Friday, May 22, 2015

Vote For Hillary, But Not Because She'll Do Well.

Things are already gearing up the the 2016 presidential election and we have almost a year and a half to go. If Bush and Clinton win their respective primaries, we would be forced to choose one dynasty or the other. If Hillary were to win the general election, it would be the first time that two U.S. presidents have had sex with each other (straight sex anyway). Bill Clinton would be the first ever first man. But while Hillary could become the first woman president, I actually think Barack Obama is the first feminine president. He's so sweet and incapable of confronting Congress. (For all his vices, Bush 43 held Congress in the palm of his hand.)

I once told a woman with whom I was sharing a table at Starbucks that we've had our first half-Black president. Now we need our first woman president. She said quite emphatically, “Excuse me! The U.S. presidency is not an affirmative action position!”. I agree. However, Bush 43 did irreparable damage to the American image abroad while only fostering fear of terrorism domestically; and, it stands to reason that all presidents in the foreseeable future will only be symbolic figure heads who tell Congress annually during a SOTU Address to work together before he withdraws to the hidden recesses of the Oval Office or Air Force One from which to initiate other futile exercises in impotence. That said, we need not worry ourselves with trying to make policy predictions or guessing which campaign promises can and will actually be kept. It behooves us to vote for someone whose mere election victory will set off a firestorm of meaningful legislative efforts a mile and a half down Pennsylvania Avenue. That person is Hillary Clinton.

My assertion has merit insomuch as there was an exponential increase in the number of Republican presidential candidates immediately after Hillary declared her candidacy. It seems that the Grand Old Party became the Galloping Old Party – that they began running scared. Maybe they realized that she had a good chance of winning. Maybe THEY wanted to put forth the first woman president. Maybe they wanted to ensure that we actually would NEVER HAVE a female president – that Obama was the closest we'd get to having a woman in the Oval Office. Who knows how they think??? Fox news, maybe??? In any instance, the GOP is petrified of Hillary.

This fear – being felt by the politicians themselves, for a change – can work in the nation's favor. It brings us back to the reason for having primary elections in the first place. People were tired of being given one crook from each major party and being told to choose one. They wanted more options. So we began to have primary elections with a much broader field of candidates from each party. Now people could narrow 10 crooks down to two and then have them compete in the finals – the general election. From what I can tell, the stiffer competition just caused candidates to become better at deceiving the public by making empty campaign promises – promising things like hope and change – and by putting forth rhetoric that is devoid of any real substance. (I once heard a local politician say that she was advised to always be vague and never give details while on the campaign trail.)

This time will be different. John Ellis “Jeb” Bush is the brother of a former president whose ratings hovered in the 20 percentile for much of his term and who is thought of by many as the worst U.S. president ever. Hillary is the wife of the first White man in the Black Hall of Fame. She has gone on the record acknowledging the plight of Afro-Americans following the Baltimore riots to avenge the wrongful death of Freddie Gray. As more of the middle class joins the ranks of the poor and dispossessed, the cause of the Black man becomes easier for them to relate to. This, in turn, enables Hillary to redraft her message as one that revolves around ending poverty for all races in America – thus attracting even more voters.

Speaking of plights, I saw a report over 20 years ago that said that 67% of Americans are part of at least one minority group. Women are seen by many as a “minority” group, even though they outnumber men. Go figure. Not to get into semantics; but,it makes more sense to think of them as an “oppressed” or “underprivileged” group. Even so, the glass ceiling for women in this country has been between the governorship and the presidency. It stands to reason that, even as an Obama presidency didn't improve the state of Black America, a Clinton presidency will not translate into major gains for women. Even so, people will continue to “hope” for “change” and will vote in an “affirmative action” sort of way. I recently told a woman that I want to see Hillary win, in part, because it would give women the opportunity to move from talking about what they would do if they ran things to actually doing it. A female president would have to “put up or shut up”. This woman agreed.

Underprivileged groups want a champion that they can relate to. Sadly, the “champion of Blacks” has used the oval Office as a landing pad rather than a springboard – doing nothing to improve the state of Black America. As a friend once told me, “He didn't have to say 'Black'; he could've said 'poor'”. (Then he would've been working for all races while addressing an issue that affects Blacks disproportionately.) Maybe Hillary will be different. Hope is all we have and all we can do.

The good news is that a Hillary win, in and of itself, would turn partisan politics into gender politics. I predict that women from either party would come together around women's issues and Hillary would quite handily serve as the glue that bonds them together – both on Capitol Hill and in the state capitols. Though women only make up about 20% of Congress (right now), if they play their cards right, they can wield 80% of the influence. As female politicians put forth legislation advancing women's rights, congressmen at the federal and state levels will no doubt scramble to hold onto power and to shift the agenda. A majority of Americans are sure to support the advancement of women's rights and might even give women the majority of the House in 2018 – a key concern for men of either party. Either the congressmen will play nicely in the sandbox with women or they'll be “out on their elephant ears”.

Though it may seem a bit pie-in-the-sky, 2019 could see the beginning of a viable third party which is completely separate from the Dems or Repubs, quite unlike the Tea Party. This party, at its birth, could have as its primary goal the advancement of the rights of women and gays – only to broaden its horizons and put the entire left-wing liberal agenda on the fast track soon thereafter. But, in spite of its original flavor or how it evolves, a viable third party is what we need in this country. We need to break away from the two-party system and quit flip-flopping back and forth between two segments of the capitalist machine that are essentially work in tandem to oppress the ever-expanding class of the dispossessed. In the end, it may be her 2016 victory and the inspiration it brings to many groups – not how well she executes the duties of her office – which does the most to change the face of American politics. So, vote For Hillary, But Not Because She'll Do Well.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Love Lost and Lessons Learned (Bye-bye, Bipolarity and Sympathy)

They – that proverbial and ever-present “they” – say that you shouldn't air your dirty laundry pubically. I assure you that I don't air most of mine. However, there are sometimes lessons to be learned by many from the mistakes of a few. Besides, if enough people learn from my “great mistake” of the past two years, that might make the last 23 months of my life less of a waste. I've often wondered why it is that some men are attracted to beautiful women, get into relationships with them, often get them pregnant, have the relationship fall apart and then find themselves attracted to other beautiful women immediately thereafter – all of this without even trying to figure out what went wrong before getting caught up again.

On one level, I understand that his sex drive along with her beauty and willingness can work in tandem to create “the approach” which can lead to dating. On another level, I expect a man to think things through so as to avoid another “fatal attraction” – to find the characteristics apart from her beauty that eventually assert themselves within the relationship and can lead to its demise. I'm sure some men do; but, all men who've had bad relationships should. Oddly enough, many of the women who don't want to be seen as “sex objects” are game for it when men who couldn't possibly know anything about their minds as of yet are attracted to their beauty and offer to buy them drinks (sometimes for the easy sex date). I dare to be different and I always make it a point to initiate conversation on emotionally difficult topics as often as possible. So, here it is.

On June 26th, 2013 I went with several colleagues to the John L. Young Women's Shelter, one of three shelters in DC's Federal City Shelter. We were there to tell the women about a June 27th hearing at City Hall where the future of the building and its residents would be discussed. The following day there were about a dozen shelter residents from a building that holds 1,350 people during the five coldest months and 1,100 during the other seven. One of those women was Shacona Ward, a resident of John Young.

With it being extremely difficult to get the disenfranchised homeless community to come out and self-advocate around their issue, I treasure those who answer the call. So, when Shacona testified, I decided to see if I could keep her involved in advocacy. She made some scathing accusations against shelter staff as she delivered one of the most poignant testimonies I've ever heard. When she returned to the crowd, I went to her seat and introduced myself. A few days later, I bought her a meal at the Union Station Food Court and attempted to discuss her future in advocacy. I noticed that she didn't want to remain on that topic and that she seemed to always have a chip on her shoulder. I wondered if it was emotion pertaining to her present station in life or if there was some mental illness that was manifesting itself. I didn't have to wonder for long, as she is very open about the fact that she's bipolar (has mood swings) but won't divulge any further details on her condition. With me being Captain Save-a-(ya know), I figured I could help her work through her condition and that it was worth the effort.

I shifted the conversation toward dating. She threw up a wall. I asked her if she wanted to go out to the fireworks on July 4th because I already knew that the women – who normally have to check into the shelter by 7 PM and have til 8 PM to return if they were there last night -- were allowed to stay out later on holidays. She obliged. When the fireworks ended around 9:30, she ran like Cinderella to return to the shelter by the 10 PM curfew – anxiously pulling me along.

I began a two-month long job on July 1st of that year doing scaffold work on a stucco project. I was being paid approximately $100 daily. I'd get off work and then join Shacona as she and dozens of women sat outside of the shelter, with some women getting there as early as 3 PM for a 7 PM check-in. I'd sit on the ground next to her, our backs against the wall, and chat with her and some of the other women. It was during one such conversation that I learned that Shacona's brother named Skyler had committed suicide in March of 2013. I also learned about her interest in becoming a journalist and bought her a few journals in which to record her feelings and daily activities. I would often bring my blue-tooth speaker and play music videos of Shacona's choosing as we sat there. I was privileged to meet a Caucasian woman who was not mentally ill and who befriended Shacona, though Shacona's mood swings put a noticeable strain on that and other relationships. With what seemed to be a higher than usual concentration of mental illness existing among the residents of John Young, a sane friend was something to be treasured, though Shacona's condition disabled her from realizing that.

Shacona would often complain about not being able to sleep well due to sane women talking to each other all night and mentally-ill women talking to themselves. (An intelligent lady friend once told me of an occasion where she walked into a gang shower where she heard six women speaking and none was talking to another woman. They were each talking to themselves. That would be a sight to see, to be sure!!!) In one instance, I was walking Shacona to the Library of Congress and had to stop several times during this 20-minute trek because she was falling asleep standing up.

So, I advised her to begin the process of getting into another part of the Federal Shelter called the Community for Creative Non-Violence or CCNV. She began inquiring at the bubble daily as to whether or not they had a bed available. After more than a month of “No's” and several reports of those who requested beds after her having gotten in before her, Shacona filed a complaint with DC government's Office of Administrative Hearings just two blocks away. I accompanied her there and she got a bed at CCNV in late August. Oh, happy day. Now she didn't have to leave at 7 AM each day but could come in up until 2 AM. She could also leave two nights per week and have her bed saved – taking Friday through Monday out if she hose.

I met various family members of hers throughout the fall of 2013 and got along well with them. We could drink, talk, watch TV and have an all-around good time together. Shacona didn't want to go with me to see my mother in Florida in August of 2013 but would end up going in January of 2015. My mother loved her. My mother loves everybody. When Shacona told my mother that various adult family members were mooching off of her 86-year old grandmother, my mom offered to fly the three of us to Florida for a few days. I would eventually learn that Shacona's grandmother hated airplanes and wouldn't have gotten on one. Sadly, she died on February 7th. I accompanied Shacona to the funeral and the repass where I met even more of her family. My mother also gave me $20 toward taking Shacona to the movies. (I didn't tell her that one of our usual movie outings costs $60 – $13 for each ticket, $7 for each food item at the theater and $10 per meal at Chipotle's afterward). We've seen at least five movies together.

Fast forward to March 21st, 2015. We've been together for a year and nine months. I've yet to shout at Shacona, though she has taken such liberty with me on many occasions. I had resolved to be her pillar of strength and, in hindsight, think I may have been kind to a fault. We had just finished a church service on the first floor of the CCNV Shelter and had sat down to eat the hot meal that always follows. I had to get up for some reason. As I returned to my seat to resume eating, I was singing along with the music that was playing. Shacona got sharp with me as she said, “Eric, we know you can sing! Can you shut up and just let the music play?!”. This time I shouted back at her as I slammed my hands on the table and demanded some respect. She couldn't take a taste of her own medicine; so, she got up and walked out. We said very little over the next 12 days due, mainly, to her avoiding me.

She couldn't avoid me altogether; as, I was giving her transit fare to get to and from Prince George Community College where she began to study journalism immediately after returning from Florida with me. The tension eventually dissipated. Shacona seemed to have gotten over any apprehension she felt on March 21st hen she realized that I can shout louder than her. Things seemed to be getting back to “normal”. They actually got a little too normal this time, as she became even more belligerent than she was previously. I guess she knows that I'm not predisposed to domestic violence and that she can get away with her bad behavior. (People taking kindness for weakness is my pet peeve.)

On Sunday, May 17th, I accompanied her to the store. As we walked back and talked, Shacona told me about how a certain Retina Christian had advised her to “leave my ass” (and the rest of me, I'll ASSume) if I were to again do something that Shacona accused me of doing. It was more a matter of perception than of fact, for which reason I won't say that Shacona flat-out lied. That's generally not her style, though one may need to separate fact from feeling with her – to take what she says with a grain of salt. Retina was not the first woman that Shacona involved in our relationship. I told her that she needed to quit doing that and we parted after I helped her bring her goods to the second floor.

I was so bothered by her allowing other women into our business as well as certain other aspects of our relationship that I sent her a few texts to read that night. We spoke by phone on the 18th and 19th but she wouldn't come and speak to me face-to-face. She told me over the phone today that she didn't want to be with me anymore but repeatedly refused to meet with me. Our break-up is not official yet insomuch as I foresee her needing a favor within the next couple of weeks. I'll lay off until Saturday, May 23rd, and see how she feels. If she holds her ground until the 30th, then I'll know it's for real.

That said, Shacona has been the worst girlfriend to-date in my 46 years of life. She's the most belligerent – unmethodically belligerent, at that. Other girlfriends have gotten upset; but, there was usually a discernible reason – even if I didn't agree with the reason. Shacona snaps about the littlest thing. She told me some time ago that her psyche meds decrease her sex drive. I've been sexually starved for the past two years. The fact that I don't have many finances with which to get a hotel room make it even harder and then there have been times that we've gotten the room for $80 plus another $45 in transit and food and she hasn't been in the mood.

I've thought about ending the relationship several times, namely due to her belligerence. However, I figured that, when I asked her to become my girl, I bought the farm. I saw myself as having taken on a responsibility that I couldn't easily dispose of. I wanted to be supportive. I felt a moral mandate. Furthermore, if it got out that my sexual starvation was a factor in the break-up, I'd have to further clarify my religious stance to some “devout Christians”/ fellow church members. They'd want to know why we were even considering sex before marriage. So, here it is.

I consider myself to be a spiritual man more so than a Christian. I've yet to meet a Christian who can make enough sense of their religion by answering the hard questions. I long to see something in the way of God's Old-Testament heavy-handedness – to see God exact vengeance on the world for its utter stupidity and lack of order. I believe people have misused salvation. I'm not fond of Christ and his apparent sweetness. In lieu of how disorganized people's thoughts on marriage are, I believe that I could reason with God sufficiently well concerning my marital, sexual and relationship choices. That said, I am not a staunch advocate of waiting until marriage. Besides, with marriages being so easy to get out of, a license isn't worth the paper it's written on.

In closing, I've learned that I can't deal with bipolarity or with a woman who is belligerent for any reason. I will make sure that my next woman is as sweet as 1 Peter chapter 3 says she ought to be. I was attracted to Shacona's outspoken manner; but, it soon became the problem. I love women who can reason well. She didn't make the mark. Never again will I feel obligated to remain in a relationship because I am with a woman who is emotionally or financially dependent on me. I'll make a last-ditch effort to have Shacona straighten up and fly right, after which I'm through with her. No more sympathy. The next time I'm going to be a bit more selfish.


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Monday, May 18, 2015

Homelessly in Love

On May 15th, 2015 the Washington Post ran an article about a documentary on homeless love which was done by two French women – Lalita Clozel and ArianeMohseni. I was both their guide who helped them to penetrate the homeless community of DC as well as their subject matter expert. The documentary and article bring out what may very well be the greatest epiphany of our time: We all need love – yes, even the homeless. Who would ever imagine that homeless people like to give and receive love? As with other populations, there are good and bad people in the homeless community. Some have given their lives to save others or been the only one to show concern for a suffering person while others passed by in droves – too busy to care.

The story began on Sunday, February 8th, one week before my birthday. As a member of the National Coalition for the Homeless and its Faces of Homelessness Speakers' Bureau, I was doing an outreach run during which I led a group of university students through the streets of our capital to give care packages to the homeless and chat with them. As I approached the McPherson Square Subway Station entrance, I saw about a dozen homeless people sitting against the wall and a young lady with a camera in her hand moving among them – sitting between different pairs of people. I instructed my students to mingle with the homeless. Then, in my usual blunt manner, I approached her and said, “Who are you? What are you doing here?”. She explained that she was doing a project about homeless love. I promised to return when I was through with my outreach run. I finished a couple of minutes later and returned.

Lalita finished up her conversation and then walked with me to the sidewalk just outside of the station. I asked her name again and asked for further clarification of what she was doing. At one point I sensed that she might think she was in trouble; so, I assured her that she wasn't in trouble and that I was just a curious homeless advocate with a blunt manner. She did a video interview of me and we spoke for over 30 minutes. We scheduled a lunch at Potbelly's Sandwich Shop (a favorite eatery of mine) a couple of days thereafter during which she told me that a friend of hers would be coming from France in a few weeks.

We hit the ground running on February 15th. Lalita came to my church which opens at 6:30 AM on Sunday and has three-hours worth of activities for the homeless. I introduced her to several people. She immediately began to connect with them and got several people to open up to her about their love lives. I then took her to Franklin Square Park for more of the same. I put her in touch with shelter directors and other homeless service providers and she worked her magic so as to connect with them and abate any fears that she was there to critique them or expose their shortcomings.

On Friday, March 6th, Lalita and I planned to meet at the NCH office where she could interview Michael Stoops and get his perspective on homeless love. When she arrived, she had Ariane with her. We spoke with Michael. Then an Italian intern for NCH named Alessandro joined the ladies and myself and the four of us went to a Starbucks in Du PontCircle – a couple of blocks away. Alessandro had to leave. Lalita had to step away for a few minutes to do a conference call. Ariane and I were left talking to each other; but, the conversation went well and there was never a dull moment therein. As a matter of fact, Lalita (who was always within eye-shot) commended the fact that the two of us had hit it off so well.

Ariane explained that she volunteers at a shelter in Paris and that the shelter has separate sleeping quarters for men and women but a common area where the sexes can meet and mingle. This stood in stark contrast to homeless services in Washington, DC where shelters don't have a common area for the sexes to meet and where not-only-soup-anymore kitchens often have an area for women who don't choose to eat among the men – the latter of which I've spoken against on several occasions. She also told me of an effort in Belgium to create a homeless “love nest” for couples living without homes to make love. I found her and what she had to say to be quite interesting.

Alessandro would accompany us on a couple more occasions and myself on a couple of homeless advocacy ventures before his studies prevented him from doing so anymore. The ladies and I would end up finding many more people to interview, with them having gotten so good at it that they found and interviewed people whom I'd never met -- granted I don't know all 8,000 or so homeless people in the District. I connected them to Street Sense (DC's newspaper about homelessness and poverty) where they found more interviewees and were able to borrow video equipment for the project. They even went with me to a couple of big meetings including the quarterly meeting of the DC Inter-agency Council on Homelessness on March 31st.

My three and a half months with Lalita (thus far) and two and a half with Ariane have had some unintended consequences insomuch as I've come to love them both as dear friends. After all, this project has enabled us to create some robust conversation about something that's very important to me: LOVE. So, it stands to reason that I would "love" my project partners. (I would be less inclined to use the "L" word with male friends, though a few men do.) With me being keenly aware of the uneasiness that Americans often feel when the word “Love” is used liberally, I wasn't sure when or how I might break the news to them -- even though they come from a stereotypically "loving" country.

Then, I began walking down G Street as I left a Palestinian protest that took place in front of the White House on the evening of May 15th, 2015. I noticed that Lalita had sent me a couple of texts that I hadn't responded to. I responded and began walking again. As I got in front of my church moments later, I noticed a woman standing on the sidewalk in the dark. It was Lalita! We discussed a few things including the Washington Post article. She told me about a roommate who hates her. I saw my chance. I told Lalita, “Well, I love you” to which she snickered before saying quite genuinely, “I love you too”.

Though I am currently in a relationship (that, as of 5/19/15, seems to be going the way of my other relationships) and have reason to believe that Lalita may never be my main squeeze, I've watched as she's become more and more comfortable around me and even confided in me. With her having lived in the U.S. since 2010, we may have many opportunities for continued face-to-face friendship. This is the beginning of a beautiful Franco-American friendship (sans Chef Boyardee).

As for Ariane, she'll leave for France on May 22nd and then travel to South America. I'm sure that she'll carry a message of love along with her beautiful and contagious smile wherever she goes. I'm anxious to see what an impact she'll have in Europe and South America. In any instance, people on at least two continents -- North America, Europe and possibly Latin America -- will be able to read about the greatest epiphany of our time: We all need love – even the homeless.

Breaking up?????

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Saturday, May 2, 2015

Eric Jonathan Sheptock's Statement of Principles

I've often been bothered by how people distort scripture, science and the words of historic figures or deities in order to make the case for supporting their chosen lifestyle. I tell people to self-validate rather than twisting the words of God, Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr. or the forefathers. After all, if you're already Hell-bent on living a certain way, why do you seek another opinion??? Your mind is already made up. I also worry that, when I've gone on to the next life, people will attribute beliefs and ideas to me that I never supported or that I was indifferent to. In this blog post, I intend to make my views very clear and unmistakable while creating a permanent record that will outlive me.

Spirituality:

I believe that God can best be described as the “God of Necessary Evils”. He told people to do good, swayed our circumstances in favor of us doing evil, came down hard on those who lived before Christ for not living up to His standard, required the blood of animals and His son in order to usher in salvation and has already told us about the evils that will occur as the seven seals of Revelation are opened. He told Satan she could do her evil to Job in order to tempt him into cursing God, allowing her to kill Job's sons, daughters servants and livestock – all for the purpose of testing Job whom God adamantly told her not to kill. Some of the few scriptures that mention God's love use His requirement that Christ die as proof of the same. In the present, the world is in turmoil, leaving us to wonder why God hasn't set things straight. All of these assertions are supported by a school of thought known as “Finite Godism” which holds that either God has limited ability to eradicate evil or He's complicit with it. I believe the latter.

God's evil is necessary insomuch as it teaches the up and coming lesser gods about what can go wrong in their respective kingdoms and forces them to develop plans for preventing these problems in eternity. These lesser gods include Jesus as the ruler of the New Earth and his equal in the other world that God is working on right now, with each having 144,000 lesser sovereigns – in much the same way that we have a federal government (God/ Heaven), state governments (Jesus & his equals/ New Jerusalem) and local governments (groups of 144,000/ districts of the New Earths). When God has completed this 10,000-year cycle, He'll start on two more worlds.

In early 1994 I read Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34-35, both of which indicate that some men are actually demi-gods. I took this to heart and have put tens of thousands of hours into thinking about and using “the god in me”. This begins to explain a few things about my character, to be sure. I believe that many women are goddesses, though I DON'T believe that the Bible expressly states that. I use my godhood to make people think hard and unemotionally about the grim realities of life, as opposed to adopting a senseless belief because it sounds nice and satisfies their sensitivity. I also use it to promote moral mandates which public officials should live up to and to pressure them into doing for their constituents what they ought. I believe that an objective acceptance of grim realities and the ability to instill these sensibilities into large numbers of people are indications that one may have obtained godhood.

Gender:

It is important to make the distinction between sex and gender. Sex is physical, being defined by your anatomy. Gender is more about your mannerisms – whether you carry yourself in a perceived masculine or feminine way – and the roles you fulfill in the home and in society.

That said, I'm indifferent to the LGBT issue, speaking neither for nor against it. I'm not convinced that God supports it. However, I identify with the left on various social justice issues. This leaves me conflicted – at least until I factor in that God has given people enough rope to hang themselves and I reason out that it's not up to me to judge them for their lifestyle. I associate with them based on our shared interests and always remain willing to be intimate with a lesbian if we should grow close, in effect making her bisexual. I also believe that any nation or individual that not only accepts but also supports the LGBT lifestyle should do the same for polyamory and polygamy. If marriage can be defined to include same-sex couples, why can't we also have harems??? Let people define their own marital arrangements totally and completely.

I believe that society has gender in much the same way as individuals do. That is to say that, while both men and women throw their thoughts and feelings into the mix, any society tends to lean more heavily in one direction or the other. I remember how in the late '70's and early '80's many women were telling men to “get in touch with their feminine side” or to “make themselves vulnerable”. Men were discouraged from thinking that they always had to come through for the family and save the day and encouraged to show weakness. I also remember how that, before these ideas had taken hold in the minds of men, it was common for men to present tough logic that made whomever they were speaking to feel compelled to make sense. Now there is more of an emphasis on letting a person believe as they choose – even if they contradict themselves – without challenging them to make sense of their arguments. People used to want to make sense of their arguments for you – to reason out their beliefs. Now the prevailing idea is that a person doesn't need to answer to anyone for the purpose of making sense of their beliefs or choices. This enables people to live by their personal whims and feelings and in the spur of the moment, as opposed to living by rationale. Let's go back to 1975.

Politics:

I believe that we need to break away from a two-party system – to stop flip-flopping between two parties that take turns at screwing the country and the world. While the development of a third viable party may be more than a decade away, the end of partisan politics might not be. We're shifting from partisan politics to a more intentional form of gender politics. Women make up 20% of the current congress. Hillary Clinton is a viable 2016 presidential candidate. DC already has a female mayor (whom I can see Hillary tapping as her veep) and might soon have six female council members on a 13-member body – making seven of 14 elected officials women. I support Clinton for president insomuch as this may be the closest we come for a long time to disrupting the usual flow of American politics.

Furthermore, women have said many times over the years that they can do better than men at a number of things including the U.S. presidency. While I'll withhold judgment, I want them to have the opportunity to put up or shut up. If a woman does better than men, I'll be among the first to laud her.

I am a Marxist/ Communist at heart who believes that Acts chapter two lays out a good model for society. I also believe that a society that is run by women wouldn't and couldn't be Capitalist, due to the aggressive elements of Capitalism being drawn directly from the male mentality – like the “austere man” mentioned in a parable Christ told and the ever-present notion that people who don't earn enough money to survive should be left to die – that they should have their social services reduced and eliminated. Let's not forget about the male propensity for war – over oil, land and the right to oppress. That said, not all men are capitalists; but the staunchest capitalists are all men. Even so, male aggression is also capable of doing much good. That's why I promote it under certain circumstances.

International Affairs:

While working with two women from France (both of them multiracial) on a project that addresses what it's like to be in a relationship while homeless, I asked them many questions about France. The three of us and others whom we spoke to agreed that the French people probably experience greater freedom than Americans. I believe that many Americans have been influenced by McCarthy-ism to think that Marxism, Socialism and Communism are wrong. Americans are not – for the most part – free thinkers. While the U.S. is not experiencing the turmoil of some African nations, it is far from being as free as some European nations.

My French lady friends (whom some know as “the Love ladies”) reminded me that France refused to fight in the Iraq War and that Bush 43 had much animosity toward Sarkozy because of it. They also told me that Bush 43 and his Iraq War did much to ruin America's image around the world – a fact that I was already keenly aware of but didn't mind having further reinforced.

National Affairs:

This country has yet to reverse the damage done by slavery and Jim Crow. After mistreating Blacks for centuries, racists politicians in 1972 began to adopt policies that led to mass incarceration of Blacks – in effect beginning the shift from outright oppression of poor people to a narrative that enabled them to blame poor people for their own plight. These policies have culminated in the unjustified killings of unarmed Black men by police and the riots that these murders spur. All poor people must band together in revolution against their capitalist oppressors and effect full systemic change that ensures that everyone will have their most basic needs met. We can't let it suffice that they stop the unwarranted violence by police but must push for a system that reverses the socioeconomic disadvantages of Blacks and other poor Americans.

Local Affairs (Washington, DC):

Washington, DC is being further gentrified with each passing day, though its poor population is not as destitute as Baltimore's. The administrations of Tony Williams, Adrian Fenty and Vince Gray have handed the city to the wealthy and well-to-do beginning in January 1999 and running through December 2014. Muriel Bowser has shown herself thus far to be quite different from her last three predecessors and is focused on addressing the plight of the city's poor. Whether or not she'll actively reverse any of their draconian policies like we need her to do remains to be seen.

Conclusion:

This concludes my running list of stances. I hope that no one confuses my stance on these issues while I live or after I'm gone. After all, a person needs only to do a Google search to gain an understanding of me. This reminds me of yet another thing that my French lady friends told me. French men often prefer to argue for hours about something that can be proven with a simple Google search. Don't misunderstand me or argue about what I stood for. Just Google me.

Thank you.

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

When Being Nice Is A Vice

on April 29th (my late father's 83rd birthday) Street Sense did a screening of three short films it made about DC homelessness. There will be a second screening on August 26th (my living mother's 78th birthday). I was in the third film giving my critical view of DC Government's ostensible efforts to end homelessness in the nation's capital. I mentioned the failed 10-year plan as well as the reluctance of mayors Fenty and Gray to assist able-bodied homeless people at acquiring living-wage jobs – the latter point having also been reiterated by others in the film.

During the Q & A that followed, I gave a slightly wordy lead-in before asking my question. I told people that I like to ask the hard, challenging questions and that I have a little bit of a mean streak. Some indiscernible mumbles followed. I'm guessing some people disagreed with my use of the phrase “a little bit”. If so, they have a point. I referenced a DC preacher who quoted Frederick Douglass in the film when he said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will”. I went on to juxtapose the April 27th riot in Baltimore with that night's screening of social justice films. With the executive director of Street Sense having stated his desire to work himself out of a job and to put Street Sense out of business by ending homelessness, I asked how long it would take to do that. I then asked people, “What do you think is a more effective way of ending homelessness and addressing other social ills – showing this type of film or what just happened in Baltimore or some type of happy medium? I didn't receive a satisfactory response. I didn't expect one. My question was actually for the purpose of making a statement to all who were present about the need to be mean and aggressive in order to effect real and lasting change – the change that neither Barack Obama nor Loretta Lynch will bring – than it was about getting an answer from the panel.

That said, I often feel imprisoned by rules that require me to be kind in the face of government's ineffectiveness at stabilizing or decreasing the number of homeless people, let alone ending homelessness. Films that feature the late Mitch Snyder as well as my conversations with those who knew him have led me to believe that he too had a mean streak. Mitch and company got President Reagan to establish the Federal City Shelter which is still in existence almost 30 years later. His mean streak worked. He's been dead for 25 years but people are still benefiting from it.

On March 30th, 2006 I was barred indefinitely by a local non-profit that feeds the homeless because I had a loud argument with a now-former employee who was widely disliked by the homeless community. People have tried repeatedly to have that decision reversed. The non-profit has said that their insurance doesn't allow that. About three months ago an associate of a woman whose husband began working for that non-profit in 2012 told me that he'd heard about me being barred. This leaves me to wonder why the non-profit is still discussing the matter so many years later.

I've also heard from multiple sources that people have had fist fights and even put their fists in the faces of staff members but been allowed to return sometime thereafter. These people believe that it is my outspoken manner coupled with my intelligence which serves as the main reason for them not allowing me to return in spite of the essential non-violent manner of my nine-year old dispute. This non-profit is also a leader in the city's effort to address homelessness for the physically and/or mentally disabled. While supporting this effort, I've been an outspoken critic of the city's failure to effectively connect A-bods to living-wage jobs. I am co-leading efforts to get DC Government to do more for A-bods. Non-profits that make the bulk of their money by housing the disabled while feeding A-bods don't like my employment focus for the obvious reason and they fear my ability to express my views in speeches and in writings.

That said, I believe that it is impossible to achieve a just society while pleading kindly with oppressive forces. Martin Luther King, Jr. began his fight in 1955. Sixty years later the state of Black Americans hasn't improved much. As a matter of fact, many Whites have joined their ranks among the destitute. King and Gandhi both preached non-violence. Both were shot and killed. Go figure. In lieu of these facts, being nice is an idiotic vice when it hasn't effected true social justice for over 50 years and folk continue to employ kindness.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Plan NOW 4 the Next Police Shooting!!!!!

The fact of the matter is that, if we can't have conversation about contentious but important issues, then we can't come to agreement on those issues and they'll always be contentious. So I'll touch on a few of those issues here with a focus on police shootings of unarmed Black men. I hope this blog post gets people talking more productively about these issues and brings us closer to resolving them. I hope that our governments will begin to proactively reverse the damage done to poor people in general and to Blacks in particular or that poor people will start a revolution which ends with them taking more than they would have gotten through civil reparation “RAP-arations”.

Simply put, anyone who tells those who are reacting to the violent police shootings and deadly beatings of unarmed people that they should remain calm and just vent on social media is not only out of touch with reality but also grossly illogical. When the police who have sworn to “serve and protect” become the perpetrators of unwarranted violence, it's akin to a parent abusing a small child insomuch as the only one (or two) whom you look up to for safety and sustenance is now leaving you with no one to look up to. To make matters worse, the police are bound to attack and arrest those who are reacting to the unjustified killing by police. This creates a seemingly unresolvable conundrum which is matched in intensity by government's chipping away of the social safety net – the same social safety which hereto now has done much to keep poor people from revolting.

Much less enigmatic is the reason for why government treats Blacks as they do. It's not a Black vs. White issue; but it IS a color thing. It's a green thing. While police shootings of unarmed Black men have gotten much media attention in recent years, homeless Whites have also been unjustifiably killed by police. It's a war on the poor. Moments before I sat to write this post, I walked in on a loud and passionate debate among several Black men. They were discussing today's supreme court proceedings on gay marriage. Someone asked why the nation and the supreme court were so focused on the rights of gays but not the rights or social uplift of Black Americans. I explained that gays are spending money and not living off of social services while a large percentage of Blacks are dependent on social services – that our capitalist society values those who have money to spend over those who are dependent. The very loud room went silent for several moments as my words set into people's minds. People then stated their agreement, the debate ended and I left to write this post.

Though I've found it impossible to draw poor people into regular social theory discussions, we have semi-regular heated debates on the latest atrocities committed against us by the authorities. It stands to reason that, as these atrocities become more regular, so will these debates. During these discussions, I've reminded people that the late drug lord Pablo Escobar didn't wait for the authorities to show up at his front door. He regularly had cops killed wherever they stood. He is credited with killing 500 cops. He identified them as the enemy and took them out in droves before they could organize to come against him. I also regularly remind people of how cops are arresting those who feed the homeless, though they tend to save the doughnuts – failing to invoke a self-proclaimed right to conscientious objecture. While I don't straight-forwardly tell people to kill cops (or NOT to), I DO tell them that when they feed the homeless illegally, they should save the doughnuts for the police and lace them with a laxative. If they also get nearby restaurant to refuse cops the right to use their restrooms, the department may need to buy a lot of new uniforms. You too may find it a useful tactic to inject a handful of highly logical arguments or ideas into as many conversations as possible – especially if you can't get the most oppressed to partake in more intentional social theory or social justice conversations. That said, non-violence is not always the most logical path.

Nonetheless, I will not outrightly tell anyone to break a law (or NOT to). However, I WILL give you logical thoughts and legal ideas which can be used to begin the evolution to revolution. Let's start with the fact that government likes to treat people like mushrooms – to keep them in the dark and feed them a bunch of shit. That makes educating people – like the Black Panthers did – about the nature of and solutions to social injustice a revolutionary thing. Such discussions could begin with the understanding that many unarmed Black men have been gunned down by police and some unarmed homeless Whites have been killed by police with more to come. Yes, there WILL be another one. Add to this the fact that President Obama is not the savior of Black Americans.

The parental metaphor works in yet another way. Not only should parents provide for and protect their children; they should also teach their children, eventually enabling them to provide for themselves and for the next generation. So the conundrum deepens in the sense that the government and police aren't just abusing their figurative children and cutting off their sustenance, but also ensuring that these children won't be able to provide for themselves and will need to return to their abuser. These children need sympathetic adults to teach them, provide for them and guide them to independence.

Just yesterday I was speaking with two French women with whom I'm working on a homeless love project that addresses the ups and downs of being in a relationship while living without a home. We discussed the French revolutions of 1789 and 1848. One of them explained to me that the latter revolution was begun by non-aristocratic rich people who were fed up with the government and the aristocracy. She said that the poor joined the revolution and eventually co-opted it. (She is a registered Socialist, a fact that makes me love her all the more. The other has lived in the U.S. for five years.) This account is an example of how those with resources can assist the oppressed, the unanticipated co-opting notwithstanding.

It is important for those on either side of the issue to realize that productive negotiations and planning become much more difficult once the first shots have been fired and the first rocks have been thrown. But, to borrow from a Sylvester Stallone quote, “[The police] took first blood”. So, governments need to have raparations about how they will repair centuries of damage done to Black Americans and these conversations need to continue even when the violence has subsided and might need to begin even as the violence rages. These conversations need to lead to tangible results – QUICKLY. In the meantime, poor and otherwise oppressed people need to use what little resources they have to organize. ORGANIZING a phone tree would seem to be a feasible option. Then, the poor would be able to mobilize thousands of peaceful protesters from a 100-mile radius within four hours with more to come from further away later. After all, police went from surrounding counties into Baltimore to assist police there; and, we can take a few ideas from their book. Of course, this peaceful protest could do an evolution toward revolution.

I'd be remiss if I didn't express the value in the revolutionary ideas that have already been used. In cities like Ferguson, MO and Baltimore, MD the protests have already attracted people from over 50 miles away who decided to join the nascent revolution – with these things occurring in fits and starts. People have already begun to record police activity on their mobile devices – with some recordings like the murder of Walter Lamer Scott being so vivid that they effect immediate dismissal or prosecution of the perpetrating officer. (I should acknowledge that some officers are truly committed to serving their communities well.) I'd be interested to see what would happen if police who were responding to a call suddenly found themselves surrounded by 10 times as many people all of whom had recording devices drawn. I'm not sure if surrounding the police like that is legal; so, I won't “tell” you to do that in much the same way that various shows and movies depict intelligently-committed crimes but don't “tell” you to commit them yourself. I was elated but not surprised to find out that several rival gangs in Baltimore were laying aside their differences in order to join forces against a common enemy. This means that there will be a drop in gang rivalry – for a while anyway. When the oppressed show an ability to organize, move with a united front, anticipate the next move of the oppressor and intelligently plan their own moves, that is guaranteed to scare the shit out of the powers that be – effectively making them “the powers that flee”.

So, let's scare the governments of the land. We know that there will be another killing of an unarmed Black man by a police officer in the coming months. We don't know what city the next one will be in (or the one after that). But we know it's coming. To be honest, the current litany of murders by police is enough to evoke a sustained reaction. We don't need to wait for the next one. In any instance, we should begin to plan now so that by the time of the next police murder we'll be able to mobilize quickly to confront this injustice in ways that Barack Obama and Loretta Lynch won't. Plan NOW 4 the Next Police Shooting!!!!!


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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Half, Half & Half: How Mayor Bowser Can Reduce (and Eventually End) DC Homelessness

It's clear to anyone that's paying attention that DC mayor Muriel Bowser and her administration are Hell- (or shall I say “Heaven”???) bent on ending homelessness in the capital of the most poerful (though no longer the wealthiest) nation on Earth. I won't bother speculating (here and now, anyway) as to whether it's a “girl power” issue (which I'm not adverse to), a genuine concern for the homeless, a matter of bowing to public and media pressure or a matter of competing with the DC Council to deal with a clossal failure that has become the scourge of DC Government (with them having “tried” for over 10 years to end homelessness while it only increased). However, I will address my gravest concern and present a real solution.

“Homeless Czar(ina)” and ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt has gone on the record multiple times as realizing that there are systems that fall outside of the homeless services continuum and create homelessness. She realizes that her purview and those of some of her “sister” agencies are too narrow to end homelessness in and of themselves. She knows that we need affordable housing across the city – affordable housing that is not part of a government program. Yet she hasn't articulated just who is needed to make this happen – unless you consider that the mayor is the default person for this matter. Fact of the matter is that I personally have stood up in many Inter-agency Council on Homelessness meetings since June 2006 and said pretty much the same things that Kristy – who officially began her current post on April 28th, 2014 – is now saying.

Kristy is awesome and I have no beef with her. Nonetheless, It's appalling that anyone – a mayor, administrator or otherwise – would give greater credence to an idea when it comes from an administration official than they would when it comes from a directly-affected, homeless person. They should consider the idea on its own merits – not be so caught up on who it came from. In spite of me still loving her, I hold it against mayor Bowser that she seems to value the opinions of administration officials and non-profit personnel over the opinions of the unpaid homeless advocates – even when an advocate is intelligent and articulate and even though ending homelessness is her pet project.

On Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 there was a meeting about the mayor's five-year plan to end homelessness. Presenters of the plan and administration officials who fielded questions included Kristy Greenwalt, Ms Kelly Sweeney-McShane, Laura Zeilinger, Polly Donaldson and a woman from the DC Housing Authority. Girl Power. (Maybe the mayor is concerned that people will assume that she's focused on ending homelessness in order to appease my wrath and/or that she won't be seen as that “woman apart” that she so longs to be seen as if people think that she's being fed ideas by – of all people – a homeless man. Oh well.) Dozens of attendees were divided into eight groups with each having a facilitator. Due to the tight 90-minute schedule, only the presenters, administrators and facilitators addressed the entire room. Others spoke only within their small groups. Unfortunately, the facilitator at my table – a woman (which I believe all facilitators were, if memory serves) – failed to mention my “half, half & half idea. But before I explain it here, I'll mention what I think is the gravest concern when it comes to ending DC homelessness.

A failure to do conceptual planning that considers the reasons for past failures will be the downfall of my beloved Bowser administration. This is the only other thing that I hold against her. I recently spoke with a man I know who serves as a homeless advocate in San Jose, California. He told me of a public official in Cali who had a good heart and wanted to end homelessness in her jurisdiction but failed to look at why a previous plan failed. She failed again. As he gave this account, it sounded as though my alter ego were on the other end of the line talking to me. Here in DC it will be, “Same song, Different verse, A little bit louder, A little bit worse” if we aren't careful.

When I say that the plan must be conceptual, I mean that we can't decide what ideas to use based on what people are willing to do or feel good about. We must consider matters of principle such as the fact that past administrations have been willing to assist the most vulnerable due to them being helpless (Fenty) or ostracized able-bodied homeless parents by presenting them as lazy moochers (Gray) and we must tease out these thoughts instead of merely dancing around them. I also mean that we should categorize the types of things that need to be done to set able-bodied people back on their feet rather than blaming them for their condition, as the latter is a zero-sum statement that does nothing to solve the problem. We must recognize that our effort to do this will set up a major fight with employers, landlords and developers; but, we must start and win this fight.

We must also ensure that we aren't falsely defining the homeless problem as a disabled persons' issue in order to justify steering city contracts to the non-profits and funding relevant government agencies for yet another year. After all, many non-profits are funded to assist the disabled – regardless of how well or poorly they do this – and must draw a picture of continuous need in order to justify the continued existence and funding of the non-profit. We must also ensure that government reports such as the one that was issued in response to the disappearance and death of 8-year old Relisha Rudd from a homeless shelter are not written in defense of government agencies but are truly designed to solve and prevent systemic problems. Though Mayor Bowser inherited a terribly flawed system, she now needs to fix the aforementioned issues and incorporate these conceptual solutions.

That leads nicely into my half, half & half idea. Simply put, if the mayor wants to cut homelessness in half in one fell swoop, she needs to connect the approximate half of DC's 9,000 homeless people who are currently working to housing that they can currently afford by taking some or all of the $10,000 that the city spends annually sheltering each individual and using it to subsidize their rent. If a homeless person has been working for at least half a year on the same job and can pay at least half of the average $1,500/month rent, then the city should house them and subsidize their rent. This would cut the homeless population in half. Thus the name, “Half, Half & Half”.

When I mentioned the idea to Kristy after the March 18th meeting, she said that about 10,000 people use DC homeless services each year. This means that about 1,000 people pass through city shelters and move on. It also means that, a bed that's been vacated by a working homeless person who got housed may still be needed by someone else. Then again, if the mayor's recent conversation with Montgomery and Prince George County officials leads to these counties creating homeless services that are equally good to those of DC, that would reduce the influx from these other jurisdictions and might completely eliminate Kristy's argument.

Another variation of the idea is that homeless people who are working be encouraged to co-habitate. If each person has worked on the same job for at least half a year, can pay at least half of the rent and can get along with another homeless person of their choosing who meets the same requirements, then they can be placed in the same unit with continued city support for up to a year.

My fellow homeless advocates would not be happy about me offering an idea that might enable the city to justify the reduction of shelter space. So, let's be clear: I'm offering solutions to homelessness, irrespective of what happens to the vacated beds. Even so, I can support the elimination of one bed for every two people who move into housing, so long as the city has suitable methods in place for increasing shelter space on demand. That said, I'm glad the mayor wants to “do one thing and do it well”, as we used to say. (Of course she has to do a lot more than one thing; but, ending homelessness is her pet project, much to my elation.) FULL STOP.

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser's Career Academy Idea

     Once again the administration of DC Mayor Muriel Elizabeth Bowser has impressed me. My fear is that, if they continue along their current trajectory of doing what poor and homeless DC residents need done in order to rejoin the work force and obtain housing, I might lose my touch when it comes to being confrontational with government officials. For eight and a half years (June 2006 thru December 2014) I found myself knocking heads with city officials from three administrations and with two mayors (having never met Tony Williams when he was mayor -- January 1999 to January 2007).

     I'm left to wonder if "Mayor M.E." is somehow on the receiving end of a telepathic connection between her and myself, with me unwittingly feeding her my thoughts. Make no mistake: I've spoken and written to her on a few occasions. However, her administration is doing more of what I hoped for than I've even articulated to this latest turnover of government bureaucrats. Another possibility is that other advocates are coincidentally feeding "Mayor M.E."'s administration with ideas that I support. 

     I was recently told by Department Of Employment Services (DOES) Director Deborah Carroll that the mayor is conceiving a plan to create a DC Career Academy that will train DC residents for jobs in the different departments of DC Government -- everything from the Department of Public Works to the Department of General Services (maintaining government buildings) to the many city jobs that require a CDL license. 

     But I'll make no bones about the fact that Deborah Carroll wasn't always on the list of my 10 favorite DC Government employees or appointees. I've been appalled in the past by her inability and/or unwillingness to give straight answers to DC councilpersons while testifying at hearings about the functioning of the Department of Human Services (DHS) where she has twice served as interim director. That much about her seems to have changed, as has my opinion of her. but, as we say here in Washington, DC, "We have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies -- just permanent interests". It seems as though Deborah Carroll will serve my interests in the short term; so, we are developing a more cordial relationship now. It has also been said that those who remain friends for at least seven years will likely remain friends for life. I've reached that point with Dept. of Human Services Director Laura Zeilinger whom I've known since July 23rd 2007. There's hope for Deborah Carroll too, though things never got rocky between Laura and I. 

     Advocates and activists from various sectors of the social justice movement have demanded affordable housing and living-wage jobs for as long as I can remember. Then DC Government began in the fall of 2008 to use federal funds to house the disabled homeless, while allowing able-bodied homeless people with employment challenges to rot in shelter until they grow old and/or acquire a disability. Then the homeless advocates (who've traditionally done very little in tandem with those fighting to make or keep housing affordable for the not-yet-homeless) became even more splintered -- with some becoming gung-ho about funding for Permanent Supportive Housing for the disabled while others (like ME) maintain that we should split our attention and funding between the disabled and the A-bods. Then there was the December 2014 meeting of the DC Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (DC ICH) which was preceded by a discussion on homeless employment challenges. I got the sense that government giving us ear was no longer pro forma or a façade of caring, but rather a genuine interest in what the advocates in general and myself in particular have to say. When I found out around Christmas 2014 that Laura Zeilinger (who, unlike anyone else, used to make it a point to get back to the homeless with progress reports on comments they'd made at the previous ICH meeting) was appointed as director of DHS, I decided that I would make a comment at the February ICH meeting in which I ask her to revisit the comments made about homeless employment in December and to restart the practice of giving progress reports on what the homeless have asked for. Then the meeting got moved to March, as we went from bi-monthly meetings in 2014 to quarterly meetings in 2015. (ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt -- April 28th, 2014 to present -- places more faith and effort in the sub-committees than she does in the committee of the whole.) At any rate, things that my colleagues and I have said for approximately 10 years are finally being acted upon and even the things that we didn't think of or demand are now aligning in our favor. This is especially true about homeless employment, which brings me back to my friend Deborah Carroll.

     When I heard that she was appointed as DOES director, it immediately occurred to me that she could become a valuable asset insomuch as she is now a human services/ employment hybrid. I wondered which qualities of hers would carry over into her new post; but, in keeping with my long-time manner, decided that I would inundate this cabinet member with my demands. It paid off.

     With Ms. Carroll having been appointed several weeks after Mayor M.E. took office, I sent her the following e-mail on February 5th:
Deborah Carroll,
     I told you in December that we could discuss your vision if you were retained by Mayor Bowser. Though you are no longer with DHS, my promise still holds true. With you now leading DOES, our paths will still cross; as I'm pretty heavy on the homeless employment piece. I believe that the District doesn't really want to enable homeless or low-income people to remain in DC or to find affordable housing. The gov and biz structure is set up to push poor folk out of the city.
     I also believe that the homeless employment issue is a big can of worms and that anyone who devotes themselves to addressing it will suffer many headaches as they follow its many tentacles into areas like discrimination, workers' rights, job-training issues etc. Nonetheless, I'll keep pushing the ticket until someone in the administration takes on this headache. I'll BE the headache until you commit yourself to taking on the headache of homeless employment. Would you like to meet and discuss homeless employment?????
     She took up my offer to meet, though it wasn't the tense one-on-one that I initially thought it would be. As we arranged the meeting, we decided to bring other homelessness and employment stakeholders to the table. That meeting took place on Friday, March 13th, 2015.

     I arrived at 1:28 for a 1:30 meeting, found that there were about 15 people at the conference table conducting a meeting that I was given the wrong time for and began to wonder if the "bum" steer was intentional. The conversation was about employment issues faced by homeless parents
whose average age range is 18 to 24 years old. Then, at 1:45 Ms. Carroll said, "Let's transition". She told me that I indeed had not been given a bum steer but that I walked in on the tail end of a different meeting
that ran past the scheduled end time. Cynicism reversed.

     The 15-ish of us talked from 1:45 to approximately 2:20 about my concerns around homeless employment. The group gave me the lion's share of the time so that I could say what I had to say. In stark contrast to her council hearing mannerisms, Deborah Carroll interrupted me several times to say, "I can answer that". She then proceeded to give me straight, unambiguous and detailed answers. Surprise. Surprise.

     At one point I told this room full of DC Government employees, "I like to think backwards; so, I should apply for a job with DC Government". After we all got a really good laugh, I explained that we should start our thinking with the goal of connecting people to both housing and jobs and think backwards to what needs to happen to get us there. We discussed other ideas pertaining to homeless employment which I'll
address in another blog post, this one having already obtained quite the ungodly length. FULL STOP.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Fund Homeless Employment Strategies


The following was a testimony I prepared for DC Mayor Muriel Bowser's Budget “hearing” on February 23rd, 2015. It turns out that the event was actually a roundtable discussion with dozens of tables and hundreds of people brainstorming about what the mayor's budget priorities should be. That said, I never read my testimony to government personnel while being televised like I would at an actual hearing. No worries; as, you get to read it here and now.

At the risk of evoking thoughts about my notorious love of women and/or inspiring a lesser charge of infatuation with Muriel Bowser (infatuation usually being associated with females), I'll say that the mayor has made yet another brownie point with me. Let's be clear: I came to DC on July 31st, 2005; experienced the last 17 months of the Tony Williams administration; but, I never met the man. I met Adrian Fenty during the summer of 2006 while he was campaigning for mayor – having served as such from January 2007 to January 2011. He and I have gone nose-to-nose a couple of times. Then there was Mayor Vince Gray who avoided me like the plague. Fact of the matter is that, while having two people or items in a series gives you the space to compare or contrast them, it takes at least three people or items to establish a pattern or trend and to be able to predict what's coming next. With Ms. Bowser being the third sitting DC mayor that I've dealt with, I have now reached a place where I can discuss the patterns or trends that I see from one mayor to the next. So, you can table the aforementioned accusations unless and until I fail to crack down on Muriel Bowser for any missteps that she might take concerning the District's poor.

I noticed weeks ago that Muriel doesn't maintain a security detail in her immediate presence like her two male predecessors did. I guess that if you don't plan to piss people off, you don't need to prepare for their retaliation. (That's a good lesson for the president, Congress and the feds.) But that's not why she's made yet another brownie point with me. It is because of her early engagement with the public so as to gather their input on what her policies should be.

Adrian Fenty was infamously arrogant and wasn't big on public engagement. On April 6th, 2008 he sent several administration officials to the Franklin School Shelter to “TELL” its 300 men what would be done to them and their shelter. Vince Gray held his “One City Summit” on February 11th, 2012 to the tune of $600,000 (and hours before the death of Whitney Houston). He never followed through on what 2,000 DC residents said was most important to them. Had he done so, we'd have much more affordable housing, many more living-wage jobs and a much better educational system – just for starters.

In what I would have to assume is an attempt to avoid “analysis paralysis”, Mayor Muriel created four positions for the “housing navigators” mentioned in the previous blog post. They'll be actively connecting homeless people to housing while the administration puts together a more robust plan for addressing homelessness – triage then long-term treatment. In keeping with her avoidance of analysis paralysis and in direct contrast to the 13 months it took Gray to put together a “meaningful” public forum, Mayor Muriel has held at least two public forums hardly a month-and-a-half into her administration. (And I'm sure it didn't cost $600,000 or $300 per participant to organize.) Another point made in a previous blog post is that the council too is gathering input for a plan to address homelessness; though, in contrast, they are not implementing any form of “triage” in the meantime. The council is more like than the mayor to suffer (and cause others to suffer) from analysis paralysis.

I sometimes wonder if there is a telepathic connection between Mayor Muriel and myself; as, she is doing almost everything that I was hoping for. I'd told people that, if she didn't meet with the homeless and/or their advocates by April 1st, I would lay into her hard. She's more than satisfied that demand, with me having never articulated it to her. I'll now give her until July 1st to partially implement a plan for homeless families and until October 1st to begin planning around employment for able-bodied homeless people. If she meets both benchmarks, I'll know that either we do have such a connection or she simply reads my blog for advice. Either one is welcome news, though the former opens up more possibilities -- and creates more questions.
That said.....

Fund Homeless Employment Strategies

Hello. My name is Eric Jonathan Sheptock and I've advocated for the homeless since June 2006. While on the council, Ms. Bowser was a signatore on the resolution that declared December 31st, 2014 to be Eric Jonathan Sheptock Day in Washington, DC. That said, she's familiar with my work – pro bono “WORK”.

As a seasoned homeless advocate, I would say that “WORK” is the operative word here. Though some would argue that not enough has been done for the most vulnerable homeless who can't work, I firmly believe that a portion of the Human Services and Employment Services budgets should be devoted to connecting able-bodied homeless people to living-wage jobs and affordable housing.

I have said in my blog and to my fellow homeless advocates that I love what Mayor Bowser is doing in terms of homelessness. She's hit the ground running and made ending homelessness (which three male mayors before her ostensibly “tried” to do) her pet project. Even while on the council, she stated her support for Permanent Supportive Housing which assists the mentally and physically disabled homeless. However, no administration to-date has made a robust effort to connect homeless or low-income workers to living-wage jobs. I'd have to conclude that previous mayors going back as far as Tony Williams would much rather see those who can't make six figures leave DC. But cities don't function without janitors, cab drivers and stock boys. Low-wage workers of the world, ARISE!!!

If we get homeless A-bods working and weaned off of the system, that leaves more resources to assist the permanently disabled. But farbeit from me to suggest that we ignore our most vulnerable citizens. We should assist all sub-populations of the homeless community at acquiring housing simultaneously – families, single A-bods and the disabled. Maybe we should devote a third of all available “exit strategy” funds (as opposed to shelter and feeding funds) to getting each sub-population housed.

I know that I haven't given any concrete dollar amounts concerning “homeless employment and exit strategy” funds; however, I will soon be meeting with Bowser administration officials to discuss a detailed plan for connecting homeless people to employment. I am also a co-leader in a project that involves interviewing homeless people about their employment challenges. That said, additional plans, figures and information are forthcoming in the near future.

Thank you for your time.

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

I Love DC Mayor Muriel Bowser('s Plan for Ending Homelessness)

Quite frankly, I think that the Bowser administration is doing better than the council (headed by Phil Mendelson) when it comes to addressing homelessness. Muriel Bowser hit the ground running when she took office. She used Miriams's Kitchen as a backdrop when announcing her cabinet appointments for positions that are related to homelessness. (Oddly enough, “Homeless Czar(ina)” Kristy Greenwalt wasn't present.) Since taking office, the mayor has moved Deborah Carroll from being interim director of the Department of Human Services (DHS) to being director of the Department Of Employment Services (DOES). I'm holding out hope that Ms. Carroll, who has already responded well to my request for a meeting about homeless employment, will continue to please me by forcing a continuous and robust public conversation around this topic and will impress me with what she actually “DOES”.

While I won't completely rehash all of the compliments that I gave Mayor Bowser in the previous blog post, I'll say that she is incorporating concepts that I've talked about for several years now. She has given the public a general idea of how she plans to proceed when it comes to ending homelessness, with details to come later. I applaud her for that. The council, on the other hand, continues to hold hearings during which they gather input on how to proceed. The administration will get there “lickety split” while the council is still “packing its sh*t” (for those of you who know the joke). Though I plan to testify at a council hearing about homelessness (having been unable to do so at the first one), I am more enthused about working with the very accessible administration. After all, the mayor can move on her decisions without having to get buy-in from 12 other elected officials (minus the two currently vacant seats which could leave us with a majority female council once filled in April).

It seems to me that the mayor is incorporating a concept that I thought, spoke and wrote about long ago by making the end of homelessness in Washington, DC her “pet octopus” – a core issue with tentacles that extend into other areas and afford her an infinite and ever-metamorphosing agenda. One tentacle has already taken her fully into the affordable housing arena. Efforts are underway to stretch another tentacle into the living-wage job arena. Before all is said and done(?), she'll venture into the areas of domestic violence, medical bankruptcy and untreated mental illness – as all are causes of homelessness. (Heavy drinking and illicit drug use are the sixth and seventh biggest reasons for homelessness in this country, even if news reports make it seem like the majority of homeless people are substance abusers. Nothing could be further from the truth.) We've got a septapus so far. I'm sure we'll find an eighth tentacle soon.

During the January 30th, 2015 hearing on homelessness, Inter-agency Council on Homelessness Director/ Homeless Czarina Kristy Greenwalt told the council that there is a need to capture people living in poverty BEFORE they become homeless. The administration as a whole has gone on the record as wanting to implement preventive measures. I've told people over the years that ending homelessness is like fixing a leaking water supply line insomuch as you would turn the water off and stop the flow before you mop up the mess. I'm glad Bowser and her “Dream Team” get it.

The Department of Human Services, under the direction of my long-time friend Laura Zeilinger, is building a concept which they're temporarily calling “Flow Housing”. (They're taking suggestions for a better name.) Flow Housing will serve people who will always be poor and will need unending financial support while they live and work in DC. (Such programs for the working poor are corporate subsidies for employers who under-pay their workers, not hand-outs to lazy moochers. But we need them anyway.) This effort by DHS hearkens back to conversation that I had with Laura in her former life as deputy director of DHS under former mayor Fenty before going to the USICH. At that time, I told her that we need to focus on making homeless people completely self-sufficient such that they don't need any type of subsidy. I knew that my suggestion would be difficult, if not impossible, to fulfill. She took the bait and said what I expected as she told me that many people would always need some level of support. Now that she's back in DC government, she's acting on that understanding with her creation of “Flow housing”. Good job.

While past administrations have focused on providing deplorable shelters with poorly-trained staff and have moved as slowly as possible to create affordable housing, Mayor Bowser has articulated plans that include both suitable shelter in the immediate and affordable housing in the not-so-distant future. After all, someone with spaghetti for brains could figure out that any plan to end homelessness would have to include the creation of housing that can be afforded by the homeless. Mayor Muriel Bowser gets it.

Many people, including the media, want to know my opinion of Mayor Bowser's plan to end homelessness – especially her plans for homeless families. Well, here it is. I LOVE IT!!! Some people are calling into question Ms. Bowser's decision not to use $600,000 that the previous mayor set aside for new case managers at the family shelter for that purpose. They believe that, if she doesn't use it to hire additional case managers, she ought to use it to retrain the existing case managers. While it's true that the case managers can be quite unprofessional, I believe that Ms. Bowser made the right decision.

The mayor plans to hire four “housing navigators” who will assist homeless families and individuals at finding the most suitable housing. A few years ago, DHS admitted to having so many case managers and so few housing units that everyone – service providers and homeless people alike – was frustrated. People were being made to see case managers who told them that there was no housing available for them. Why bother?! That's what I call “case non-management” – bringing someone into your office just to tell them that you can't help them. The mayor is putting housing – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – ahead of improving or increasing case management. Hoorah.

Unbeknownst to her, I've often argued that we should focus on creating a large number of affordable units and living-wage jobs for the homeless; let the high-functioning homeless run for them; and then, offer case management and a taken-by-the-hand approach to those who are left, as they have deeper issues. I've said that, if we create and enforce rights that prevent high-functioning homeless people from being discriminated against in their searches for jobs and housing, then as many as 60% of the homeless would get THEMSELVES out of homelessness. (Many homeless service providers would become unnecessary and unemployed in one fell swoop – all the more reason to do it.) It makes no sense to ask each individual homeless person what they need or to require them to participate in case management before we have sufficient stock of what we know are the most widely-shared needs of the group – affordable housing and living-wage jobs. If we have these things in store first, then the case managers can actually help their clients who visit the office. Howbeit, her logical plan to focus on connecting homeless people to affordable housing doesn't preclude her from using the $600,000 to retrain case managers. It doesn't have to be “either-or”. It can be “both-and”.

In closing, I'll say what you've probably guessed by this point: I LOVE DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (so far). It's not due to her being a woman, though I am infamous for loving women as much as I do. She has gotten off to a really great start. I don't know if she's driven by her desire to out-do the last three male mayors who “tried” and failed to end homelessness, fear that I would be as hard on her as I was on mayors Fenty and Gray or a genuine desire to end homelessness and to enable people of all economic strata to live in DC. It could be two or all three. No matter the reason(s), I love what she's doing. Like I told Ms. Bowser at the Homeless Point-In-Time Count, “Let's keep it that way”. If DC Mayor Muriel Bowser is reading this, I'd have you to know: “WildThing, I [know] I love you”.

There are 20 years that don't make a day; then, there's that day that makes 20 years.

The news of her plans for the homeless is an awesome birthday gift for me. February 15th, 2015 (my 46th birthday) is also 46 days after Eric Jonathan Sheptock Day. I'll spend at least some of the day enjoying the fact that the city's poor and homeless will find some relief under this mayor.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser Might Actually End Homelessness!!!


In recent weeks many people have asked my thoughts on DC Mayor Muriel Bowser who took office on January 2nd, 2015. I tell them that, while I believe that she really wants to end homelessness, I worry that she doesn't have the right people informing the process. Like I told Mayor Bowser at the January 28th homeless point-in-time count (one of at least five homeless/affordable housing events that I know she's attended since December 29th, 2014), I like her appointment of Laura Zeilinger as director of the Dept. of Human Services (DHS) and a few other cabinet appointments – kristy Greenwalt as director of the Inter-agency Council on homelessness (ICH), Brenda Donald as deputy mayor of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Polly Donaldson as director of the Dept. of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).

I also told her that, after the results of the 2014 count indicated that there had been a 13% increase in DC homelessness in a single year (going from 6,859 in '13 to 7,748 in '14), we didn't have the usual report-out at the next bi-monthly ICH meeting; and, there's no sense in gathering the data if we aren't going to use it. (Mayor Bowser wants to use a data-driven approach.) I concluded by telling her that I'm on her side. And I am.

Unfortunately, folk in DC Government are often too professional to be practical, though I don't suspect the Bowser administration to suffer from “analysis paralysis”. I've gotten the sense that Ms. Bowser values "professional opinions” more than she values the opinions of those who are directly-affected by the social ill which is being addressed. Unless she changes this aspect of her nascent administration, it might just be her undoing. She has, on at least a couple of occasions, given homeless people short shrift when they told her about a problem. On the other hand, she's tapped people from the non-profit community to become part of her administration – with the lion's share of high-level positions going to women.

During the point-in-time count, Mayor Bowser said, “I know people are saying that you have to be a woman to work for me; but, I have some really great men working for me too”. She then acknowledged City Administrator Rashad Young. Period. (He's rather large; but, he still only qualifies as one man.) Howbeit, that was an awkward event in at least one other way: Various federal and city officials were introduced at least three times by the different speakers – Shaun Donovan, Sue Marshall and Muriel Bowser. I felt like shouting, “We know who the Hell they are! Will you quit introducing them already!”. I didn't.

That said, I got the feeling on December 29th that the mayor had a “girl power” thing going on; as, the event at Miriam's Kitchen which feeds 300 homeless people per day was a press conference about her cabinet appointments for positions that deal with homelessness. Though I saw it four days before she took office, I probably should've seen her "girl power" theme sooner. After all, the three previous mayors – all men – said that they'd end homelessness but didn't. So, if she succeeds, it will be to the chagrin of these men and will further validate women as a viable force in the world (or the city, anyway). Then again, who needs validation?! Just in case any woman reading this does, I am in full support of Mayor Muriel Bowser's “girl power” antics. I encourage her to do whatever gets the job done without deviating from good principle. The end justifies many (but not all) means.

As it turns out, Mayor Bowser is not the only one who feels that the city's failure to end homelessness has become the scourge of DC. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has made homelessness something that will be addressed by the COW (Committee Of the Whole). In the past it was the responsibility of the one councilperson who had oversight of the Dept. of Human Services. This developing dichotomy creates the potential for these “separate but equal” branches of government to come to logger heads over the approach. That has already begun to happen in a small way that I won't bother explaining here and now. But we can turn that negative into a positive by throwing much public support behind what we believe to be the better approach. (I would start by supporting the mayor insomuch as she's more capable of making unilateral decisions without any “congressional bickering” and I support and prefer the use of executive power over group decisions -- no matter who is in office or what their gender is.)

This would be a good place to mention the fact that I actually voted for former councilman David Catania as mayor because he has a mean streak which I believe is necessary to make government think and function better. While Mayor Bowser doesn't need to develop a mean streak in order to be effective, she DOES need to be able to force people to have the hard conversations – no matter how sweetly she commands them to do so. She needs to get her administration to admit when they are failing and to then rectify the situation. The failure to discuss the astronomical one-year increase in homelessness was due to certain people not wanting to discuss various grim realities related to homelessness and poverty or their own apparent weaknesses. They were kind to a fault. If they don't change swiftly, I'll need to change that diagnosis to “stuck on stupid”. Let's hope they change. Force the hard conversations.

With Ms. Bowser choosing to use a data-driven approach, we must remind ourselves that the same data can be interpreted differently by different people. However, when you consider that:

1 – DC had 5,757 homeless people in 2007
2 – Permanent Supportive Housing was launched in earnest in September 2008 and was federally-funded in Fiscal Years '09 and '10
3 – we had 6,546 homeless people in 2011 and
4 – we had 7,748 homeless people in 2014 (a 35% increase in seven years with 2015 results coming out in May).....

…..all you can irrefutably conclude is that nothing we've done to end homelessness has worked. All other conclusions must be derived from that one.

Mayor Bowser has repeatedly stated her support for Permanent Supportive housing. It's a good program in its own rite. It is worthy of increased funding. However, we need to do more than fund programs for the disabled if we're going to end homelessness. Data collected by a city contractor has indicated that at least half of the homeless are both able to work and under age 60. When you factor in the elders who choose to work, that may account for as much as 60% of DC's presumed 8,750 homeless people or 5,250 people.

Past administrations have avoided initiating any robust effort to connect homeless A-bods to living-wage jobs. I believe that it is part of a grand scheme to push all low-income people out of the city. But it also stands to reason that an effort to connect homeless A-bods to employment would expose unfair hiring and renting practices and put the city at odds with many developers, landlords and employers. I dare Mayor Muriel Bowser to rise to the challenge anyway. Force the hard conversations. Show that women have the power to challenge the status quo.

It's worth noting that many homeless advocates have been invigorated or reinvigorated by the mayor's resolve when it comes to ending homelessness. More than a few groups that work on homelessness and affordable housing have sprung into action and invited the mayor to speak at their events in the past five weeks. But, to my dismay, not much is being said about homeless employment. Even so, I am currently working with two professors and their two dozen students to gather data and do interviews that highlight the difficulties that many people (not just the homeless) have finding living-wage jobs. We'll present our findings to the DC Council and the mayor's administration by the end of May. Hopefully, this will cause the mayor to rise to the challenge of homeless employment and to force the hard conversations. Keep hope alive.

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