DC Mayor Muriel Bowser
has made dealing with homelessness her pet project. She and her administration have said thousands of times collectively both verbally and in print that she will make homelessness "rare, brief and non-recurring"
. To be clear, I really, really, really
want her to succeed. Only the high-five and the six-figure earning homeless service providers
gain anything from the mayor failing in this respect. Neither homeless people nor government officials who can be held accountable for such failures stand to gain from another failed plan
. So, I'm putting it on the public record even now that I will do everything within my power to help her succeed -- everything from publicizing and attending meetings where homeless people can give input as to how city officials can assist us at exiting homelessness to pointing out any and all perceived holes in the mayor's five-year plan to end homelessness.
Mayor Bowser, whether she knows it or not, has created conditions whereby her progress
-- or lack thereof -- on getting all current homeless people housed and creating a system whereby new shelter arrivals will be rehoused within 90 days is quickly becoming the issue that will define her re-election bid in 2018. Being as the replacement shelters for homeless families who are currently residing at the decrepit DC General Family Shelter
are slated for completion by September 2018, I'm inclined to believe that Ms. Bowser is keenly aware of the fact that her political future is riding on this issue. That would also begin to explain why she aims to limit public input
on a plan that she wants carried out within two-and-a-half years and which involves both new construction and renovations.
Unfortunately, timing the unveiling of these several new and smaller "temporary housing facilities" to prop her up during her re-election bid has caused her and at least some of her administration to view ongoing public input as a major obstacle and has created a perceived lack of transparency
-- with her having run for office on a promise of transparency. Then again, she can claim to have been "transparent" insomuch as she's made it "clear" that her mind is made up
and she's moving forward with her plan -- regardless of who doesn't like it. (A bad pun, to be sure.) In lieu of congressional bickering around the funding of the H.E.A.R.T.H. Act
around the proposed locations of different shelters and my many calls for centralized power
as a solution to homelessness, I can appreciate MURIEL BOWSER being a dictator -- as long as she's a BENEVOLENT DICTATOR
like Hugo Chavez sought to become
After all, worldwide capitalism has created an environment in which a person's value is determined by how much money they own or control. Additionally, various national, state, local and intra-agency democratic processes often lead to both politicians and the general public voting against plans that would assist the homeless.
This begins to describe the toxic mix of conditions that people who are working hard to end homelessness have to contend with. Democracy is not all that it's cracked up to be.
I get it. Completely.
Oddly enough, Mayor Bowser's resolve to decrease DC homelessness
has led to government dysfunction and NIMBY-ism becoming strange bedfellows. As far as government dysfunction (a phenomenon that Bowser inherited from the previous administration, as indicated by A RECENTLY-PUBLISHED AUDIT
) is concerned, the public has touted problems with the Requests For proposals that were put forth by the Gray administration and were not updated before being re-issued by Bowser. They've also complained about having only been given two-day's notice about the meetings held in various wards on February 11th, 2016 to inform the public about the mayor's family shelter plan. They've complained that the city issued letters of intent that were both untimely and nondescript. With me having attended the Ward 3 meeting on February 11th and having testified [beginning at 2h, 50m] alongside Ward 3 residents on March 17th
, I've heard residents of that ward (the wealthiest in the city) articulate other technical concerns such as the homeless families' access to public transit (not a major issue for the chosen Ward 3 site
, IMHO), possible school overcrowding, issues with zoning variances, the fact that the city won't own most of the proposed shelter sites, access to stores for these homeless families and the likelihood that homeless parents will overcome their employment challenges within the 90-day period that Mayor Bowser has said it will take to cycle new homeless families out of shelter beginning in 2020. While all of the aforementioned concerns are indeed legitimate, I can't help but wonder if it's just another form of NIMBY-ism
. I suspect that it is; but, I'll take it for what it's worth. The NIMBY-ers and the homeless advocates can ourselves become strange bedfellows and move together toward creating a more efficient government
that serves both its monied people and its poor people well -- thus cushioning the effects of an emerging class war
While there is little chance that public opposition will force any change in the mayor's plans for family shelter in most of the city's eight wards, it seems highly likely that the planned Ward 5 site will be replaced with another. What's more is that Ward 5 has become a beacon for how best to work with local government -- by thinking things through for the government and presenting possible solutions and alternatives to our public officials
. With homeless families containing small children, the Ward 5 residents have pointed out that the proposed shelter site is near a strip club
and that used condoms are often found on the ground in that area. They've also pointed out the site's proximity to train tracks and a bus depot where buses are fixed and which produces much soot that settles on window sills and elsewhere. They've also pointed out that there is one bus route within a couple blocks of the proposed site with the next nearest city bus route ending two miles away. Add to that the fact that the nearest school is a mile away and the nearest grocery is two miles away. When you factor in a developer who owns much of Washington, DC including the old warehouse that might be turned into the Ward 5 Family Shelter (city officials having spoken repeatedly against "warehousing the homeless"), suspicions arise of government officials steering contracts to their corporate/development cronies. (That's not to speak of a suspicion I heard on 3/22/16 of Bowser, 43 being involved with this 70-something developer. I can hardly see it, though there IS precedent in the man whose protege she is
and documented proof of the fascistic marriage of DC Government and development
However, Ward 5 residents have found alternative sites, compiled them electronically
and sent the list to city officials for consideration. This leaves the municipal government with very little wiggle room for making excuses around not being able to come up with alternatives. The threats to the health and well-being of the homeless children makes it imperative for city officials to push for an alternative site.
The well-founded suspicions of cronyism make it political suicide for the Bowser administration to fail to find an alternative Ward 5 site. Ward 5 got it right.
What's more is that I don't suspect them of exercising glorified NIMBY-ism like I do with Ward 3. Other wards should emulate Ward 5. Seriously.
In keeping with my preference for solutions over mere complaints and with my tendency to promote best practices, it seems fitting for me to mention someone whom I've known since July 23rd, 2007 and whom I've grown quite fond of. That would be DHS Director Laura Zeilinger
who, unbeknownst to me until my arrival, was the one who spoke at the Ward 3 meeting on 2/11. Despite her stint as deputy director of DHS under former mayor Adrian Fenty (2007-2011), I firmly believe that Laura would make the best possible director of the DC ICH
-- a position that was only created in later 2013 for an agency that has existed since June 2006. Laura has always proven to be accessible and responsive. She listens intently to all that the homeless have to say. She gives complete responses. She's not condescending. She takes immediate action to address a problem whenever possible
, working on longer-term solutions soon thereafter. She doesn't suffer from the paralysis of analysis. When she knows she's right, she doesn't back down -- not even from a council person who is pummeling her with criticisms. Since being appointed by Bowser, Ms. Zeilinger has worked diligently to fix (if not altogether remake) DHS. She's got her hands full; but, she's pulling it off
. Despite Laura's value in her current position, it stands to reason that Mayor Bowser needs to make Laura the director of the ICH in order to save her political future.
It's worth noting that my recommendation that Bowser make Laura her knew ICH director
is based on Laura's ability and not meant to insinuate that current ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt is somehow incapable. Kristy should direct DHS
, IMHO. My sense of Kristy is that she is developing a better understanding of how to communicate effectively with homeless people
. She's becoming more receptive to the concerns articulated by the homeless and their advocates. She's becoming more keenly aware of the challenges she faces when it comes to making Homeward DC a reality. She is beginning to see the holes in the plan. She might even have taken notice of how quickly the general public is learning about the nuances of addressing homelessness -- a truth that will drive Bowser's re-election bid. The onus for bringing the mayor's primary campaign promise and pet project to fruition falls squarely on the shoulders of Kristy Greenwalt.
Despite past disagreements, I actually feel for Kristy
, come 2018 -- or for Laura if the two should trade places. Will they be able to make the mayor look good.....politically, of course??? DC Mayor Muriel Bowser MUST Make Homelessness "Rare, Brief and Non-Recurring"!!!!!