, then Ms. Bowser's anticipated loss in the June 2018 primary will point unquestionably to her failure to adequately execute plans for her pet project and will cause the next mayor to realize that he MUST adequately address homelessness and poverty lest he too become a one-term mayor like Adrian Fenty (2007-2011, whose protege Muriel Bowser is), Vince Gray (2011-2015) and Muriel Bowser (2015-2019...only). After all, what good is a politician who fails at their pet project??? These ideas are built on improved reporting on homelessness by the media:

How media should cover homelessness

1 -- Coverage should acknowledge the irrefutably unacceptable backdrop against which various public figures speak of homelessness -- the overtones and undertones of statements made by politicians, government officials and other reporters. These tones include but are not limited to racism, classism and stereotypes about poor people and Blacks. Welfare didn't get a bad name until large numbers of Blacks got on it in the 60's. That truth screams of racism. It is less damaging but still relevant that the media can make it seem as though most poor Americans are Black. In reality, there are more poor whites in the U.S., though a higher percentage of Blacks than Whites experience poverty.

2 -- Coverage should offer a critique of government's efforts -- which requires juxtaposing different articles that reference a government's "efforts" to end homelessness and points out when that government is either incapable of or unwilling to adequately address homelessness (like I said in my collaborative 12/17/14 Street Sense article). In the 80's the critique was that the feds weren't doing anything about homelessness. More recently there have been critiques of local governments' failed efforts to address homelessness. Currently, even that seems to have diminished. One quick example is how DC Government claimed it couldn't find developers for the $15.8M federal HOME grant that DC just gave back unused -- a claim by government that should be juxtaposed with info about DC Gov's constant dealings with developers (some of whom sit on the ICH). Call BS on them (not bachelor of science either).

3 -- Coverage should address how government's approach to homelessness is guided by capitalism, how the conditions that homeless people and service providers operate under are affected by capitalism and how public attitudes like NIMBY play a role -- everything from the profit motive that pushes rents up, to the argument that a shelter in the neighborhood decreases property values (which SS has covered) to the strong possibility that developers decided to forgo the HOME grant program and other programs due to not wanting to be part of creating affordable housing and preferring instead to build places that rent for $2,000 per month.

4 -- Coverage should offer a plan and/or a set of ideas that the general public can understand and offer explanations of how making a bad choice (such as NIMBY) can have unintended consequences that adversely affect the very members of the public that promoted the bad idea. One example is how there were businesses who (through Downtown BID) pushed for the closure of the Franklin School Shelter (which admittedly wasn't altogether perfect). That closure occurred on 9/26/08. There was an Examiner article in September 09 that made the connection between the 08 closure and the higher visibility of homeless people a year later. (It is buried in the graveyard of hard-to-find PDF's but I found the article again recently and can send it if you'd like.)

5 -- Coverage should not be apolitical or engineered to suppress highly relevant truths that ought to be included in the story. Some time ago, a profile was done of me by a major media outlet. A couple of lady friends called me to express their displeasure with it; because, it didn't explain my political activities. I called the writer who told me that he turned in a 94" article which was sliced down to 47" by the editor. He explained that the editor felt that, if the story sounded too political, it would be a turn-off. The editor, therefore, removed a full half of the story and made it into a "feel-good story". The writer did a good job after shadowing me for 5 days. The editor made the truth into a hack job. I got 6 media interviews and 600+ FB friend requests within 24 hours after that article came out. My new FB friends on other continents sent me the article in their language: Spanish, Italian, Korean etc. I see why some folk believe that all publicity is good publicity, though I'm not sure I'd take it that far.

Pressuring the next mayor to do better

6 -- The media can force positive change through initiatives such as a themed coverage of a politician such that it forces that politician to put up or shut up. Pointing out the missteps of a mayor who claims to be interested in addressing homelessness but is failing colossally can make homelessness a politically-relevant issue that does much to decide the next mayoral election (though homelessness is not generally a political issue). The matter can then be broadened out into the category of how DC deals with poverty as a whole.

A -- I was happy when it seemed that Mayor Muriel Bowser had made addressing homelessness her pet project. After a number of missteps by her, I am on the war path and have begun a campaign to tell the public the truth about her doings such that it pressures the mayor into doing better over the next year and such that her loss in the June 2018 primary creates a clear and unmistakable mandate for the next mayor (CC'ed) to develop a plan that actually ends homelessness.

B1 -- The primary was going to be in September 2018 -- four months after the homeless count numbers are released and reflect a dramatic increase in homeless people which is currently being fueled by impending HUD budget cuts (which a friend who is an expert on HUD-related matters said could lead to a loss of 10% of occupied units -- 800 people???) and by 1,000 people in families being pushed out of Rapid-Re-Housing (RRH) due to program requirements that they can't possibly satisfy. 9,300+ homeless people in DC in 2018???

B2 -- An April primary (like in 2014) would have been before the count results were released and could not have affected her re-election bid. The September primary would have given Bowser critics four months to forget about the count results. A June primary makes it very likely that people will remember the May 2018 count results. Maybe the media can and will continually cover the developing crisis and will highlight various missed opportunities between now and June 2018. Bowser is highly vulnerable to the full truth.

C -- Truth about count and progress: 

-- In the last week of January 2015 DC had 7,298 homeless people.
-- If we apply 2/3 of the 1,052-person increase from 15 to 16, then DC had 8,000 homeless people on October 1st, 2015 (the actual start of the 5-year plan).
-- The plan should have been engineered to create a net decrease of 1,460 or even 1,600 homeless people per year.
-- With 7,473 homeless people and three years left in the plan, DC Gov must create at least a 2,500-person net decrease per year to satisfy the five-year plan. The more they fail, the harder it gets to succeed.
-- The 877-person decrease from 16 to 17 is still almost 200 people over the 15 count and only 523 below the presumed 10/1/15 count. DC Government would still need to house people at about twice the rate that they needed to in 2015 in order to satisfy THEIR plan. It doesn't look like they'll succeed in that respect.

D -- Missed opportunities:

The HOME grant could have housed 1,000 families (3,500 people) for a year which would have put the current number of homeless people right around 4,000 and made success much more likely -- maintenance of effort not withstanding. HUD might eliminate that grant program.

E -- Penny-ante government thinking:

Just days after DC Gov's forfeited $15.8M HOME grant hit the news, ICH members spoke of efforts to help SSI-eligible people get their federal benefits so that they can pay $220/month out of a $735 disability check and thereby alleviate resources which can be used to help other homeless people. Things that make ya go "Hmmm". Juxtapose.

This is the kind of stuff that media should highlight for the next 12.5 months -- at least. DC's current mayor Muriel Bowser and future Mayor Karl Racine received this via e-mail. Maybe he'll learn from her mistakes and do better.....starting now.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Tick Tock Sheptock: Philanthropists, Stop Funding Government's Failures! Fund Real Solutions to Homelessness! -- Mayor Muriel Bowser

Philanthropists, Stop Funding Government's Failures! Fund Real Solutions to Homelessness! -- Mayor Muriel Bowser

In this post I'll show that well-meaning, kind-hearted philanthropists who fund some of Washington, DC's non-profits that "serve" the homeless are unwittingly aiding and abetting government failures and corruption indirectly. I'll also offer better places to put your money. (Since I'm enumerating government's failures, this post promises to be both long and incomplete.)

To be completely fair, it must be said that some of the systemic flaws that have reared their ugly heads during the administration of DC Mayor Muriel Bowser actually predate 2015. Even so, it is the job of the current executive to fix those problems, lest she become a willing accomplice. More than half way through her term, she has failed to fix what's broken. Before delving into the flaws that cause philanthropic funds not to be put to good use, let's develop a vision that can serve to measure DC Government's success or failure when it comes to making homelessness "rare brief and non-recurring" -- Mayor Muriel Bowser's oft-stated goal. For this we need not look far.

As indicated in my previous post about DC's 2017 point-in-Time Homeless Enumeration, the city's five-year plan for addressing homelessness runs from October 1st, 2015 to September 30th, 2020 and aims to ensure that anyone who was homeless prior to June 30th, 2020 is housed by the plan's end date. I'll add here that, with me having attended some of the meetings where the five-year plan was being devised, I've heard ICH members discuss making "balloon payments" in the latter years of the plan if they didn't house enough people in the first year(s) of the plan. This is our measuring stick. I'll crunch the numbers in a slightly different way than I did in the previous post:

1 -- Having had 7,298 homeless people and the full five years ahead of us in early 2015, it was necessary to accomplish a net decrease of 1,460 homeless people for each of the five years.

2 --  Having had 8,350 homeless people and four years and change remaining in early 2016, it was necessary to accomplish a net decrease of approximately 2,100 homeless people for each of the remaining years. (It was time for a balloon payment of time-and-a-half per year; but, that doesn't seem to have happened.)

3 -- Having had 7,473 homeless people in January 2017 and with us having three years and change remaining in May 2017, it is necessary to accomplish a net decrease of approximately 2,500 homeless people for each of the remaining years. (It is time for an even bigger balloon payment of 1.7 times the original goal per year; but, that doesn't seem to be happening yet. Maybe this blog post can help to change that.)

4 -- As indicated in my previous post, we could continue the glitch pattern by having another astronomical uptick in the number of homeless people by January 2018 -- all the way to 9,300 or even 10,000 people. By the time the numbers are released in May, Muriel Bowser will have less than eight months left in her current (possibly her only) term and less than four months until the September primary (the 2014 primary having occurred in April and before the homeless count numbers were released). There will be 2 years and change left in the plan and it will be necessary to have a net decrease of approximately 4,000 people per year...333 per month...17 per work day in order to meet the goals of the plan vs the current net decrease of only 3.5 people per work day. Don't pin your hopes on success if we have anything close to 10,000 homeless people next year.

Enter the tens of millions of dollars that DC Government lent to developers at a low interest rate so that they could build affordable housing and which the government failed to collect so that it could be used again to build even more affordable housing. I find it hard to believe that it is by mere chance and happenstance that the city, across several administrations, has done so poorly at collecting this money from the developers who contribute to the campaigns of many local politicians. Something tells me that it's not by accident that the Department of Housing and Community Development continues to fail in this respect. But, even if we give DHCD the benefit of the doubt, it behooves the department to fix its system ASAP lest their continued delinquency in this matter serves to indict them on multiple counts.

Let's also revisit the matter of the $15.8M in affordable housing money that DC recently gave back to the feds. Only, this time around, let's tease out the truths that lie beneath DC Government's stated reason for not being able to use the money. DHCD couldn't find any developers to buy into the program. All of the people with whom I discuss this matter believe that it points to an inability on the part of DHCD to negotiate well with developers and to create lucrative deals. I concur; but, I'd add that it is also quite possible that these campaign-funding developers don't want to create housing that's affordable to low-income people (making under $60,000 per year) and that city officials are likely glad that they don't. It's all one big sham.

Now let's consider the non-profits who, on the one hand get money from government to "serve" the homeless, and on the other hand receive philanthropic money. Some of these non-profits are funded to provided food, shelter and other day-to-day necessities. Some are funded to provide services that include housing and case management to homeless people who are mentally and/or physically disabled. Some teach adult learners. Some fit into multiple categories. A few actually assist homeless people with employment and becoming self-sufficient. By volume, the programs in this last category likely comprise the smallest piece of the homeless services pie and the only piece that is laden with the mold of near total ineffectiveness. That's not to speak of the fact that a successful employment program for homeless parents was scrapped in 2013 because of the price tag -- one that could have been covered by the forfeited federal funds if it had been resurrected in 2014, 2015 or 2016 and that never should have been funded by Employment Services or Human Services in the first place. That's an idea that DC Government might be able to act on in the future.

At the risk of being branded a conspiracy theorist, I'll say that I suspect that DC Government doesn't actually want to succeed at connecting poor people to affordable housing or living-wage jobs. While there is a moral imperative that says government had better care for the most vulnerable, there are many in society who will let government get away with disparaging, under-serving and ignoring the able-bodied homeless. This is further evidenced by the fact that, less than three months after the administration of Vince Gray said that they'd learned that the homeless parents in afore-linked sweat-equity program actually wanted to work, the same administration was putting forth a narrative that called homeless parents lazy and shiftless. With Muriel Bowser having not made the connection between the sweat-equity program in which 11 homeless parents renovated two buildings -- turning them from a police station into affordable housing -- to the tune of $2.6M dollars and the $15.8M that just went back to the feds, her administration is an accomplice in this crime of the Gray administration. She had the funding to bring it back six times over or to do something similar that yielded as many as 1,000 family units for some 3,500 people.

What's more is that the local advocates, many of them employed by government-funded non-profits spend much of their time during the budget season (February to June) testifying at City Hall about why they think this or that government agency or non-profit program should continue to receive funding or even to have its funding level increased. I'll be joining them this week and will see how many of them join me in telling the DC Council to fix the systemic problems that have existed for far too long and hurt far too many poor people. Why would these advocates -- unpaid or non-profit employed -- ask the council to throw good money after bad by funding a program that just threw away millions??? ANSWER: The government-funded non-profits don't want to bite the hand that feeds them and it is these non-profits that often craft the message for the unpaid advocates, some of whom have experienced homelessness (and are quite possibly severely mentally ill so that they don't know any better than to follow along). These non-profits are incentivized to seek funding for proven failures; because, it's their bread and butter. The mentally ill can be used as unwitting accomplices who accompany the non-profits to City Hall on an all-expenses-paid class trip. Go figure.

This begins to explain why, on May 9th, 2017 city officials were brooding over the fact that there was a 10.5% decrease in homeless people but only a 2% decrease in the "chronic homeless" who have a mental and/or physical disability AND have been homeless for at least a year or four times in three years. (I foresee this group voting to focus its efforts and resources on the most vulnerable homeless yet again -- as has been the case every year since 2008.) In that same meeting there was discussion of the SOAR Program which helps SSI-eligible homeless people obtain their benefits. It was said by a government administrator that the average benefit is $735/month and that the recipient can pay $220/month and $2,640/year toward their rent and alleviate resources which can then be used to help others. ($2,640 vs $16M)

That same administrator was in a meeting where we discussed not being able to find a vulnerable homeless person whose housing has become available months after a caseworker made the initial contact. It was said that caseworkers sometimes spend hundreds of hours trying to find someone again. When I suggested offering clients $10 transit cards, this administrator said, "Eric, those cards cost money". It would seem that the system is intent on creating job security for those who "serve" the disabled homeless, not on decreasing poverty for those who are ready, willing and able to work; and, it seems like the nine-year old argument about needing to focus on the most vulnerable homeless is being used as a seemingly-legitimate excuse for not doing all that can and should be done to effect the much-needed and anticipated social uplift of the working and able-bodied poor. Let's eliminate any notion of legitimacy that this excuse might have in a few easy ways.

But before enumerating those ways, let me highlight one government-funded non-profit that doesn't fit the bill -- Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC. I've known its CEO and president, Monsignor "Father John" Enzler for about three years now. He has, on multiple occasions, told me that he is tired of only receiving enough funding to warehouse the homeless in shelters and wants to do more to get folk out of homelessness. Earlier in 2017 he made me a part-time consultant who is charged with helping him devise better ways of helping the homeless. (He had no prior knowledge of this blog post.) As it turns out, the five low-barrier shelters for which Catholic Charities DC receives city funding are not designed to cater especially to the disabled. So, Catholic Charities is not part of that game either. This gives potential philanthropists somewhere to put their money. It also suggests that there might be other non-profits that are worth investing in. One that comes to my mind is Manna DC -- a non-profit developer.

That said, the ideas are as follows:

1 -- Philanthropists, only give to non-profits that serve the homeless if they can prove, to your satisfaction, that they are not contributing to a system of "gentrifiction"/gentrification that only pretends to want to address ALL homelessness.

2 -- Philanthropists, invest in non-profit developers who are willing to participate in programs like the federal "HOME" Program that granted DC Government $15.8M to build and/or renovate affordable housing.

3 -- Philanthropists, invest in programs like the $2.6M sweat-equity program that DC scrapped even though it was successful at teaching trades and creating affordable housing -- a program that should have been continued/resurrected and funded by "HOME".

4 -- Government-funded non-profits, call out the failings and games of government -- even the government that funds you -- unless you want to lose your philanthropic funding.

5 -- Homeless and formerly-homeless advocates, craft your own message and don't be a token for a self-serving non-profit's "profiteering".

6 -- Attorney-General, prosecute and/or force the remediation of every wrong stated herein that falls within your purview.

7 -- DC Council, use this blog post to develop pertinent questions that you can ask the department directors.

8 -- Everyone else, apply immense pressure to the administration to right all wrongs stated herein and any others you can think of -- especially that they begin to make those promised "balloon payments" toward addressing homelessness.

9 -- Philanthropists, only give to non-profits that serve the homeless if they can prove, to your satisfaction, that they are not contributing to a system of "gentrifiction"/gentrification that only pretends to want to address ALL homelessness.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

PIT Count Results Are In: DC's FIVE-year Plan (2015-2020) Might End Homelessness by 2026 -- Muriel Bowser

(There was a tech issue with the first hyperlink containing the count results. I've linked the longer regional report in its place.)

The results of Washington, DC's January 2017 Point-in-Time Homeless enumeration are in. The general public might see it in the headlines by Friday, May 12th; as, government needs time to decide on the narrative they'll put forth to explain the results. Here's mine:

NOTE: The count is always done at the end of January and results are released around May 10th to 15th.

2017: 7,473 people (A one-year, 10.5% decrease of 877 people)
2016: 8,350 people (It was said later that we missed at least 330 people; but gov is still using 8,350 figure.)
2015:  7,298 people (Muriel Bowser became mayor on January 2nd, 2015.)
2014: 7,748 people
2013: 6,859 people
2012: 6,954 people
2011: 6,546 people (Vince Gray became mayor on January 2nd, 2011.)
2010: 6,539 people
2009: 6,228 people
2008: 6,044 people
2007: 5,757 people (Mr. Adrian Fenty whose protege Muriel Bowser is became mayor on January 2nd, 2007.)

Mayor Fenty oversaw a 789-person net increase in the homeless population.
Mayor Gray oversaw a 752-person net increase in homeless people.
Mayor Bowser has overseen a 175-person net increase in her first two years.

Muriel Bowser's net increase in homeless people during her first two years is lower than those of her two most recent predecessors. Great. However DC has a five-year plan that runs from October 1st, 2015 to September 30th, 2020 and aims to make homelessness "rare, brief and non-recurring" such that no one will have been homeless for more than 90 days. This means that anyone who is homeless before June 30th, 2020 (including the current 7,473 or so people) will have been connected to housing, left DC or died by then.

If there were no new entries into shelter (which there WILL be), DC would need to house about 2,500 people per year in order to meet the goal of the 5-year plan. So, while it's good that DC has 877 less homeless people than it had last year, a 10.5% net decrease since 2016 puts us on track to meet the goal of the 5-year plan January by 2026 (over five years late). That assumes that none of the programs that have a measure of success lose funding or become defunct. It also assumes that no better ideas come along and that no improvements are made to the current system.

If Mayor Muriel Bowser is as committed to addressing homelessness as she claimed to be during her 2014 campaign and her first quarter in office, then there is a seemingly easy way for her to bring the homeless census down at a faster rate. Simply stop forfeiting millions of dollars in federal funding that was intended to help decrease homelessness!!! The $15.8M that DC has forfeited in the last three years (two of which were during the Bowser administration) could have housed 333 families containing about 1,100 individuals for three years or 1,000 families containing almost 3,500 people for one year. Our current number of homeless people could have already been down to 6,400 or less people. With the DC General Family Shelter having capacity for up to 288 of this year's 1,166 homeless families (if all units were ever functional), the forfeited federal funding would have more than justified the closure of the dilapidated hospital-turned-shelter. If the number of homeless families were to remain static, then 270 of the remaining 833 families could be moved out of hotels and into the seven smaller family shelters by 2019 or 2020 -- leaving 563 in hotels. That said, there's no point in crying over spilled milk. However, there IS a point in being careful not to spill anymore.

But spill they will. One recent account says that DC has 4,000 HUD units -- for singles and families. Let's assume that these units hold 8,000 people. A friend who heads what I'll call a HUD watchdog agency has said that as much as 10% of HUD units could be lost in 2018 if that portion of Trump's proposed budget passes into law. This matter alone could spur an 800-person increase in homelessness before the 2019 PIT-Count (by which time D C will have held another mayoral inauguration). Given the fact that the large one-year increases from 2013 (6,859) to 2014 (7,748) and from 2015 (7,298) to 2016 (8,350) each followed modest decreases the previous years, it stands to reason that DC could reach 10,000 homeless people during or shortly after the Bowser administration. The fact that DC Government, in addition to forfeiting millions of federal dollars, fails to collect millions that it lends developers to build or renovate affordable housing sure doesn't help. DC Government is throwing away countless millions that could have decreased homelessness by much more than 877 people per year -- both local and federal dollars. Spill they will.

Now let's briefly visit the matter of what they do with the money they actually use to address homelessness. In a meeting that I attended on May 9th, 2017 someone who'd already read a recent report on the failings of DC's Rapid Re-Housing (RRH) program said that DC Government paid a caseworker $15,000(?) to increase the income of homeless heads of an average of $68.00. Why not split the $15,000 between the caseworker's would-be clients and offer the homeless a guaranteed minimum income??? Makes sense. With me having yet to read the report myself, it was also said that almost half of the participants in this government program whose aim is to reduce poverty and homelessness were in eviction court -- being evicted from government subsidized units, because they were unable to cover their portion of the rent which, in some cases, amounts to 60% of their income (the income that the program is supposed to help them to increase). Go figure. Let's figure on at least 1,000 people in families cycling out of RRH and back into full-on homelessness by December 2018. Taken together with the 800 people who lose their HUD units because of Trump and Carson, This puts DC at about 9,300 homeless people right before Bowser leaves office. Other circumstances that lead to homelessness will give us another 700 or so people quite handily and put us at or above 10,000 homeless people right after we inaugurate our next mayor in 2019. It's worth noting here that, while voting an ineffective mayor out of office affords us some level of damage control, it doesn't afford us any damage reduction. We need to develop a system that actually meets the stated goals of the 5-year plan. Rather than only voting Bowser out in 2018, let's demand that she fix the aforementioned systemic flaws and arrest the development of a 10,000-person homeless crisis for which the next mayor will blame her stupidity in much the same way that some people blamed HER predecessor's draconian policies. After all, fixing those flaws and averting the next tragedy of her first term might earn her a lot of votes.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Fight Capitalism With Capitalism: Self-inflicted Political Wounds

Banita Jacks of DC killed her four children in the summer of 2007, their bodies being found during a January 2008 eviction. Six social service employees were fired by then-mayor Adrian Fenty himself for failing to adequately serve this family whose issues were known to them. Ms. Jacks was eventually convicted of murder; and, DC settled with the family for $2.6M.  Sadly, there are other stories of child neglect and abuse that don’t necessarily rise to the level of this one wherein Child and Family Services has been made aware of the familial problems should have learned the signs of exacerbation and developed a system of appropriate, timely interventions.

Fast-forward to 2011. Denise Gibson gave birth to a son on February 10th and spent the whole first month of his life homeless and unsheltered due to social service providers breaking a law that requires them to put families with children in hotel rooms when the DC General Family shelter is full. Denise had been taken from her mother when she was six in 1990, due to her mother having become homeless. She spent 15 years as a ward of the state in different foster homes and then was released into circumstances that were no better than her mother’s and which led to a third generation of homelessness. (This actually passes for work within the ranks of government.)

In early 2014 an 8-year old girl named Relisha Rudd was abducted from the DC General Shelter  by a janitor who eventually killed his wife and himself -- the girl having never been found. With the first two stories having been all but forgotten by DC residents, the plight of Relisha has stayed on people’s minds -- maybe because of her age; and, maybe because there hasn’t been any closure and she might be a sex slave in South America right now.

Mayor Muriel Bowser (2015-2019), during her 2014 campaign, used Relisha’s abduction and the public outcry about lax safety measures at the family shelter as reasons to shutter the DC General Family Shelter -- a valuable property that has been sought by developers for redevelopment since as far back as 2008. However, she has been able to use what I call “the facade of caring” once again. It’s the same ploy government uses to shutter public housing and other shelters after failing to maintain these government-run(-down) buildings while stating that they are “unfit for human habitation”. In all fairness, it should be stated that the current DC General building is over 150 years old and very difficult to repair. However, that excuse doesn’t work for the much newer public housing buildings.

It’s interesting that the local government wants to remove poor people from dilapidated buildings as a “safety precaution” while failing them in so many other ways -- even to the point of premature death. It, all of a sudden, makes sense when you factor in the value of the property -- especially after the new construction. When one juxtaposes these matters, it looks less like government cares for its poor and more like a deliberate plan to let the buildings fall into disrepair so that the powers that be can “compassionately” remove the poor inhabitants and give the property to developers who can build high-priced residences whose mere existence then raises the property values, taxes and rents of nearby buildings that weren’t even improved upon.

If the last two decades of gentrification and the contested plan for seven smaller replacement shelters are any indication, then the developers who donated to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s campaign whose pockets the DC Council wouldn’t allow her to line will now be allowed to share the spoil (for as little as $1) when DC General is closed -- though her plans to vacate the campus before the September 2018 primary have been thwarted, with the timeline having been pushed into 2020 so far.

As is the case all too often, people of conscience only come out of the woodwork to respond to an immediate crisis; and then, they retreat to their comfortable abodes once the crisis has been averted, leaving government to its own devices thereafter. We need activists and advocates to recognize and contest negative patterns like that of gentrification which run across multiple mayoral administrations; to tease out the real motivations of government; and, to fight giveaways of public land to wealthy developers -- not just to help avert an immediate crisis.

Mayor Bowser’s motivations were briefly called into question during the series of public meetings in 2016 during which the replacement shelter plan was presented in seven wards. Some members of the public were well aware of the fact that DC has had upwards of 1,200 homeless families at a time -- the former hospital only having 288 units, of which dozens are often taken off-line for repairs. Though many of the attendees were elitists who’d come to say “NIMBY” (in a longer and more sophisticated way), they raised a very valid concern as they asked why it was that the mayor’s plan only calls for the replacement of the DC General Shelter while it remains silent on the futures of the 900 families that are in hotels in both DC and Maryland on the city’s dime. In short, those hotels are not prime real estate that is being sought after by developers.

As if the aforementioned instances aren’t enough to make the case that DC Government is Hell-bent on downgrading the quality of social services until the poor just get out of town, former mayor and current Ward 7 Councilman Vince Gray who represents one of the two poorest wards in the city (and who has directed the Department of Human Services as well as Covenant House which serves homeless youth) is now promoting a plan that would hire 500 more police to fight crime instead of promoting programs of social uplift. It would seem that the increased police presence is intended to draw the well-to-do types that he, as mayor, said he wanted to draw into the city -- ostensibly so that a broader tax base could be used to support social services. (He might have conveniently forgotten about the automatic tax triggers that reduce taxes on the middle class when the city’s finances are doing well.) Add to this the fact that Mr. Gray plans to run again for mayor in the 2018 Democratic Primary (DC’s de facto election) -- a rematch against the woman who unseated him -- and what you have is a “two devils we know” scenario and a chance to choose the mayor who has “hurt them the least”. Insanity but reality.

All of this just goes to show that DC’s local politics are not geared toward comprehensively assisting the poor, dispossessed workers of the city; but rather toward making them another city’s business. It raises questions about our strategy. However, knowing the political aspirations of the current and former mayors along with the intricacies of current policies toward the city’s  impoverished communities affords us a unique opportunity to create immediate competition between these two city officials. Rather than getting the 2018 mayoral candidates to make promises to the city’s needy that they probably won’t keep, let’s get them to move now on creating ways of lifting people out of poverty rather than continuing to push them out of the city. After all, competition is a hallmark of the capitalism that is the cause of the extreme poverty which we seek to end. So, let’s use capitalism to defeat capitalism -- in DC’s local politics anyway. Then the deaths of Banita Jacks’ children, the abduction of Relisha and all of the other failures of politicians to their needy constituents will have become self-inflicted political wounds.

Monday, March 20, 2017

What is work???

What is "work"???

It's a simple but profound question. Some might even say it's a stupid question. However, with 2017 marking 30 years since Ronald Reagan was forced by Homeless Advocate Mitch Snyder and others to begin "working" on ending and preventing homelessness, it's a very relevant question. Let's add to our list of considerations the fact that DC Government began "working" on ending homelessness in 2004 and that various advocates -- including but not limited to Yours Truly -- have been "working" on getting the local government officials who are charged with ending homelessness to implement a plan that actually "works".

Before I address the definitions for "work" or the justifications for describing what any of the aforementioned groups do as "work", I'll lay out a few goals for my "work" as a homeless advocate.

GOAL 1: With there being a strong possibly that the May 10th-15th publication of results from Washington, DC's January 2017 Homeless Point-in-Time Enumeration will reveal that we had over 9,000 homeless people, it is my goal to inject this fact and the conceivable possibility of us reaching 10,000 homeless people in 2018 (in a city of 680,000 people) into the public's and the advocacy community's discourse around homelessness, poverty, social services and affordability -- to get folk talking, not only about the small percentage of homeless people who were housed, but also about the ever-increasing number of homeless people who likely won't be housed by the current five-year plan called "Homeward DC". We can then hold this over Mayor Muriel Bowser's head as something she'd better address since she wants to be re-elected in September 2018.

GOAL 2: With large advocacy events and protests being planned between now and the end of May 2017, it is my goal to get the advocacy and activism communities to define or redefine success (past, present and future) -- for ourselves, for elected officials and for the various departments and agencies of government (especially those whose job it is to serve the poor and reduce poverty).

GOAL 3: At the DC ICH's (inter-agency Council on Homelessness') next quarterly meeting in June it is my goal to ensure that, unlike the June 2014 meeting (which followed a May announcement of a 13%, 889-person, one-year increase to 7,748 homeless people), we actually discuss the reasons for the (yet-to-be-determined but highly-likely) increase -- that we force a new culture upon the ICH and that this culture includes having the hard conversations about the decades-long failures of six-figure earners who live off of taxpayer dollars even more so than the poor whom they are appointed to serve.

GOAL 4: With DC Mayor Muriel Bowser having justifiably blamed the 1,052-person increase from January 2015 (when she took office) to January 2016 on her predecessor's draconian shelter policies versus her own policies bringing needy people out of the woodwork; and, with it being highly unlikely that Ms. Bowser will break the pattern of the last three sitting mayors losing their re-election bids (in 2006, 2010 and 2014), it is my goal to get all who advocate locally for the city's poor and dispossessed to develop a narrative that forces results WITHIN and DURING an administration -- as opposed to merely expressing our displeasure at the ballot box in the September 2018 DC primary (our de facto election in this Democratic town) and thereby puts immense pressure of the current administration to perform.

GOAL 5: With me having seen 75-85 homeless people at a time attend advocacy events in late-2006 (right before we counted 5,757 homeless people) and it being hard to get even five homeless people to any such event now (after an adjusted 2016 census of 8,680 homeless people); and, with other homeless advocates sharing my sense that the DC ICH has become very top-down and elitist, it is my goal to create a space and/or set of circumstances that encourage the poor and homeless to come out and speak truth to power -- no matter how much those in power don't want to hear that truth.

You might say that those are lofty goals. I prefer to think of them as "Gansta Goals" that resurrect the aggressive edge that advocacy once had and needs again. After all, we've known for a long time that "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will". This much is clear: I've got my "work" cut out for me. I don't think it's as hard as it might seem. After all, there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come; and, the opposition to Trump's policies -- some of which hurt the poor -- is on the upswing. Furthermore, I've made many connections during my advocacy which began in mid-June 2006. In many instances, it's just a matter of building on the relationships I already have and the work we've already done. That said, the aforementioned goals are not out of reach.

It would seem that the Reverend David Bowers agrees with my sense of what's possible, though he might be adverse to the more aggressive goals of mine. He was one of several speakers at the March 18th, 2017 Housing For All Rally which is held annually and where an address is given by the DC mayor. Having "worked" for over 20 years thus far to create and preserve affordable housing even as the city loses it at an alarming rate, Rev. Bowers gave an impassioned mini-sermon in which he railed against the $200M that an advocacy community which is both too polite toward government and too conservative in their ask, in my personal opinion, is requesting of the local administration for Fiscal Year 2018. He insisted that we need $5B to end homelessness. (DC has a $13B annual budget with $3B of that coming from Congress.) He spoke of the DC Council's "rainy day fund" as he poured water on himself and exclaimed that the city's poor are experiencing a lot of rainy days while city officials fail to dip into the rainy day fund. He made it clear that, while the "work" of himself and others has definitely helped many, the problems of homelessness and of being rent-burdened are swallowing more victims at a faster rate than they can be helped. It's safe to assume that he believes that our efforts aren't "working" quickly enough. I agree.

When I was honored by the DC Council on November 18th, 2014 and they declared December 31st, 2014 (which is the date by which the failed 10-year plan should have ended homelessness in the city) to be Eric Jonathan Sheptock Day in the District of Columbia, I thought about the accomplishments of myself and my colleagues. With us having gotten city officials to convene a nine-month task force from October 2013 to July 2014 during which we discussed the future of the CCNV Homeless Shelter and then to pass a law that all but guarantees that its residents will receive adequate service in the foreseeable future and in the event of a closure, I had a sense of accomplishment. Then there was the passive-aggressiveness of the ICH when I began to inquire in late 2015 about the mayor's plans for the shelter. After much pestering by me, four staffers from DC Government's Department of Human Services (DHS) came out to CCNV on April 27th, 2016 and spoke to some residents about current needs and the absence of a plan to close the shelter. (Residents firmly believe that, when a nearby 2.2M sq. ft., $1.3B construction project is completed as early as 2023, the shelter will be history.) As I now approach my eleventh anniversary as a homeless advocate, I spend much time thinking about what little has been accomplished by us pro bono advocates during the Bowser administration and how the wheels of gentrification are turning with ever-increasing speed. I'm hungry for measurable and collective success and smarting over ways for those of us who are "working" to cure various social ills can change our tactics and force results -- thus the list of goals.

Speaking of goals, it would seem that, while homelessness is said to be going down nationally and DC homelessness is on the rise, that one would conclude that the local government's plan is not "working" while the federal government's is. But both conclusions have been called into question -- the feds' because their policies often discourage the needy from seeking assistance, thereby creating a false sense of accomplishment, and DC's because they are likely doing exactly what they intend to do by gentrifying the poor out at a faster rate than they create supports for them. While the local administration as a whole is geared toward attracting the well-to-do, the fact remains that they are living a farce by maintaining a contingent of personnel who purport to be "working" on ending homelessness. I've listened to ICH member agencies across multiple mayoral administrations say that they lacked the authority to create the affordable housing that is needed in order to solve the problem that they are hired to solve -- most recently ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt during the March 15th, 2017 DHS hearing before Councilwoman Brianne Nadeau. None has earned my respect like Leslie Steen who was given the impossible mandate by former mayor Adrian Fenty to direct an affordable housing task force without having any subpoena power whereby to bring all pertinent agencies together. She resigned a year later. She knew that the circumstances under which she was expected to function wouldn't "work".

Still, there's much to be said for those who remain and stick it out, even though they know that the odds are stacked against them. If we didn't have people like DHS Director Laura Zeilinger to stay the course, then we might have considerably more than the 9,000 homeless people than we presumably have at this juncture. In like manner, if we didn't have the many paid advocates and especially the few pro bono advocates, then we might have fewer rights or services for the city's poor and homeless community than we currently have. So, while it sometimes seems like we're just spinning our wheels and go nowhere fast, I don't want to even imagine where we'd be without those of us who refuse to quit. Even so, there's a big difference between persevering and succeeding. We actually want our efforts to "work" and to render results.

I often think about the words of former Councilman Jim Graham when I asked him to look into whether or not a then-two-year old day shelter for women was rendering any results (by assisting the women at exiting homelessness). He said to me, "Eric, if you make any investment, you're going to get SOME results. The question is how much". It is with that thought in mind that I've concluded that the slowly-increasing successes of those working to end homelessness are becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of the total group of needy people which is growing at lightning speed. If those in government who are part of the farce that supposedly aims to decrease homelessness or any of the advocates who are trying to do the same realize that we are getting further and further behind the ball, it is incumbent upon us to step back, regroup and change our tactics. If we fail to do that and continue with our failing tactics, there is a point at which we can no longer be said to be "working". After all, "work" is defined as:

  1. 1:  activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something:a :  sustained physical or mental effort to overcome obstacles and achieve an objective or resultb :  the labor, task, or duty that is one's accustomed means of livelihoodc :  a specific task, duty, function, or assignment often being a part or phase of some larger activity
  2. 2a :  energy expended by natural phenomenab :  the result of such energy sand dunes are the work of sea and windc :  the transference of energy that is produced by the motion of the point of application of a force and is measured by multiplying the force and the displacement of its point of application in the line of action
  3. 3a :  something that results from a particular manner or method of working, operating, or devising careful police work clever camera workb :  something that results from the use or fashioning of a particular material porcelain work
In closing, I want those who say that I should just "go to work" on a paying, full-time job to an example of work given in definition three: "police work". I've often thought of myself as being something in the way of a police officer -- someone who ensures that those who get paid by your tax dollars do right be the people they are charged with serving, with my presence alone presenting a threat to those who would otherwise do wrong. So, while I might soon "work" a bit more at improving my personal situation, I have no intention of completely eliminating or alleviating the threat that my presence creates for the capitalists and gentrifiers; because, creating that threat is "work".

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Homeless Advocates: A Tax Payer's Best Friends (Getting Government Right)

[P]ARCHING ORDERS: Homeless advocates should use DC Government's [foul] ups in terms of the homeless services that should have been provided before the MLK Jr. Library's 3/4/17 closing (due to a planned three-year renovation) as a springboard for demanding that DC Government hear, respect and act on the advice given by homeless and formerly homeless people -- and that they pay us stipends for our input as per this 2014 draft ICH document (a principled proposal that was quickly trashed), since the six-figure earners royally [fouled] up something they've been working on for three years. That'll really BURN THEM UP!!!


In Washington, DC there is much talk of the "haves" and the "have-nots". Charles Dickens "Tale of Two Cities" is often invoked here. As a matter of fact, I've shot videos of tent cities in the shadows of DC's tower cranes and edifices. However, we also talk about how "We are more alike than we are different" and say that, "We have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, just permanent interests". I'll focus on this latter idea for the time being and show how the city government's failures to its poor community across multiple mayoral administrations also adversely affect the wealthy and well-to-do. Hopefully good people of means will stand up and demand better of their elected, mostly Democratic officials and the government that their tax dollars fund. It's also worth noting that, even if you utterly hate poor people, it's well worth your time to demand real solutions to homelessness and to push for the establishment of a downtown homeless service center; as, either would get those housed by these solutions and those served by the center out of sight and thereby make them easier to get out of mind. Lovers and haters alike are welcome to join the cause.

Washington, DC's Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library closed its doors on March 4th, 2017 for a three-year long renovation that has been talked about in earnest since as far back as June 2014 when I attended a meeting of a group called the "Friends of the Library" which was held at DC's Carnegie Library. Catholic Charities DC's CEO, Monsignor John Enzler spoke at the event, with Catholic Charities having contracts with DC Government's Department of Human Services to provide homeless services which include three male shelters (that have a combined winter census of about 970 beds) and two female shelters (that have a combined census of about 200 beds). Catholic Charities' office sits across the road from the MLK Library; and, from what I can tell, Catholic Charities has been grossly dissatisfied with DHS' lackluster response to the years-old announcement of the library's renovation.

In all fairness, I'll say here that Mayor Muriel Bowser's administration began on January 2nd, 2015 and that most of her administrators assumed their current positions on or after that date. Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH) Director Kristy Greenwalt assumed her post on April 28th, 2014 (though she was meeting with her then-future coworkers and associates months earlier). She was then retained by Bowser in 2015 and should have been in the know. Other administrators like DHS Director Laura Zeilinger and Brenda Donald (who served as deputy mayor for health and human services until recently moving within the administration) worked for previous administrations that ended in 2011 or sooner and then returned to work for Mayor Bowser. In any instance, the Bowser administration has had over two years to prepare for the closure and has a "homeless czar(ina)" who has had almost three. To their credit, the ICH DID discuss the impending closure and the need for a downtown service center at the June 2015 ICH full-council meeting; but, the apparent lack of decisiveness or action is clearly indicative of government dysfunction and retardation. I'm often so kind as to assume that government failures are due to ignorance and incompetence; though, many whom I know insist that these failures are by design.

It's quite true that libraries are not homeless service centers; however, as many as 150 homeless people have used the central library at one time. As a matter of fact, the library hired a full-time social worker in 2014 for that very reason. So, the homeless persons' transition during this closure should have been a bigger part of the conversation about renovations. For its part, the library did better than DHS at helping the homeless through this change and they moved more quickly to disseminate information to the homeless about interim services -- including bringing library services into the shelters and doing sensitivity trainings at the smaller libraries (with the library having become sensitive to homeless concerns some years ago).

Three days after the library's closure, the ICH held its quarterly meeting which is always preceded by a "pre-meeting" (a round-table discussion at which anyone can speak). The set topic for the March 7th pre-meeting was "how the homeless are transitioning since the library closure". As this WAMU article indicates, there was noticeable tension in the room as the homeless and formerly-homeless advocates essentially said, "We told you so" and the government apologized profusely -- while letting an administrator who's only been on the job for six months and upon whom I bestowed much forgiveness do most of the apologizing. (She insisted that she share as much blame as anyone else.)

The government's missteps were many. In much the same way that the February 11th, 2016 ward meetings about the seven planned family shelters that are to replace the DC General Family Shelter were advertised only two days in advance, the homeless were given information about interim services less than a week before the library's closure -- these systemic failures affecting the housed AND the homeless, respectively. The family shelter plan has been hotly contested; and, the information that the homeless were given about interim services during the renovation was both incomplete and incorrect -- subjecting the housed and the homeless to unsatisfactory planning by government. The information about the free shuttle that used to drop the homeless off in front of the library every morning and pick them up there to return them to shelter every evening was incorrect insomuch as the information post card said that it would operate six days per week. (It will actually continue to operate every day.) Men from the three Catholic Charities shelters for which there are three different shuttles were given shuttle schedules for the same male shelter, as were the women. Though the post card correctly stated that the Church of the Epiphany which is four blocks from the library (and my church) would allow the homeless to sit in the sanctuary during normal business hours, a newspaper article for which DHS was interviewed incorrectly stated that the church would allow the homeless to use its bathrooms while there.

Add to this the fact that well-paid people in and associated with government have looked in vain for at least two years for a location to replace the downtown homeless service center that used to be in the basement of a church that sits next door to the library. The church was torn down in 2007, rebuilt about five years later and forbidden in a contract to ever bring back the 400-person, six-day homeless program it used to host. It is highly unlikely that officials will find a replacement site in downtown, unless they make the minimal repairs that are needed in the vacant spaces at the Federal City Shelter from which two of six entities moved in 2016 and which a non-profit tenant of this government-owned building has asked the government not to place a downtown service center within.

In their defense, DC Government created the Adams Place homeless service center which is several miles from downtown in October 2015. Since the library closure, they are serving multiple meals during the five days per week that the center is open -- up from just serving lunch (though I've heard different sources say that it would be two and three meals -- truth sought). The center's distance from downtown makes it unattractive to many of its intended clients who might choose to remain in downtown parks and other public spaces once the weather warms up consistently -- DC having had a very warm winter, relatively speaking. On weekends the Adams Place location won't be an option. All of this means that, as of mid-April, the general public will see many more homeless people hanging out downtown -- which is their right, I might add. Lovers of the homeless will have more mouths to feed. Haters of the homeless will have a reason to push for a downtown service center. The homeless will love both groups -- even the haters.

Haters, if you really really hate the homeless and poor, fight for affordable housing. then the former group won't be visible or homeless and you'll have less reasons to hate them. What's more is that you will have proven yourselves to be good for something -- which will, in turn, give you a reason to look down on your local government which will have taken your place as the most useless people in the city. As a matter of fact, you can remind your elected officials that we've been here before. A year after haters of the homeless told DC Government (by way of Downtown BID) to close the Franklin School Shelter, a 2009 Examiner article explained that the homeless had become more visible -- not less. The well-educated business community had grossly flawed logic whereby they assumed that closing a shelter would cause homeless people to leave downtown. How they figured shutting down a shelter would keep the homeless indoors and out of sight is beyond me. They were dumb haters. Hopefully you're at least smart and demand the same of government.

Beginning two weeks before and extending until shortly after the September 26th, 2008 shelter closure, DHS placed 300 men into Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH). They've since placed many more people in PSH. Congrats, DC Gov, even if the effort isn't keeping pace with the rise in homeless people -- 6,044 in 2008 and 8,680 in 2016 (after adjust for 330 that were initially missed). That said, only 60 of Franklin School Shelter's 300 men were house prior to the closing. Another 240 men were pulled from other shelters and housed -- those who had the most debilitating mental and physical of conditions. The other 240 men from Franklin then moved into the vacated beds at the other shelters. It stands to reason that it was many of these 240 men who began (or continued) to hang out in Franklin Park -- which is their right. The women came from elsewhere. In any instance, DC Government may very well be recreating the logic that caused the homeless to swarm to Franklin Park and other parts of downtown nine years ago. Go figure. Haters, help us fight for a downtown service center. Lovers should too.

I'd have you to know that the library closure is not the only thing that homeless advocates and others have rightly told DC Government for three years to be mindful of and prepare for. We advocates have for years asked government to heed our advice on a range of issues, to let us help and to pay us stipends as contributors or even full paychecks as government employees. This most recent [foul] up, because of the more-than-ample warning time, gives us unpaid advocates the space to say that we the advocates are more deserving of stipends or even $60,000/year/person (in some cases) than any of the six-figure earners in DC Government are of their checks. The 2014 draft document (the first hyperlink) wherein a budget for financially supporting the advocates was proposed also says that the ICH values input from us advocates. DC Government has yet to put its money where its mouth is. (The ICH lacks a budget; but, the DC Council can give them one.) It behooves the council to fund homeless advocacy; as, government would actually begin to operate like a well-oiled machine -- beginning with the ICH and fanning out to all parts of the local government.

With any treatise on government failures promising to be a lengthy one, I'll forgo mentioning anymore here and now and give a few predictions and warnings that are aimed at the government AND the advocates in an effort to show which group has more good sense. Chief among them is the fact that 2002 was the last year that DC re-elected a mayor and we should therefore plan around having a different mayor on January 2nd, 2019. This means that the five-year plan to make homelessness "rare, brief and non-recurring" (which runs from 10/1/2015 to 9/30/2020) might not be carried to term, fizzling out on January 2nd, 2019. If you hold out hope of another Bowser win, I might be saying I told you so.

With the DC Council's CCNV Shelter Task Force (October 2013 to July 2014) having only come up with 17 guiding principles and no concrete recommendations, we lack a sure plan for the shelter's future. (I said I wouldn't mention anymore government failures. oops, couldn't resist.) For a mixture of reasons, I'm guessing that the possibility of closing this 1,000-bed shelter won't be discussed again until 2020 and it will be closed by the fall of 2022. Residents ask me about this all the time, including this week. It would be wise for the advocates to start pushing government to improve its employment programs and other things that help able-bodied people even now. It would seem that a capitalistic and gentrifying government would try and get ahead of us advocates. Something tells me they'll wait until it's too late and the Left has mounted a vicious fight. That's fine with me.

As we wait until mid-May 2017 for the number of homeless people who were counted in January to be published, I'm guessing that we cleared 9,000 -- possibly by 300 or more. With DC having gained as many as 1,052 homeless people in a single year, I'm guessing that we'll clear 10,000 homeless people in 2018. The article about crossing that threshold will come out in May. The mayor will enter the September 2018 primary with a glaring failure on her pet project now in the public eye; and, voters who are all the wiser will elect a new mayor -- in the hopes that he or she can at least succeed at their pet project, if nothing else. I'm guessing that's an idea we all can get behind -- the housed and the homeless alike.

Tax payers, we homeless advocates are in fact the best friends you have insomuch as we can tell you much about government waste and dysfunction and help you move these public servants toward doing better by all of their constituents -- the housed and the homeless alike.

                                 Your friend,

                                         Eric Jonathan Sheptock