Sunday, November 22, 2015

Extraordinary Birthdays: Bringing Cheer to DC Metro's Homeless Children

Homelessness seems to be quite the intractable problem in the capital of the most powerful nation on Earth – having increased from 5,757 in January 2007 to 7,748 in January 2014 and having decreased by 450 the following year to 7,298. Washington, DC had a 10-year plan that was supposed to end homelessness in the city by the end of 2014. It didn't. The news, in recent years, has been full of reports about the city tearing down homeless encampments, about synthetic drug use near shelters, about deplorable conditions and food-for-sex scams being perpetrated by shelter staff and most memorably about an 8-year old girl who went missing from the family shelter in early 2014. Homelessness is Hell. There's just no other way to put it.

However, there is at least one organization that is working hard to give some of the many children who experience it in Washington a brief respite from the troubles of homelessness which current DC Mayor Muriel Bowser promises to make “rare, brief and non-recurring”. They are a non-profit called “EXTRAORDINARY BIRTHDAYS”. Born themselves in November 2010, Extraordinary Birthdays has made it their business to bring joy to the lives of over 400 children experiencing homelessness thus far. Founder and executive director Schinnell Leake emphasizes that, with all of the homeless advocates raising their voices for and with homeless parents in order to effect an adequate response to the family homelessness crisis by city officials, EOB has chosen just to focus on bringing joy. No politics. Just joy.

She,along with her associate director Nikiah Wade offer individualized parties to each child who completes another revolution around the sun while in Shelter. There are other non-profits around the country that offer group parties to children celebrating a birthday while in shelter. But for EOB that's just not good enough. To them each child is an individual who deserves individualized recognition. They're not just nameless faces in a crowd. They have individual hopes and dreams – and ways of partying, for that matter. Each child is offered the cake of their choosing, gifts and books. (Hey, we gotta promote learning!)

Here's how it works. A family enters shelter – one of the lowest points in their collective lives. They are asked dozens of questions about their finances, personal facts and the situation that got them there – possibly a very long turn of events. Just when they feel like screaming, “Not another form to fill out!” – you guessed it – they're handed another form. But, lo and behold, it's a different kind of form. This one, like the several they just got through filling out, asks for birth dates – those of the children. But then, instead of asking for the same boring details that the other forms ask for, this one asks about the children's individual preferences – what kind of party they'd like for their birthday, what kind of gifts they'd want and what kind of books they like to read. All of a sudden, the mood in the room changes as the parent(s) realizes that this is about bringing joy. It's the silver lining in their dark cloud.

The shelter staff gathers up these forms and, at the beginning of each month, delivers the forms for children celebrating a birthday that month to EOB. The celebrations are generally held in the last week of the month – one party per birthday child – at least for those 12 years old and younger. (However, with families becoming homeless any and every day of the month, EOB must remain flexible. They've pulled parties together with as little as a week's notice.) The $175.00 or so that go into making each child's birthday feel like the special occasion that it is goes toward creating a party motif that is most becoming of the child, as per the description given by the parent(s). Some girls like Barbie or My Little Pony décor. Some boys prefer a G.I. Joe or a construction worker motif. In any case, attendees get attire to match. The subject of the party gets to invite family and friends – yes even their friends from the shelter. After all, classmates who've not experienced homelessness are not always sympathetic toward those who have. The more mature children – those turning 13 and older – are not given parties; but rather, a cake and a gift card worth $35-50.

Speaking of gifts, we all know that kids will be kids. When asked what they want for their birthday, kids can rattle off lists that would break the bank. Thank God for parents – those parents being called upon by Extraordinary Birthdays to vet their children's choices and narrow them down to those which would be most appropriate given the families' then-current circumstances. Those circumstances, quite naturally include extraordinary security measures which put limits on what EOB can do with the parents for the children. That said, when cameras are allowed, a photo book is made of the party – not to remember homelessness and strife, but to celebrate the kid and celebrate life.

Extraordinary Birthdays does not seek the credit for the joy they bring – though they DO insist on witnessing it. Gifts are given to the parents to give to the children who are encouraged to thank Mom and Dad. Well, in all honesty, it was the parents who conveyed the will of their child to EOB. The “Extraordinary” staff is delighted just to see the joy on the children's faces as they enter a space that was made to their liking with their loved ones gathered around and tear into their gifts with immeasurable anticipation – a much-needed break from the troubles that currently plague their lives.

With homelessness taking a big toll on the child's psyche, Extraordinary Birthdays helps them survive the moment. Schinnell leake has noticed increased happiness and confidence on the part of these kids who have become keenly aware of the downside of life. She also notes that, while many people give to the homeless between Thanksgiving and New Year's, EOB is bringing good cheer all year.

But Schinnell and Nikiah couldn't and wouldn't do it alone. In addition to the staff at a half dozen DC Metropolitan Area shelters, EOB works with many volunteers. After all, who could turn down an opportunity to bring a little sunshine into the darkness being experienced by these little ones??? EOB also partners with So Others Might Eat, the national Center for Children and Families, the Homeless Children's Playtime Project and many more.

As you can well imagine, all of this partying has a business side to it as well. With it often taking about $200 to afford a few hours of happiness to these little ones, it is necessary to solicit donations. I'm sure we can agree that it is money well spent. Much of EOB's funding comes from individuals who donate on-line – some actually preferring to make a more personal donation by baking for the event. (It doesn't have to be either/or. You can do both/and.) Some comes from other non-profits. With the business of partying with tykes and “tweens” (8 to 12 yrs old) taking up so much of their time, EOB didn't place much emphasis on advertising for their first three and a half years. But with them now having five years (and a lot of cake) under their belts, they have countless success stories with which to further promote their work – the work of spreading cheer throughout the year.

This relatively new emphasis has paid off. In 2014 EOB was featured on a segment of Fox 5's “Pay it Forward”. Even so, Schinnell Leake maintains that she can't think of any better way for her to spend her time and “the big pay-off” comes when she turns a little frown upside-down. Maybe that's why she was recently one of two finalists out of an original pool of 6,000 women in Loreal's “Woman of Worth” contest – because she sees that it's worth her time and effort to positively influence tomorrow's change makers today.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Reposted from 9/2/2012: DC's CCNV Shelter is Threatened With Closure AGAIN (2011, 2012, 2015...)

 Below are 2 of the many "threats" of closure that CCNV has received over the years. The portion that describes the 2011 threat also explains why these threats should be taken seriously.

Even so, I promote living-wage employment and affordable-on-the-open-market housing for able-bodied homeless people, not just a better shelter. (But "Dr. D.C. Houser" is currently doing triage -- housing the disabled and families with children in hopes that able-bodied, low-income, single, homeless people will just leave town or die)

From 2012:

On Friday, August 31st, 2012 all 300 men on the third floor of the CCNV shelter received notices from the CCNV administration which, among other things, stated that the shelter might close as early as next year. The Federal City Shelter (which actually has three separate shelters within it) holds 1,350 of what was DC's 7,000+ homeless people (a number we're trying to get back DOWN to in 2015). CCNV holds 950 itself. In April 2013 we were threatened with the loss of 1,600 to 2,000 shelter beds -- 470 of those beds having been threatened in an e-mail from then-deputy mayor Beatriz "BB" Otero.

From 2011:

We all know that rumors are often circulated by well-meaning people who take a grain of truth and unwittingly add a pound of error. This is as true in the world of homeless advocacy as it is in the larger community. That is why on July 14th, while at a COHHO (Coalition Of Housing and Homeless Organizations) meeting, I made it a point to ASK whether or not what I'd heard about the sale of the defunct DC General Hospital which is now home to a women's shelter and a family shelter was true. The mostly empty hospital was slated to be developed as part of the Hill East subdivision project before the economy went south. I found out during this meeting that the development plans have not been resurrected -- YET. So, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. Ahhhhh!

Then again, rumors were circulated on a regular basis about the impending closure of the Franklin School Shelter. It eventually was closed in September 2008. So, what started out as a rumor DID eventually materialize into the truth. Interestingly enough, I personally heard the men say that they'd heard those rumors before and that the shelter wouldn't be closed. And they said this right up until the time that people from DC Government's Dept. of Human Services (DHS) came to the shelter to explain how the closure would be executed and to field questions on April 6th, 2008.

Rumors are circulated on a yearly basis about there being plans to close the CCNV (Community for Creative Non-Violence) Shelter which holds 950 people -- with other shelters in the same large building holding another 400 homeless people. It's being said again. But this time around the staff has explained that this is the real deal. However it is a conditional threat -- one which might be averted.

The Federal City/CCNV Shelter was opened in phases from 1986 to 1988 due to the direct action of dozens of homeless people under the leadership of Mitch Snyder. In 1986 Mitch Snyder's people and the Reagan administration signed a restrictive covenant which stated that the building would remain a shelter and continue to serve the homeless community until at least July 8th, 2016. Though Snyder and Reagan are both dead now, their covenant still holds power. However, the building being perceived as a health hazard -- whether or not it actually is -- always gives government a seemingly legitimate reason for closing a building. After all, former DC mayor Adrian Fenty used such reasoning to close the DC Village Family Shelter as well as Franklin School which held 300 men just prior to its closing (60 of those beds having been added in November 2006 due to renovations that were underway at CCNV).

One of CCNV's then-current volunteer staff explained the situation to me: "DHS and the Dept. of Real Estate Services (DRES) -- now the Dept. of General Services -- will inspect the building on July 15th. Though the building maintenance is done by DRES, we at CCNV (which is run by volunteer staff) are 20% responsible for the upkeep of the building. The government is inspecting many government buildings across the city that are being poorly maintained and this is one of them. Several departments of the government will inspect the building over the next 2 weeks. If we fail any of the inspections, the building could be closed."

I then said, "I'm trying to imagine what they would do with 1,350 homeless people (one-fifth of DC's homeless population at that time -- 1,350 is now a smaller fraction of a larger number of homeless people in DC)."

He continued "That's already been discussed. The city would get rid of the CCNV management and bring in their own paid staff who would be charged with shutting down the shelter. They would phase it out in 6 to 8 months by making people leave and find somewhere to go. Within a year the place would be empty. That's why we are going to keep the lights on late tonight so that people can do a thorough cleaning." (Though not the nicest place in the world, the building IS actually cleaned on a regular basis.) So, let's hope that they pass the inspections that will occur over the next 2 weeks. There's a lot at stake.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Mayor Bowser, What Is the Future of DC's CCNV Shelter??? Jobs for Residents???

Update on the
Future of CCNV
Because you have a right to know

DC GOVERNMENT has asked me “NOT TO HIT THE PANIC BUTTON” – that is NOT to worry HOMELESS people with a guess of a 2017 or 2018 CCNV shelter closure. So, I made THIS INFORMATIONAL FLYER which I'm sharing in print and electronically. Please click on and share it with any and ALL of your interested contacts. 

DC GOVERNMENT insists that NO DATE HAS BEEN SET for the closure of CCNV.

Nonetheless, I suspect that DC Mayor Muriel Bowser MIGHT be developing plans to close the Federal City Shelter which is also known as the Community for Creative non-Violence or CCNV before the end of 2017, but probably not before the presidential inauguration following what I believe will be a Clinton/Sanders victory in November 2016. I've been asked by the administration not to speak "definitively" about the mayor's plans irrespective of what I see happening in the neighborhood.

There is the matter of the 2.2 million square foot, $1.3 billion dollar Capitol Crossing project across the road from the CCNV Shelter. This site could be completed as soon as 2023. Nobody in their right mind actually believes the shelter will be allowed by city officials to remain until then. (Many homeless people are anxious to be employed by this construction site across the road from the shelter.)

In this case, the developers are very friendly and accommodating, though they may unwittingly play into the city's plan of gentrification by giving the administration a "constructive" reason to close a shelter that has drawn a lot of negative attention lately. 

The John L.Young and Open Door Women's Shelters were scheduled to relocate from FCS to the former Gospel Rescue Mission location in Chinatown in November 2015 as a result of an initiative by former mayor Vince Gray. Due to delays in the renovation, that move will take place in early 2016 -- decreasing the building's census by about 200 women.  I was told by an administration official in June 2015 that DC Government does not plan to use the vacated space at FCS, being that the 75-year old building is dilapidated (and I believe it sustained some damage during the earthquake of 2012). I'm wondering when the administration will decide to stop using the 250 hypothermia-season beds, bringing the census just below 900 people.

Ms. Bowser was on the DC Council in 2013 when there was a hearing about FCS/CCNV at which time then-Councilman Jim Graham took steps to convene the CCNV Task Force whose two dozen people and nine months of effort ended with the passage of a law which contained 17 guiding principles (and no concrete recommendations) and that essentially gives the mayor (which she was well on her way to becoming when it ended in July 2014) carte blanche to do as s/he chooses to the 1,350 people that the building can hold. Some advocates want to meet with the mayor so as to hash out a plan that satisfies the needs of all FCS residents and creates ample supports for those who will become homeless in the future.  

I've suspected since as far back as May 2015 that Muriel Bowser is one to fly under the radar and to implement plans that, taken at face value, look good. It saddens me to say that I think I'm right. Muriel Bowser, like any politician, doesn't seem to want people protesting her plans. I get that; but, disliking protests doesn't preclude her from holding town hall meetings during which people can give meaningful input -- something she has done for less contentious issues. She probably knows that almost any plan to close a facility that serves the homeless will be met with opposition, as was the case with the Franklin School Shelter.

Like former DC mayor Adrian Fenty whose protege she is, Mayor Bowser is able to present her plans to close a homeless shelter as a good thing. She can tell the public about her plans to house people. She can explain that she will create several smaller shelters. The general public will assume that the mayor won't leave the homeless high and dry. Unfortunately, most people have short attention spans and memories to match.

The homeless as well as their advocates know that, as with the former DC Village Family Shelter in October 2007, a mayor can promise indefinite housing and claim a year or two later that there is not sufficient funding for this promised housing. S/he can then offer to pay people's rents on a sliding scale over a years time, requiring a family that is caught in the throes of generational poverty to pay in excess of $2,000 rent for a three-bedroom. That's not to speak of the fact that the government apartments that some people are moved into are more “unfit for human habitation” than the shelter that the government so compassionately moved people out of. Though there is no shortage of complaints about city shelters, many realistic homeless parents realize that it is the closest thing to safe and affordable “housing” that they have at their disposal right now. For those reasons, they elect to remain in shelter.

How stupid do they think we ARE!!! 

Muriel Bowser was on the council when DC Village Family Shelter was closed. She witnessed the protests before and after Franklin School Shelter was closed in 2008. She would have to be aware that I was a named plaintiff on a lawsuit against the city in connection with the Franklin School Shelter closure. She knows that an Occupy DC-affiliated group broke into the building three years later. She should also know that there were problems with the implementation of Permanent Supportive Housing which Fenty used to justify the Franklin closure, only to find that he couldn't develop a feasible plan for the building. Some of the former shelter residents who were among the most vulnerable and disabled didn't receive the promised “wrap-around” services as the shelter was closed quickly and haphazardly. Various DC residents have wondered why, in lieu of the limited renovation options, he was so adamant about closing the shelter. The answer to that question is also the primary concern of the city's able-bodied homeless community:

City officials are aiding gentrification (whether through intent or ignorance) and actively decreasing the number of low-income rental units – effectively getting poor people “out of the way”. To further complicate matters, the freight train of gentrification is so far down the track now that even a good-hearted mayor can't stop it at this point. Ought she to try???

Mayor Bowser can mount a losing battle against gentrification; but, who wants to mount a losing battle? She can make it a point to call out the evil gentrifiers so as to expose them; but, evil people know they're evil without being told. Chances are they won't change because you expose their evil. She can actively contribute to the gentrification process. Or she can do her best NOT to contribute to the injustices that are perpetrated upon the city's poor by the wealthy and well-to-do. However, Mayor Bowser said less than a week into her term that she plans to run for re-election. With city rents rising; the changing demographics making the concerns of the poor less relevant; and Blacks now comprising less than half of the city's population, Mayor Bowser has every reason to cater only to those who make $80,000 or more annually and eat their meals off of China -- where she herself IS right now.

This means that we who are the poor and our advocates need to fight harder or our defeat is certain. In a strange twist to Washington, DC's story of gentrification, a developer recently told me that he has made various efforts to assist the city's Human Services functionaries in creating newer smaller shelters to replace the large, decrepit one located across the road from his recently-completed development; but, the city's Human Services functionaries have found every reason whereby to obstruct THEIR stated plan to move toward smaller shelters.

As stated in a prior post, I believe that as many as 600 of the shelter's 1,350 occupants might be housed, which looks good on its face. The other 750 will most likely be moved to other sites or have their bed eliminated when they leave the shelter for a few nights -- similar to what was done with Franklin.

While the (secret?) plan is not all bad, the lack of community input IS. 

So, let's get the word out and have the homeless community come together to assert our collective will. After all, government making decisions FOR us instead of WITH us doesn't do anything to make homeless people into productive, well-functioning citizens.

Nothing about us without us!!!

If a government employee's apartment building were going to be closed, demolished and rebuilt, that person would want to know as far in advance as possible. If said government employee wants homeless people to become responsible adults, they can start by involving the homeless in conversations that affect them.

A failure to plan is a plan to fail:
 A failure by DC Government to connect able-bodied homeless singles to living-wage jobs IS INDEED (part of) a plan to force them out of the city.

Let's FORCE the administration to give us answers!!!

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

My Appointment to DC Inter-agency Council on Homelessness

No one who knows me can imagine me feeling a need to be validated by the system. After all, I began advocating in June 2006 -- less than two weeks before the first ever DC ICH meeting. I've been involved with this body for the entirety of its existence thus far, missing very few of the big meetings which used to be bi-monthly but are now quarterly.

However, Kristy Greenwalt became its first director on April 28th, 2014 and is implementing a number of changes -- some for the purpose of bringing the ICH into compliance with new federal regulations. In February 2015 other advocates and I were informed of ICH positions that were being created or becoming open. I made it a point to apply -- which has proven to be a lengthy process. Fast-forward nine months to November 4th, 2015. On this day there was a nomination hearing in front of Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. I was one of 12 applicants who testified. While I'm not sure how many seats were open, I know that only three of the 12 people were either homeless or formerly homeless with the regulations calling for three to five members to be from that category. Someone with inside information called me about two hours after my testimony to tell me that I've been confirmed. I still await the official word, though I'm sure my friend is right. That said, here is the testimony I read which can also be accessed on the DC Council website:

Eric Sheptock's ICH Nomination Testimony

Chairman Mendelson and the DC Council:

As you well know, I am Eric Jonathan Sheptock whom several of you honored on November 18th, 2014 as you declared December 31st, 2014 to be Eric Jonathan Sheptock Day in the District of Columbia. It was due to my work from June 2006 to the present fighting for the city's homeless community. Even with several council members having taken office this past January and the late Marion Barry's seat having been filled since then, I know that all but one or two members have met me. It stands to reason that a body which has so honored me (giving me the day by which the 2004 plan would have ended homelessness if it had worked) would appoint me to the DC Inter-agency Council on Homelessness as a community representative.

With my nine-plus years of advocacy being well-documented on the internet and accessible through a simple Google search, I need not belabor the topic of my experience. Even so, I will indeed point out that I attended the first ever ICH meeting under the auspices of then-city administrator Robert Bobb as it was held on the 11th floor of 441 4th street NW – the Judiciary Square Building – in June 2006. I went to several of the ICH inaugural hearings which were held in several locations that are easily accessed by the poor and homeless of the city. As a matter of fact, I still have a lengthy e-mail document that spells out what people said at those hearings. That document and the annual point-in-time count give me multiple points of reference that I can use to determine how well we are doing at ending homelessness or even improving the conditions that people must endure while homeless.

Some might say that my critiques are, at times, as poignant as those given by the late, great Mitch Snyder. But anyone who knows me knows that I am a solution-oriented person. It has been a personal rule of mine for over 25 years that I don't open my mouth to complain unless I have a possible solution (there being an obvious exception when I lack the necessary expertise). That said, I was quite bothered when I heard talk of a second multiple-year plan without anyone having looked at why “Homelessness No More” has turned into “Homes No More” since its 2004 passage. I was also quite bothered by the fact that, with the ICH normally discussing the increase of decrease in homeless people at the meeting which follows the publishing of the count results, there was no discussion of the 13%, one-year increase to 7,748 people at the June 2014 ICH meeting. I dug and got an answer as to why – another pertinent skill of mine.

It should be noted that I am currently building the conversation around the future of the Federal City Shelter also known as CCNV, though I'm not the only one. I was a significant player in bringing forth the June 27th, 2013 Human Services hearing during which Councilman Graham decided to create the CCNV Task Force which has led to the creation of legislation that allows Mayor Bowser to create and move on a plan that hopefully will improve the lives of the shelter residents. I filed a FOIA request with the feds in January 2013, sent the info to Mr. Graham, pressed him every couple of weeks about the promised hearing and worked with my advocacy colleagues to get the homeless and concerned citizens involved. I plan to continue this particular effort; therefore, it behooves the DC Council to appoint me to the ICH. After all, me being on the ICH causes me to have to “play nicely in the sandbox”.

Whether I'm poignant or polite, my dedication to ending homelessness is clearly unwavering. However, my vision and goals are not defined by what we are ending so much as what we are beginning and creating. With so many of the advocates fighting for the disabled and for families, I have made my primary focus the able-bodied homeless adults – a topic I am speaking on extensively with a French citizen who is currently working on her doctoral thesis. That said, I envision a world in which any full-time worker can afford all of life's necessities without government assistance – with those who can't work being provided for. This vision includes but is not limited to affordable-on-the-open-market housing and requires that all jobs pay a living wage. Let's work together toward these and similar goals.


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Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Death of Homeless Advocacy (or Establishment of Plato's Republic)

Before homeless advocate Michael Stoops had his debilitating stroke, He would introduce me to the college and university groups that had come to learn about homelessness by swaying and moving his hands from side to side as if he were playing a six-foot tall keybord as he said the following:

“I've been doing this work for forty years. And, if we don't start doing more than feeding and sheltering the homeless, then in forty more years when all of you are MY age, you'll still be talking about wanting to end homelessness.”

That succinct spiel had come to replace an earlier and shorter one in which he would say, “We here at the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) are trying to work ourselves out of a job”. As it turns out, he did just that on June 7th,2015, though not in the way that he had hoped. With the CCNV organization having begun in 1970; Mitch Snyder having joined them in 1974; NCH having been established in 1982 and a host of other advocacy organizations having sprung up since then, we should wonder why homelessness hasn't been completely eradicated. The longevity of these efforts taken together with the continued existence of homelessness speaks volumes to the need for different tactics than the ones we're currently employing. (Maybe we just need to do what was done in the 80's, as opposed to coming up with something new.)

Simply put, the advocates for the poor and homeless need to be more aggressive. Dozens of homeless people put their freedom on the line as they refused to leave a federally-owned rat hole in the mid- and late-80's. Mitch Snyder and 11 other people went on hunger strikes in order to pressure President Reagan into giving this deteriorating building to DC Government to be used as a shelter for at least 30 years, ending in July 2016. (At the end of this restrictive covenant, DC Government will own the building free and clear and can do what they want with it.) These advocates were also instrumental in the creation of the McKinney (Homeless Services) Act which became the McKinney-Vento Act which was signed and renewed by Obama as the HEARTH Act on May 20th, 2009. That said, the advocacy of the 80's is still yielding results while the advocates who came later are fading and failing sooner. I firmly believe that it's due to the less aggressive manner of today's advocates.

As recently as the fall of 2002 a local group of advocates were able to pressure then-mayor of DC Anthony Williams into converting the vacant Franklin School into a homeless shelter which was closed by the next mayor in 2008. Though it came later than CCNV, the Franklin School Shelter was closed sooner. Now that's food for thought. Mayday DC was still somewhat aggressive in their tactics, though I'm not certain they can even hold a candle to the Mitch Snyder Movement.

Hundreds of people – few of them actually homeless – came out to protest the closure of the Franklin School Shelter in 2008. Though any and all support for the cause is very much appreciated, the reversed proportions of homeless people to housed people from the 80's until now speaks volumes to the disenfranchisement of poor people.

Adrian Fenty's closure of Franklin School 20 months after taking office and more than two years after promising to keep it open if elected did much to put him at odds with the homeless community. His famously arrogant manner was the icing on the cake. He was someone the poor of the city loved to hate. This made for a moderately aggressive affordable housing movement. Though Fenty left office on January 2nd, 2011, the advocates continued to clog the halls of the Wilson Building with hundreds of protesters for several months thereafter.

Mayor Vince Gray wasn't as openly arrogant or combative as Fenty, though his policies proved to be more draconian. Thirteen months after taking office, he held his One City Summit wherein he led some to believe that he would meet the demands of all of his constituents, not just an elite few. The promised follow-up summit never happened. Being almost 30 years older than his predecessor, Vince Gray was deft enough to get his entire administration singing the same tune by portraying homeless parents as lazy, shiftless and gaming the system. This decentralized the message and diluted the attention of the advocates – causing us to have to confront various administrators rather than ganging up on the mayor.

Current DC Mayor Muriel Bowser seems to be interested in ending homelessness. Her administration has begun work on family homelessness, even if they haven't perfected their plan just yet. They're reversing the damage done to the Permanent Supportive Housing program by Vince Gray. And they'll soon meet with homeless singles to begin to chart a path forward for this sub-population as well. In spite of having aired my suspicions about her, I'll withhold judgment for now.

That said, the current administration seems to be more tuned to the demands of the advocacy community, eliminating the need for aggressive advocacy – a bitter-sweet truth, to be sure. We have the opportunity to move forward on policy initiatives that will connect many homeless people to housing, though sometimes we need to tweak the mayor's plan. However, if we get any softer, we might not be prepared to stand up to the next draconian mayor. We need to regain and then keep our aggressive edge.

One might ask when, if ever, we can let our guard down. The short answer: Never. As indicated in Plato's Republic, there must be “guardians” who warrant against any backsliding into an era of hurtful capitalism, ineffective government, abusive government or anarchy. But we must not settle for “compassionate capitalism” either. We must push for a complete paradigm shift away from a government that keeps the lid on the pressure cooker by giving daily sustenance to the needy to one that guarantees living-wage work and affordable human necessities to all able people, giving freely to the disabled.

Though many non-profits and a few coalitions are working on a myriad of social issues, I've yet to hear any of them articulate a definition for full success – mine or otherwise. They build their agendas around the government's budget process and advise the government as to how much money to put toward each social issue from year to year. Their level of success rises and falls with different administrations. We always have to size up the current administration instead of there being a paradigm in place whereby all administrations have the same understanding, for once and for all, as to what their duties to the various sectors of society are. This, from what I can tell, is the direct opposite of what advocates of the 80's did. We've gone from having a group of rag-tag homeless people building their demands around a basic human need for shelter in the immediate to having a mix of non-profits who often struggle to get homeless people involved in the fight for better shelter and affordable housing. With very few non-profits foregoing any government funding, most are not motivated to expose the failures of government to its poor. The poor and homeless have allowed the non-profits to become the revolutionaries who fight for them and the government has paid the revolutionaries not to fight.

This brings us to the question: Why is there not more talk about affordable housing??? Well, asit turns out, the non-aggressive “revolutionaries” have allowed the phrase “affordable housing” to be co-opted by government. Fifteen or twenty years ago the phrase “affordable housing” was uderstood to mean housing that could be afforded by working people who paid no more than one-third of their income toward housing. A demand for affordable housing was understood to be a demand set upon landlords to keep the rent down to a reasonable level, with government enforcing that demand. Now the definition has been expanded to include government housing programs which pay rental subsidies for the neediest while rents on the open market go through the roof. In essence, the government has gone from regulating rental prices so that people of all economic strata can live in DC to allowing landlords to get out of control while the government houses a few of the helpless victims of capitalism. We've all but completely surrendered.

Maybe demanding that the government establish the aforementioned paradigm shift which remains consistent across administrations amounts to us setting the bar too high – even in lieu of how plans to gentrify the poor out of DC have progressed across the Williams, Fenty and Gray administrations over the past 16 years. Maybe its wiser for the advocates and those who are directly affected by social ills to establish a consistent paradigm that we continually force upon the powers that be – to become Plato's guardians.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

The 10 Commandments of Eric Jonathan Sheptock

With me having spent, at this point, a full 20% of my almost 47 years advocating for the poor and homeless, it stands to reason that I'd be able to conceptualize my stance and my concerns pertaining to the issue of homelessness. As it turns out, I can and will. After all, no one knows with certainty how long they have to live and it would be a crying shame if, after all these years, people only knew about my specific demands and not about my broader principles.

Mitch Snyder passed away in 1990, after 16 years of advocacy. He, like me, was almost 47. Now the shelter which his leadership helped to create is on the verge of being closed. Toward the end of the CCNV Task Force process, the current director read a long letter which he claimed represents the will of CCNV's board and administration. It was, among other things, a diatribe against DC Government for “trying to push CCNV around”. It didn't call me out specifically, in spite of my pronounced role in causing then-Councilman Jim Graham to create the task force. Maybe it was because the board knew that such an assault on me would double as a recognition of my ability to influence local homeless politics.

In the letter the director stated that Mitch Snyder would have wanted to maintain the shelter – that he would not have wanted it shut down, in full or in part. I challenge that conclusion on the grounds that Mr. Snyder helped those who would otherwise have to sleep outdoors in the elements to sleep indoors – even if it meant sleeping in a decrepit shelter. In the late 80's there were many homeless people; but, the fight for affordable housing was still nascent. Given the conditions of his era, we can't say with absolute certainty that Mitch would have summarily dismissed the opportunities for a mix of better shelter and affordable housing that were created by the task force process. So, let's stop putting words in the mouths of dead people and say what we the living stand for. It's also a good idea for me to use the internet (which Mitch Snyder didn't have at his disposal) to put my thoughts into cyberspace where anyone with access can read what I wrote verbatim. It is with that in mind that I narrow my many thoughts down to these 10 commandments:

1 – Work toward the creation of a full-on Socialist System (for now) in the U.S.: True Communism completely opposes and eliminates the conditions that allow some to be “filthy rich” while others are “dirt poor” (with both groups being “unclean”). However, Socialism, in its truest form, is the “Robinhood of governance” that forces the rich to give to the poor. Socialism, of which America has “symptoms” but not a “system”, can be brought about through a bloodless revolution – unlike Communism.

2 – Support a Hillary Clinton/ Bernie Sanders ticket in 2016 and elect those who come from oppressed, suppressed and marginalized groups in other elections – both in 2016 and in future years: We've never had a woman as president and Americans who are still caught in the throes of McCarthy-ism need to develop the ability to think for themselves about what is best for the nation and the world.

3 – Even if you don't support Communism with its proven healthcare benefits, vehemently oppose capitalism: The last seven years should have taught us about the biggest flaws of capitalism – a system that must not merely be reined in, but completely obliterated. (Socialism is a stepping stone that can move us in that direction.) Wall Street greed and speculation led to an economic downturn that hurt millions of average citizens. Even so, capitalists encourage people to “take risks” albeit with other people's money. Let me remind you that Jamie Dimon lost $6 billion dollars on a bad bet but kept his job.

The famously angry DICK CHENEY epitomizes the best that the Republican party has to offer. He is said to have been the most powerful vice president this country has seen to date. He was the driving force behind the Iraq war. He functioned as president of the senate when the GOP was still relevant and still had a bit of moral standing – that having changed dramatically since he left office. While the Democrats offer supports that are “intended” to connect people to jobs, the GOP is more likely to pull the rug out from under the poor and to demand that they pull themselves up by their bootstraps. It is not hard for me to see how some of the laws and policies that Republicans put upon the American people are intended to promote morality and good principle. However, they've failed to formulate sensible and humane process for reaching their supposed goal of a moral and godly America.

Republican presidential candidate and billionaire Donald Trump represents the worst of the GOP. He has taken the risks that capitalists love to take and filed for bankruptcy four times. The casino owner evidently wants to gamble with more lives. The fact that he can make so many off-color remarks and remain the front-runner for any length of time says something extremely negative about the GOP base.

4 – Build a voting base of anti-GOP (including third-party) women: Wealthy, austere men are the people who do the most to make the capitalist system what it is. Additionally, a candidate for the oppressed, suppressed and marginalized needs people from these groups to vote for them.

5 – Any effort for systemic change must begin with and approach to government for redress of grievances and end with that government meeting the needs of its constituents or being overthrown: While capitalism has many pillars that include the police and military, the laws and policies that government makes (or fails to make) create conditions that either allow capitalism to run amuck or rein it in.

6 – in terms of how the public approaches government, they should be more like a taskmaster than a prison warden: A warden locks people up and makes them sit down for the wrong they've done. A taskmaster forces people to do their assigned jobs. It is necessary to have government, as opposed to anarchy. Emphasis should be placed on forcing government to be effective, not ridding ourselves of it.

7 – Aggressively oppose all that you know to be wrong in the world around you: I immediately jumped on board when two ladies told the 240 men at Franklin School Shelter about the impending closure which would have left some people with no place to sleep indoors. On April 10th, 2010 I chased a robber who I witnessed taking a woman's camera and told 911 where he was running. The police eventually caught up with him. I have no tolerance for those who are slow to stand up to wrong.

8 – Develop a social theory that explains your stance on societal issues: I'm obviously a Communist at heart, believing that the Book of Acts in the Bible and many of Christ's quotes throughout the Gospels point to a pre-Marxism form of Communism or "Ubuntu" (I am because we are). It may take another American Revolution or World War III to eradicate capitalism and bring about the egalitarian, polygamous system that Christ will establish on the New Earth.

9 – Challenge any poor reasoning by government: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney got us into a war that they initially claimed was intended to stop Saddam Hussein from acquiring additional weapons of mass destruction. Politics aside, it doesn't make sense to fight someone because you dislike their dangerous weapons. Neither does it make sense for a nation to agree to disarm itself so as to give its enemy the upper hand in a future war. I'll stop there for now in terms of stupid government "reasoning".

10 – Push for a society in which every able-bodied person is working only as long as necessary, in lieu of technology.: Many people are losing their jobs to technology. This exposes one of the contradictions of capitalism. The capitalists are so intent on increasing their bottom line that they lay off thousands of workers per corporation. These former employees were also consumers. These laid off people have lost their buying power and the corporation has, in effect, shrunken its customer base. Some companies, rather than laying people off, will cut everybody's hours back equally. This keeps everyone employed and enables the company to bring everyone back to working 40 hours per week if necessary. It should be the standard which replaces lay offs.

Communist motto: From each according to ability; to each according to need.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Why DC Has So Many Black, Single, Homeless men

2015 has been a year of international connections for me. In early February I met a French-born, multiracial woman near the McPherson Square Metro Station. She was talking to homeless people and had a camera in her hand. I inquired as to what she was doing. That encounter led to her, a friend who arrived from France weeks later and myself working together on a project about homeless love which we completed in late May, even garnering some media attention.

Also in late May I met a German woman who was visiting several American cities. With her having visited New York and Philadelphia during the time that people were randomly placing”No Cat Calling” signs on streets and in the subways, I asked her if she'd seen any of these signs. She asked, “What is cat calling?” I said, “It's when a man asks for sex from a woman he doesn't know”. She said she'd seen one such sign on the Philly subway. What she said next pleasantly surprised me: “What's wrong with that?! It's only a question!”. If all German and American women thought like that, the world would be a better place! My French lady friends told me that Europe did the Hippy thing later than America and they did it better. Spain definitely takes the cake (without icing). Oh, and I ABSOLUTELY LOVE their law around models!!! (I think they were the first country to legalize same-sex marriage nationally.) Mucho amor por (y en) Espana!

In early June fellow homeless advocate Michael Stoops had a debilitating stroke. He was moved from the hospital in DC to a rehab facility in Silver Spring,MD in July. Most of the nurses there are women from various African countries. As you can well imagine, I've had a few conversations about the fact that men are allowed to have multiple wives in different parts of Africa. One of them reminded me that the same is true in Utah.

In late June I received an e-mail from a woman who was arranging for 16 Chinese high schoolers to visit DC and learn about American homelessness. She didn't know about Michael Stoops having had a stroke and wanted me to convey the message to him. I forwarded her e-mail to the interim director of NCH. On July18th fellow NCH speaker John Harrison and I spoke to the Chinese students and their American Chaperons. Teachers at their school in China were so impressed with what the students said upon returning that the teachers wanted to hear us themselves. John, myself and a third speaker named Shelley Gilbert spoke to the teachers on October 11th.

In mid-October I read a Facebook message from an American woman who has lived in France since 1996. Nicole is doing a doctoral thesis about social issues with a focus on why there are so many Black, homeless, able-bodied men in DC and several other American cities. When I responded to her message, I learned that she'd been following me on Facebook for quite some time. She'll visit the U.S. soon and I'll show her around to various non-profits, homeless service providers and homeless people. Her question is one that I've been answering for quite some time, though people in government don't seem to want to pay attention. The advocates may need to be more aggressive, much like the advocates of the 1980's.

I'll preface my multifaceted answer with a reminder of a couple of glaring failures of DC government. In 2004 DC Government adopted a 10-year plan to end homelessness. I arrived here in the summer of 2005. I began advocating in June 2006. In 2007 DC Government scrapped its 10-year plan which would have ended homelessness by December 31st, 2014 if it had succeeded. Still new to advocacy, I was not at the meetings about scrapping the plan. The only explanation that I could find as to why the plan was deep-sixed came from the website of the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), thousands of miles away. It simply said that the government was not meeting benchmarks. So, let me get this. Because they were only doing a little, they decided to do nothing. Though they gave up, they didn't give back salaries earned on this failed effort. Hmmm.

It's my understanding that DC was 70% Afro-American in the 1970's. In 1975 the city began to shut down many of the trade schools, eliminating job training for the trades that built the city. In 1979 Marion Barry took office as mayor and began a summer jobs program that I've heard people in their 50's and 60's laud as the program that set them on the right path as young adults and even helped them work their way out of poverty.

Then there was the crack epidemic of the 1980's and Reagan's war of drugs which has been going on more than twice as long as the War in Afghanistan. Many Afro-American fathers went to prison, their sons growing up without ample male influence in their lives. Some of these sons and their sisters are now in their 20's. It turns out that 40% of the parents at the family shelter are between the ages of 18 and 24. Just to be fair, I should say that, in some cases, the fathers of these 20-something adults didn't go to jail or prison. They were encouraged by the rules of the welfare system to leave their families so that the women and children could receive government assistance. Now the children of this 50-something group – a mix of returning citizens and those who were “sprayed with 'welfare-repellent'” – are in their 20's and raising “the grandchildren of grief” in the family shelter.

Anthony Williams was DC's mayor from 1999 to 2007. He is credited with setting the wheels of gentrification in motion. He authored laws and policies that catered to businesses. The business improvement districts thrived during his reign. Rent control laws were weakened. In 2006 he tried to give the Franklin School (Shelter) to developer Herb Miller. He couldn't prepare an alternative location for 240 homeless men quickly enough. The city backed out of the deal; Mr. Miller sued the city and the courts awarded him $500,000 for design work, though he never touched the building.

Many people believe that the business community by way of the BID's is working the government like a marionette from behind the scenes and 16 years into a 20-year plan to gentrify the city (1999-2019). As of 2012, Afro-Americans made up 48% of DC's population. (It's probably in the low 40 percentile now.) Though not the majority anymore, we remain the largest racial sector in the city. Even so, Afro-Americans don't have a political mandate. Businesses and the well-to-do are of primary and secondary consideration, respectively, to the local government.

In recent years, with the possible exception of 2015, about half half of DC students were dropping out of high school. At least 68% of jobs in the city require an education beyond high school. In order to fill these jobs, the city has to hire people from various states; because, those educated by the city aren't fit for those jobs. As the allure of a government job draws well-educated 22-year olds into the capital, the demand for rental units skyrockets. The law of supply and demand drives rents up. This mixture of circumstances brings the young adult children of well-to-do parents into the city. These yuppies are able to pay high rents. Developers are therefore building high-end apartments and condos. They're also installing streetcars and dog parks – amenities that are used primarily by non-Black communities. They've built a convention center, a ball park and other pricey developments in the past 15 years. Some of these amenities have literally displaced poor people through eminent domain. In other instances, a new development has raised the values of nearby, unimproved properties. This raises the taxes of these often decrepit dwellings and, in turn, raises the rent. Now slum dwellings have become more expensive, but not any nicer.

Between 2000 and 2010 over 40,000Afro-Americans left DC because the rent which averages about $1,500for a one-bedroom, is too damn high. Finally let's factor how that the city signed affordability covenants with various landlords in 1995 and Mayor Gray's administration allowed those covenants to expire without renewing them. Now rents in some apartments are jumping from $1,000 to $1,600 all at once.

In 2012 a report indicated that 36% of Washingtonian adults were functionally illiterate, though I couldn't find the more recent article. 90% of adults in the city at that time had diplomas (which means 26% were given diplomas they couldn't read). Two reports on DC literacy came out within a week of each other that year. One said that DC was the most literate American city insomuch as it has many libraries, book stores and places with free internet access. The latter indicated that 36% of Washingtonians can't read any of the literature which is at their disposal and dubbed DC the least literate American city. Though both reports came out before his One City Summit, then-mayor Vince Gray only referenced the former as he discussed the state of the city during his speech at this event. Hmmm.

Now to address the current administration. Mayor Muriel Bowser (2015 to 2019) seems to have a good heart and to want to effectively address homelessness. That said, I take issue with how her administration is addressing homelessness. In the spirit of fairness, it must be said that Mayor Gray (2011 to 2015) undid much of the work done by Mayor Fenty (2007 to 2011) to house the most vulnerable homeless (those who are mentally ill or physically disabled). Gray failed to invest in what government terms “maintenance of effort”. Now the Bowser administration is playing catch-up.

That said, the Bowser admin has its flaws too. They just put together a 5-year plan to end homelessness – yes, another one. There was no review of the old, failed plan. (By the way, the DC Council honored me by declaring Dec 31st, 2014 to be Eric Jonathan Sheptock Day in the District of Columbia. That's the day by which homelessness should have been ended.) With homelessness in DC rising and falling from year to year by 5% or less usually, there was a 13% increase from 2013 to 2014. At the next DC Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH) meeting in June 2014, the agency that normally does a report-out on the homeless count didn't do it. When I brought up DC Government's failure to learn from the failures of the former 10-year plan or to discuss the astronomical one-year increase in homelessness, I was called a pessimist by a bureaucrat Hmmm.

I also catch flack when I point out certain concepts. I've explained that, initially, Permanent Supportive Housing was supposed to house the most vulnerable, handicapped homeless people and then move on to the least vulnerable – eventually assisting those who only had difficulty landing jobs. Very few people in DC Government remember that. (Some began their jobs after 2008.) The government has gotten stuck in most vulnerable mode. In the seven years since PSH came to DC, they haven't begun to assist the able-bodied single homeless people that the plan initially called for. Having to get back to where they were before Mayor Gray is one very legitimate reason. However, I believe that something much more sinister lies beneath the surface.

I believe that various employees of DC Government are aiding gentrification either intentionally or through their ignorance and lack of self-application. Many in the government see too many obstacles to connecting long-time homeless people to living-wage jobs. Employers are allowed to tell Washingtonians unabashedly, “I don't want to hire you because you're homeless”. There's no law against it, though some people are fighting for a homeless bill of rights in the city that would, among other things, warrant against that.

I also believe that city officials realize that, if they were to ignore the disabled or children, everyone and their mother would cry, “Foul!” However, they also realize that they can label able-bodied men as lazy and can thereby justify failing to assist them – even if these men are begging for employment assistance. So, the city will do as little as possible for those for whom there is no moral mandate that the city help them. To be fair, I should say that Mayor Muriel Bowser has begun some employment initiatives that are still being developed. I'll have to withhold judgment on that issue for now. Much of what I've said about how the city deals with employment issues for its most impoverished community only applies to past administrations. However, the Bowser administration is guilty of failing to even try to understand the failures of the past before moving forward with a new plan.

The machine of gentrification is a fast-moving, 2-mile long freight train with many wheels and other moving parts. It's already left the station. As a matter of fact, it's near its destination. History is repeating itself with a slight variation. After former slaves and their children built America's inner cities, they worked themselves out of jobs; their communities became slums; and these Afro-Americans began to apply for social services in the cities that they built. Now those who have done construction work and other five-figure-wage work that has aided the process of urban renewal/ Negro removal are being priced completely out of the city that they rebuilt.

I find it both interesting and appalling that it takes someone who lives on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and others in the international community to shed light on the injustices of the most powerful and imperialist nation in the world. But I'll take it for what it's worth. So, this year of international connections may end with the salvation of the American Negro coming from afar. But to answer Nicole's question succinctly, the federal and local governments see Black men as expendable, irrelevant non-persons and they're waiting for us to just go away.

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

2017: A Clinton/Sanders GALiphate (Muriel Bowser 4 prez in 2025?)

Events beginning with the 9/11 attacks and ending with the October 13th, 2015 Democratic debate point to a Clinton/Sanders “GALiphate” on January 20th, 2017. I'm all for it and believe that American voters will bring it to pass. Let's start with the last item in the timeline: the Democratic debate of October 13th, 2015. It was actually quite pleasant to watch. The candidates weren't focused on the faults of their opponents; but rather, on what they would do if elected. They discussed matters of general principle. Senator Bernie Sanders said unabashedly that capitalism is a terrible system that leaves the few with much while the many are scraping by on very little – my stance, to be sure. Secretary Hillary Clinton watered down his statements by suggesting that we merely rein in the negative effects of capitalism gone awry but leave it intact. I hold that against her.

Social media is now rife with comments opposing the determination by political pundits and the mass media that Mrs. Clinton “won” the debate. Let's avoid the sideshow. Nobody actually “won” the debate. Candidates showed their wares; but, voters will decide who “wins” during the 2016 Democratic primary elections – where Clinton will quickly establish her GALiphate even as ISIS quickly established a caliphate in the Middle East. Kudos to Bernie for demanding that people break away from the Clinton e-mail sideshow. The left needs to stay focused on the real issues, though the GOP probably won't take the White House again before 2033 and might end up dividing into two parties – giving us the three-(or more)-party system that we need in order to change the face of U.S.and world politics for the better.

We can sum up the biggest GOP failures in a single word: ISIS. Bush 43 invaded Iraq on March 19th, 2003. He didn't pay the Iraqi border patrol. They abandoned their posts for paying jobs, leaving the borders open. Our military apprehended Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in 2004. They determined he was just a “street thug” and not military business. They let him go. The Bush regime dismantled Saddam's military. Our military failed to train a viable Iraqi military. (We couldn't do that in Russian Georgia during the conflict over South Ossetia either.) Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi now leads ISIS. Former officers from Saddam's military are now fighting for ISIS. They're using weapons they stole from the U.S. military.

ISIS is being propped up by the democracy that Bush 43 brought to the region when he deposed Saddam Hussein. The wave of democracy that he imagined would occur happened during the Arab Spring. Dictators (who in many cases were supported by the U.S.) continue to be deposed seven years after the Bush regime ended. The Muslim masses who are tired of the secular rule of these dictators whom the U.S. has helped to depose are electing to implement a system of Sharia. Bush 43 didn't realize that middle Easterners would use their newfound democracy to vote for the very un-American principle of state religion – Islam, not GOP Christianity(?).

The GOP has gone from selling weaponsto Iran to now starting a war in which American weapons get stolen. In hindsight the former seems to be the lesser of two evils insomuch as it was due to intentional crime, not utter stupidity. Fast-forward to the fall of 2015 and we have Iraqi and Syrian fighters using American weapons against ISIS which also has American weapons. We have Syrian forces using Russian weapons against rebels who are being trained by the American military and given American weapons – an American/Russian proxy war by all means. We have Russians bombing the Free Syrian Army which is being trained and supported by the U.S. military and is affiliated with the Nusra Front which is affiliated with Al Qaeda which is who we were initially going after for attacking us on 9/11/01. Is anyone wondering how terrorists get weapons of mass destruction??

While some of these developments took place after the Bush regime, all of them are results of decisions Bush made following the 9/11 attacks. The GOP loves to fight but doesn't know how. Make no mistake: Our military can kick ass;but, they can't train others nations to defend themselves. This keeps the U.S. in other countries indefinitely like a husband who mistakenly applied Super Glue instead of lubricant and can't get out of his wife. That's not to speak of the fact that not wanting a perceived enemy to have weapons of mass destruction (which were never found) is the absolute worst reason to start a war. Had Saddam actually possessed WMD's, we'd have to rebuild OUR military like he had to rebuild his after our 1991 invasion. No wonder voters don't want the GOP to have the war powers of the presidency!!!

Bush 43, during the time that he was demanding that Saddam allow UN weapons inspections, called Saddam “irrelevant”. Little did he realize that the totality of his choices in creating and managing this conflict would cause his party to lose what moral high ground they had left and to become “irrelevant” for decades – possibly forever. He won a second term due to Americans' fear of terrorism. Now we're at greater risk of being attacked than we were in 2001, the terrorists' tactics have become decentralized and Reagan-esque Repubs have all the arguments they need in order to increase military spending while their citizens lack basic human needs. For those of you with short memories, Bush 43 – in a blatant use of demagoguery -- made that accusation against Saddam Hussein. The fact of the matter is that Saddam was rebuilding the military that Bush 41 obliterated in a 28-day war with only 130 American lives lost. Saddam did a pretty good job of it too. After all, our military can't defeat the “terror” group ISIS which consists largely of Saddam's former military officers. Enter the fact that Bush 41 said repeatedly that he didn't want to depose Saddam even though he had international support and the means to do it. Enter the fact that he advised his son against deposing Saddam for fear of destablizing the region. America and the world have every reason to be “terrified” of GOP stupidity. I know I am.

If the GOP wants to show the “concern for the welfare of its citizens” that Bush accused Hussein of lacking, maybe they should stage an event at a Trump-owned hotel where they can sit with their front-runner and play the October 13th debate on a big-screen TV. If Trump and his GOP company would STFU, snack on caviar and take notes, they might get a better idea of what American voters are looking for in 2016.

A Clinton/Sanders GALiphate would be much less likely to engage in endless war, though they'd inherit a mess that was left by the GOP eight years earlier and has only grown and changed form since then. It would also offer a wholesale solution to domestic problems like the problems women have faced in this nation, though President Hillary Clinton would no doubt be scrutinized more closely than her male counterparts. (I personally long to see what a female president or two can do and to thus put an end to the bickering about how much better a female prez would be. Put up or shut up.) Bearing in mind that a president should serve all of his or her constituents, I'm inclined to believe that Hillary will do more for women than Obama has done for Blacks. After all, she is embracing her gender as a political positive more than he embraced his color in these days of “affirmative action presidencies”.

Hillary would be in an awesome position to address the Obamacare issue for once and for all. She could simply ask her husband for his 100,000 pages of documents related to his healthcare plan and hire a few hundred women of color (White, Black Brown etc) to help her thumb through it all. Her presence in the “ovary office” (a moniker adopted after her husband's flings in the White House) would make Americans more sympathetic to issues of women's health and eager to adequately address all healthcare for the last time. She could even reach across the aisle and spread love by tapping OB/GYN Dr. Ron Paul as her surgeon general/healthcare czar.

I believe that presidential elections from 2008 through 2028 will prove to be anti-Bush 43 elections with Americans choosing a Democrat (or 3rd-party candidate) each time and focusing on an different non-Bush attribute with each new choice. With Obama we got a Black. With Clinton we'll get a woman. In 2024 we might get a Black woman. Dems should start preparing current DC Mayor Muriel Bowser for a 2024 presidential run. In any instance, American voters are tired of the reign of terror inflicted on them by White, male, Republican, elitist presidents. They want something better. If they VOTE Clinton/Sanders in 2016, they'll get something better.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

OUR FIGHT: To Prevent (Further) Gentrification of the Homeless

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser is making plans to replace the 248-family (c. 992 person) DC General Shelter with five or six smaller shelters that are scattered across the city. There has been talk of putting one in each of the capital's eight wards. Over the past 10 years the city and various developers have floated plans to redevelop the area that includes the hospital-turned-family-shelter. When DC was in the running to host the 2024 olympic games, there was discussion of building the Olympic Village where the family shelter now sits. I suspect that conversation will recur during the bidding for the 2028 games, though it would have to include consideration of what to do with the jail and meth clinic which are located on adjacent properties.

The 360-bed New York Avenue Men's shelter is across the road from the recently refurbished Hecht's Warehouse which is now a condo building with commercial space on the first floor. Developer Douglas Jemal, to his credit, DID hold a couple of meetings with myself and a few other homeless advocates to discuss mitigating the tensions that would exist between the shelter and his then-unfinished development across the road – a face-saving, token effort in my opinion. After all, he made it a point to fill each of the hour-long meetings with much small talk and very little business. He has had what I'll assume were much more serious meetings with city officials. Anyone who, like Senator Bernie Sanders, is keenly aware of the damage done by capitalism and of the devices of its proponents also knows that those conversations won't end until the homeless have been gotten “out of the way of capitalism”.

A mile and a half away, the 180-bed Adams Place Men's Shelter is already being offered on the altar of capitalistic gentrification, though there is no new development within a stone's throw of the building. There is, as of yet, only half serious discussion of its closure, with it being right in front of the leading edge of the eastbound cloud of gentrification. The gentrifiers are developing their ability to look ahead (while DC Government masters the art of procrastination).

The 432-bed 801 East Men's Shelter sits on the east campus of St. Elizabeth Hospital with Homeland Security moving into the west campus on the other side of MLK, Jr. Ave. – a move we've known about for more than five years. More recently Mayor Bowser began to broker a deal that would place a Washington Wizards facility on the east campus. The article about this new facility made no mention of the fact that the Wizards would have a homeless shelter as a neighbor – which is quite unusual for this city, the seat of world capitalism.

Finally (for now anyway), there is the 1,350-bed Federal City Shelter which is better known as CCNV (the Community for Creative Non-Violence). It sits diagonally across the road from a large development that will be completed somewhere between 2023 and 2025. Capitol Crossings will be built on a quarter-mile long platform that is being constructed over the open-top, below grade Center Leg Freeway (I-395). You can bet your bottom dollar that city officials will accommodate the future occupants of these several buildings well in advance of the project's completion. Depending on who you talk to in the DC or federal governments, the city will gain the right to close the Federal City Shelter (which was given by the feds to DC Government under Title V) as early as 220 days after DC Government gives notice to vacate or as late as July 2021. If the former date is correct, FCS residents could be put out in May 2016. Though I tell the many homeless people who ask about it that, all things considered, the shelter probably won't close before the end of 2017, I have begun to hear dozens of homeless people discussing a possible January 2016 closure. At least there's a sense of urgency to improve their situation. At most there is the potential to develop this energy into a revolution and to fight for full systemic change.

So, let's do the math. All numbers are hypothermia season bed counts with some shelters decreasing the number of beds during the seven warmest months of the year. Hypothermia season runs from November 1st or the first freezing night until March 31st or the last freezing night.:

DC General: 992 +/-
NY Ave: 360
Adams Place: 180
801 East: 432
FCS/CCNV: 1,350
TOTAL: 3,314

DC has about 8,000 homeless people. (It's safe to assume that we've again gotten above 7,300 since thispast January.) The city has about 650,000 residents. About one in every 80 DC residents is homeless at any given time and about one in 35 experience homelessness each year. That compares with one in 400 and one in 80 nationally.

It should be noted that the Federal City Shelter has six separate entities in it:

DC Central Kitchen (which feeds 5,000 people per day)
Clean and Sober Streets Drug program
Unity Health Clinic
CCNV Shelter (men and women)
Open Door Shelter (women)
John L. Young Shelter (women)

The two women's shelters will relocate to Chinatown in early 2016 and the vacated spaces at FCS will not be used thereafter. That will bring the building census down to 1,150. I'm predicting that the city will stop using the 250 hypothermia season beds come fall 2016 and shut them down indefinitely. That will bring the census to 900. The Bowser administration will probably house 600 of them and create a smaller shelter for the other 300. Let's hope that the housing is not as tenuous as it was when DC Village Family Shelter was closed in October 2007 – a fiasco that the advocates are working to avoid as DC General is closed and replaced.

Mayor Muriel Bowser is showing a commitment to addressing homelessness, though she is focused on the family shelter right now and silent on FCS. Housing homeless families is commendable in ALMOST anyone's book. That complicates matters when the advocates try to make their case to the general public and show that the plan has (or had) flaws or that it only serves to cushion the effects of capitalistic gentrification. After all, it's unrealistic to think that those working for the poor will never have to compromise with those who are eyeing a homeless shelter as a site for an olympic village or merely as something that needs to be torn down before a major development across the road is completed.

I find it easier to make the case that city officials past and present have mastered the art of procrastination and that the current mayor is making sure that some of her plans fly under the radar until she has set enough in motion and her plans are irreversible. The latter would explain the relocation of John Young and Open Door as well as the statement by a DC Government administrator that it is not part of the FCS closing. As for the procrastination, I told dozens of people, many in DC Government, who attended the December 2013 ICH meeting about the several shelters that were or soon would be affected by development. Then-DHS Director David Berns told me that we wouldn't have to worry about 801 East for at least 18 months. He said nothing of the other shelters that I had mentioned. He resigned in June 2014. The 18 months elapsed in June 2015. With the Homeland Security relocation having already been in the works in 2013, we now have the Wizards moving into the neighborhood, tech companies eyeing the Anacostia neighborhood of DC and an uncanny silence as media and politicians fail to juxtapose these issues. Make what you will of it.

[NOTE: Since writing this blog post yesterday, I found out from someone who couldn't have read it yet that the mayor is in fact aiming to close FCS/CCNV by the end of 2017.]

We need to restart the public conversation around these issues. Sadly, it doesn't seem that we'll ever resurrect the fiery advocacy of the 1980's. MITCH SNYDER is gone, as is MARY ANN LUBY. Homeless Advocate MICHAEL STOOPS had a debilitating stroke in June 2015 and will never work again. So, like I said in a recent sermon, we need to exhibit RIGHTEOUS ANGER and fight social injustice. With a CLINTON/SANDERS ticket seeming (to me) to be a reality following the October 13th Democratic Debate and the GOP having become irreversibly irrelevant, it's conceivable that those working to end homelessness will have ample political support come 2017. Keep hope alive. Even so, I charge all who read this post to come together at FAIRBUDGET COALITION meetings,ICH meetings, WLCH meetings, WIN meetings and EMPOWER DC meetings so as to develop a strategy for combating and preventing GENTRIFICATION OF THE HOMELESS.

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