This blog post will go to DC
Government's Dept. of Employment Services (DOES). I will try and
schedule a meeting with them so that I can adequately represent their
newest efforts when I speak to the homeless and as my colleagues and I gather
information from them about their employment challenges. The
following represents a somewhat coincidental coming together of the
advocacy efforts of myself and my colleagues on the one hand and DC
Government on the other hand – a closing of the gap.
Some of the initiatives are occasion for gut-wrenching laughter.....
On January 12th
, 2016 I
attended an ICH (Inter-agency Council on Homelessness)
where a presentation was given by Candace Nelson of
DOES about what the department is doing to assist homeless people.
She started out by indicating that in 2015 there were 191 people who identified
as homeless who were served by DOES' American Jobs Center (AJC)
585 homeless people were served by DOES' Project Empowerment
with 355 obtaining employment and 281(?) remaining employed for at
least six months. While I laud such progress and commend her
presentation, I can't help but notice that government often fails to
indicate the size and scope of a social ill when talking about what
they're doing to address it.
DC counted 7,298 homeless people in
January 2015 – down 450 people from a year prior. If no new
people were to become homeless, DC Government would need to assist
about 1,500 people per year at exiting homelessness in order to end it by December 2020. Since we know that more people WILL fall from the frying pan of the DC Housing Authority wait list (which has had as many as 70,000 people on it) and into the fire of homelessness, it's imperative that we house AT LEAST 2,000 people per year or eight people per work day. Assuming that just under half of the homeless are able-bodied job seekers (with others currently working for less than a housing wage), at least three of those eight people would need to be DOES clients who are transitioning into housing.
The stats given at the beginning of
Candace's presentation caused me to immediately think about the
reasons for which more homeless people aren't taking advantage of DOES
programs. I'm guessing that the homeless persons' annual point-in-time
count which will take place on the night of January 27th,
2016 and whose results will be published by the end of May will
indicate that the city has about 7,700 homeless people -- a very conservative figure (with DC having a
population of 670,000). Of the 7,000+ homeless people in DC, there
might be 2,500 to 3,000 who would take advantage of an employment
program which they felt was geared toward meeting their needs -- a big "IF". This
brings us back to the question:
Why are there not more homeless people
taking advantage of DOES programs???
I would guess that:
1 – Many able-bodied homeless people
don't know about these and other programs at DOES, in part because of
insufficient outreach on the part of DOES hereto now -- something DOES is working on.
2 – People would need to forgo eating
at the kitchens that serve homeless people in order to attend these
programs, though they MIGHT be able to get enough food stamps to
cover meals during program attendance.
3 – People might have difficulty
acquiring sufficient transportation assistance.
4 – I know that many, like yours
truly, are turned off by soft-skills training. At least some of the soft-skills training is, no doubt, onerous insomuch as it includes training a person to maintain a "professional attitude" for something like a construction job where you can curse like a sailor as long as you show up on time and get the job done. Save it. I'll pass.
5 – Many of the homeless have at
least 10 years of work experience and just want to be immediately
connected to living-wage employment that makes use of their
already-acquired skills. A brief refresher course might be in order if they've not worked in their field of expertise for several years. They might just need assistance getting recertified for their trade, as opposed to just getting recertified for food stamps -- a hand up, not a hand-out.
I'm sure there are more reasons than I
care to or could hope to enumerate here and now. Those are just a few quick
answers off the top of my head. Reasons 1-3 might not be that
difficult to address, especially since DHS (Dept. of Human Services)
Director Zeilinger said at this meeting that DOES is gathering input
on how it might change its hereto now rigid structure so as to better
serve the homeless community. This willingness to change plays right
into the hands of the advocates. After all, that's what advocates do
– pressure government into changing (or adding to) what it does so
as to better serve that government's constituency. It also lends
itself to the notion that the poking and prodding of the advocacy
community is finally paying off in a big way, thereby encouraging us
to poke and prod all the more. Hooray!
I've always been baffled by the fact
that DC Government – across multiple administrations – tends to
respond best when the advocates are most aggressive and apply the
most pressure. It seems to me to be more logical to respond as soon
as they realize that an idea makes plenty of sense – to show us
that we need not throw a temper tantrum in order to get an adequate
response to a reasonable request. Be that as it may, if the temper
tantrum gets the best response from government, then it's both
logical and imperative that we the advocates throw more than a few of
them. I definitely will.
Following former DC mayor Anthony William's failed
2006 attempt at giving the Franklin School Shelter building to
developer Herb Miller, the successive mayor Adrian Fenty closed
Franklin in conjunction with DC's implementation of the Permanent
Supportive Housing program. WIN (the Washington inter-faith Network)
which is a group of about 50 churches that do grassroots advocacy was
instrumental in getting the city to buy into this federal program.
That hardly amounts to a temper tantrum. However, there was negative
media coverage (especially by the Washington Post) of the deplorable
conditions at the DC General Family Shelter beginning in March 2010.
This wasn't enough to convince former mayor Vince Gray (2011 to 2015) to address the
matter. Then an 8-year old girl named Relisha Rudd was abducted from
the shelter in early 2014 and the public pressure to address the
matter went through the roof. (The roof of DC General was so
dilapidated that it wasn't hard to get through.) This WAS indeed something
of a temper tantrum – backing DC Government into a corner and
forcing them to respond to the crisis.
In November 2015 the community of Foggy
Bottom (a DC neighborhood) complained about a homeless tent city near
the Watergate. That homeless contingent had been there for over 10
years with no one complaining. In recent months, a kind person began
purchasing tents for many of the “street homeless”. That's when
the Foggy Bottom community began to complain to city officials. Make
what you will of that. In any instance, the city took action to shut
the tent city down and promised to house this subset of the homeless
community. (The latter remains to be seen.) Here we have housed
people pitchin' a *itch about homeless people pitching tents and the
city jumping to accommodate the housed by removing the homeless. A
friend told me she plans to send homeless people to that location
with tents so that they can get housing more quickly – bypassing
the 10-year wait list for housing. So, the neighborhood's temper
tantrum has inspired those who support the homeless to throw one of
their own. Hmmm.
Back to the matter at hand. Being as a
temper tantrum usually involves a little “leaping”, that reminds
me that the Bowser administration has implemented the LEAP program
which is designed to connect DC residents to city jobs. Those jobs
can be in DC Government offices, with the transit system or with
Water and Sewage (WASA) among other agencies and will, at some point, be expanded beyond just city jobs. Though LEAP is not just
for homeless people, DOES is making a targeted effort to enroll
homeless parents (average age 18 to 24) in this program. DOES also
has a new mobile unit that is “jumping around” and doing outreach
to certain distressed communities – especially the family shelter
and “police service areas” (neighborhoods with high levels of
juvenile/young adult crime – all BS aside). This is a part of the
response to the family shelter crisis (and the fact that the number
of homeless families is skyrocketing); but, it is also a response to
a temper tantrum insomuch as the young people who are getting caught
up in the “justice” system are being moved toward the front of
the line for employment services. I'm glad they're being served, not at
what's moving them toward the front of the line though. Break a
window. Get a job. Sounds like a plan.
I pointed out at this meeting that what
was being said there as well as what Mayor Muriel Bowser has recently said
on the news point toward homeless people who are 25 to 60 years old
being ignored by DC Government when it comes to employment. I was
told that DC Gov is working on creating programs that are geared
toward connecting homeless A-bods in this age group to
employment,albeit AFTER the young people who are committing
oft-violent crimes have been served. Temper tantrum. Let's hope the older, non-violent
homeless live long enough to see that day. Shoot a dog (or a person,
so long as it's below the waist). Get a job. Sounds like a plan.
This begins to explain DC's rise in crime. The criminals aren't bad people. They're just trying to increase their eligibility for a job program. It also represents progress. As I stated
at this meeting, I was one of two people who several years ago
organized a meeting to which a representative of the Public
Defender's office was invited to speak to the homeless. About 50
homeless people who hoped to get their crimes expunged and land jobs attended. The PD rep stated right off the bat that
90% of crimes can not be expunged in DC. Half the room walked out,
their hopes for employment having been shot down. Now, committing a
crime before the age of 25 and having a child increase your chances of getting a job.
That's progress. It makes me wish I were a 23-year old criminal/job
seeker with a baby on the way. Temper tantrum.
As it turns out, a DOES client who proves to have at least three "debilitating factors" such as being homeless, having been incarcerated or having been a substance abuser increase one's eligibility for DOES programs and move them up the wait list for its employment programs. The first thing that jumps out at me when I consider this policy is the fact that a "debilitating factor" moves a person ahead of "fully able-bodied" people. However, I understand that special efforts to connect (partially) disabled people to jobs have been made for decades -- an idea which I fully support, so long as we aren't bypassing the best person for the job just because someone else is disabled.
Having been incarcerated or addicted come off to me as being "behavioral issues" more so than "debilitating factors". I fully support the arguments around mass incarceration and the underlying social injustice. I get that any returning citizen deserves a second chance. I also understand that many years of drug use can create a "debilitating factor" by frying the person's brain. I just find it peculiar that these behaviors make a person more of a priority for employment. I'm not sure that I'd want a person with a fried brain working beside me on some of the dangerous jobs I've done. It would seem to me that DOES took the vulnerability index which has been used by DHS to determine who needs to be housed first lest they die on the streets and has begun to use it to determine who gets job assistance first. If correct, this means that the same conditions that got someone who supposedly can't work place into housing quickly is now being used to determine who gets connected to work first. There's a certain irony to that.
Following the meeting I
asked Candy and Chloe of DOES if what they said about criminal and
drug histories increasing your eligibility for these employment
programs applied only to such activities if they were committed in DC
and if the substance abuse or incarceration had to be recent. I was told that they probably didn't
have to be recent – that the questionnaire asks if you “ever”
were incarcerated (in jail OR prison) and if you were “ever” a
substance abuser. However, they weren't certain if such activities
committed outside of DC qualified. If you don't have a criminal
record in DC and you need a job, smoke crack. Get caught by the cops.
Apply at DOES upon your release. Sounds like a plan.
What's next, DOES picking a person up from the crack house and driving them to the employment program while the person hits their pipe??? Just sayin'... It was said that a person goes through a 30-day training period before being placed on a job site. Even so, someone who's 30 days clean could theoretically get the job before someone who is 10 years clean or who never used. That's not to speak of the fact that many drug users do day labor in order to support their habits. Obtaining a job after 30 days clean might end up "feeding the monster".
Reasons 4 and 5 on my list of why
homeless people don't use the services of DOES pertain to the older
homeless people (25 to 60) and are considerably harder to address
than reasons 1-3. Those of us who've held jobs for multiple years
don't need soft-skills training as to how to get up on time for work
or how to conduct an interview. We just want jobs that use the skills
we already have. I would guess that many of the homeless people
in this age group don't care to get put into a DOES data base through
which they'll start receiving dozens of e-mails about job openings
only to find that they must now use funds they don't have in order to
travel to 25-50 jobs that they won't get before finally landing a job for
which they don't have financial resources to tide them over to the
first check. (Try saying THAT 10 times quickly.)
I laud the administration of Mayor
Muriel Bowser (2015 to 2019) for undertaking this ambitious effort
wherein DC Government, after many years and multiple failed plans to
end homelessness, is finally starting to connect homeless people to
employment – emphasis on “starting” insomuch as only about 10%
of the city's homeless saw fit to enroll in DOES programs. Ya gotta
“start” somewhere. I get that.
In past meetings my colleagues and I
have raised the issue of connecting the issues of employment, living
wage and affordable housing. That is to say that, when trying to
connect homeless people to employment, we must be able to guarantee
that the job will pay enough for the person to maintain a rental and will lead to them actually acquiring housing.
After all, about half of the homeless actually work already. Go
figure. The ICH's 5-year plan admits that a “housing wage” is$28.25 per hour
in DC. This begs the question:
When does the duty of DOES to a
homeless person end, when that person is employed at $11.50 per hour
or when they make enough to maintain adequate housing?????
That's a good question for Deborah
Carroll (who went from directing DHS to now directing DOES). Maybe
this is the point at which her experience in both departments will be
adjoined and manifested in all of its glory. Let's hope.
To be fair, I'll point out that President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)
into law on July 22nd, 2014. This law authorizes
, among other things, programs that will connect specific vulnerable populations (including drug users willing to work for a fix) with employers, providing the latter with the skilled laborers they seek. It was said at the ICH Executive Committee meeting that failure to comply with WIOA (which mandates collaboration across agencies and throughout the region), could lead to federal sanctions and/or a loss of future federal funding. The threat of losing federal dollars tends to get DC Government moving quickly -- a side effect of capitalism, no doubt. This begins to explain why DOES is suddenly ready to change its structure. It's also reminiscent of how DC Government has discussed either doing away with its "low-barrier shelter" designation (wherein a homeless resident is not required to engage in self-help programs) or merely changing the status of some such shelters to "high-" or "medium-barrier shelters" so as to comply with the HEARTH Act
and continue to get the HUD money associated with compliance. Kristy Greenwalt
was appointed by Vince Gray and retained by Mayor Muriel Bowser in order to bring DC into compliance with the HEARTH Act.
That said, a colleague and I will meet
with 200 homeless people right before they are fed on the fourth
Sunday of February and March at 9 AM at Asbury united Methodist Church. We'll
present data we gathered from homeless people in 2015 concerning
their employment challenges. We'll give attendees opportunities to
add their input. We'll then bring this info to DC Government
(hopefully with dozens of job-seeking homeless people accompanying
us). While I'm not yet at liberty to invite government employees to
address the crowd (and have no plans to do that anyway), I AM at
liberty to mention what DOES is doing during my intro (and DO have
plans to do so). It is with this in mind that I am reaching out to
DOES and have already alerted two of its employees during the January
12th, 2016 meeting so that they might attend as quiet
audience members. At any rate, the effort to connect 25 to 60-year
old homeless people who don't have any recent crimes to jobs making
at least $25.000 per hour has begun.
LATER ON JANUARY 12TH Obama gave his final State of the Union (SOTU) Address. As with past SOTU's, he acknowledged that technology is taking many jobs. However, he neither suggested that Americans work less hours per week so that more people could have jobs nor that we find a new method of expropriation and fair exchange that allows the abundance which is manufactured by robots to be distributed to the people those robots laid off. He stated "a fact without an act". Not my cup of tea. Even so, this fact figures largely into the difficulties that many people have finding work.
FINALLY, I should point out that I suffered a massive skull fracture at eight months old due to child abuse. I went on to finish high school with a 96.3% grade for my senior year, though I never attended college. Furthermore, I spent seven years smoking crack cocaine -- quitting cold-turkey in the early morning hours of August 1st, 2005 after arriving in DC on the previous night. When you consider that I can out-think six-figure-earning government administrators, it seems quite amazing. Maybe they should smoke some crack. They might think better. Just sayin'......