Saturday, July 19, 2014

“The Future” of the 1,350-Bed CCNV Shelter – End of the Task Force 10/8/13 to 7/8/14


CCNV: Past, Present and Future (a website that was put together by my colleagues and I)

Well, the CCNV (Community for Creative Non-Violence) Shelter Task Force has completed its mission. It was convened on October 8th, 2013 to compile data and come up with recommendations for the mayor and city council concerning the future of the shelter; and, it held its final meeting on July 8th, 2014. The task force came up with a list of 17 principles that should be adhered to as we consider the future of the property and the one-sixth of DC's homeless people which it holds. On July 14th, 2014 the DC Council held its final hearing before a two-month recess and presented a bill which contains those 17 principles and requires the mayor to develop a comprehensive plan for CCNV. (That bill is pasted at the end of this post.)

But the work on this issue began long before October of 2013. I was told several times by the shelter director beginning in mid-2011 that the building could be closed in 2018. His worry was fueled by the story of a homeless woman who died on a bench in front of the shelter in June 2009. (See her on that bench in THIS VIDEO at 8 min 18 secs, just 3 days before she died.) DC Government responded by saying that if she hadn't been loitering there, she wouldn't have died there and that CCNV would lose its contract if they didn't put an end to the loitering. To add insult to death, CCNV began having its security personnel patrol the 2,000-ft perimeter city block on June 17th, 2009 – the same day this woman was buried.

I've also heard shelter staff and residents talking about the possible 2018 closure since mid-2011, leading me to believe that it was the primary topic of at least one staff meeting. So, in January 2013 I filed a FOIA (Freedom Of Information Act) request with the federal government. I initially contacted GSA (General Services Administration). They referred me to HHS (Health and Human Services, the ones who screwed up the Obamacare website) which sent me almost 100 pages of information about the property and property rights. These documents indicated that the 30-year covenant began in July 1986 (before the renovation was complete), not 1988 and that we had two years less than we thought before the covenant expired. I sent that information to city officials. Councilman Jim Graham convened a hearing on June 27th, 2013. At the hearing he decided to convene a task force. On July 10th, 2013 the council voted to approve the task force's formation and the rest is history. I just want to ensure that the history is properly recorded with the role of myself and other homeless people being properly documented.

I'm pleased, for the most part, with the outcome of the task force's work. I can't logically complain about what wasn't accomplished, as I fully understand why we couldn't do more. But knowing this doesn't decrease the dismay. It was rather ingenious of Councilman Jim Graham to bring together existing federal legislation and local legislation that pertains to homeless services as well as the recommendations of the task force in the bill (below). If the bill is passed in its present form, it will mandate that the present and incoming (2015) mayors adequately address a matter that should have been addressed beginning over 25 years ago when the property was transferred from the feds to DC Government. I'm a bit dismayed that a task force of about 20 people could only come up with these 17 principles in nine months. I wish we could have developed some semblance of a plan; but, there were too many strong wills, technicalities and idiosyncrasies at work. That said, I've pasted my July 8th testimony below with a couple of added statements in [brackets]. The bill is below my testimony:

Testimony for July 8th, 2014 Hearing on CCNV Building Plans

I've advocated for DC's homeless community since mid-June 2006. While I've heard rumblings of a possible closure of the CCNV/Federal City Shelter since mid-2011 and met with Chapman Todd, a consultant for Downtown BID, in October and November 2012, I was one of the key people responsible for beginning the public conversation around the future of the 1,350-person shelter in January 2013. Prior to 2013, an overhaul of the property was an idea that was just tossed around informally. Now the public conversation is in full swing. I therefore have a vested interest in making sure the process goes well for all who will be affected by the mayor's decision. I am doing all that I can to fully and properly inform his decision. [To my dismay, the involvement of the homeless community in getting this process started has been grossly under-represented by certain media outlets.]

It is worth noting that, while efforts were made to involve the directly-affected homeless people in this process, our efforts have proven to be onerous. The homeless are a gravely disenfranchised lot of people. I'm guessing that, as this issue hits the headlines in a really big way, the homeless will realize the gravity of the situation and decide to come forth and speak on their own behalf. In lieu of this matter, I strongly suggest that another hearing or roundtable be scheduled in the early fall.

Due to a number of factors, the building's census fluctuates between 1,100 and 1,350 people with a recent document putting the maximum capacity at only 1,260 beds. Chapman told me in 2012 that any talk of closing the facility without creating a total of 1,350 beds elsewhere would be a conversation stopper. On March 24th, 2014 Richard Bradley of Downtown BID said that Chapman was speaking in lieu of the political realities of the fall of 2012 with those realities having changed. This was during a meeting in which Rich presented a document that placed the building's census at 909. He admitted to error. Nonetheless it highlights the need to ensure that we properly and fully inform the mayor's decision.

As the city begins to pay for services rendered to the 950 people that CCNV-Proper presently shelters at no operating cost to the city, the cost of helping these homeless residents will increase. The city has saved millions of dollars per year for 28 years (well over $100 million total, maybe 4 times that). It would easily cost the city at least $135 million to create affordable housing units for all CCNV/FCS residents with the mayor having promised almost 8 times as many units by 2020.

Some associates of mine have also said that we shouldn't speak of the sale and demolition of the present structure as a foregone conclusion – that we should consider the possibility of renovating the building and allowing its entities to continue to do business as usual. They've also suggested that we seek financing tools that will enable service providers to retain and redevelop the parking lot AND the present building for shelter and/or affordable housing. I concur with the latter statement.

It should be noted that, since 1986, DC Government has done very little to grow the residents of CCNV/FCS beyond homelessness. Even when Fenty insisted on closing the 300-bed Franklin School Shelter due to it being “unfit for human habitation” and not wanting to “warehouse homeless people”, there was no talk of housing or helping able-bodied people from this 1,350-person shelter. DHS has had oversight of this property for over 8 years; yet it remains a hole in the wall.

In closing, I'll say that any conversation about assisting the homeless should include at least two elements – a segment about how to house them [as opposed to simply sheltering them and defending their right to sleep on the streets] as well as an effort to involve the homeless in advocating for themselves.

See a copy of the bill below:

_________________________ _________________________
Councilmember Marion Barry Councilmember Jim Graham



________________________
Councilmember Anita Bonds



A BILL

____________

IN THE COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

__________________________


To amend the Homeless Services Reform Act of 2005 to require the Mayor to develop a plan that provides a range of comprehensive services that address the assessed needs of homeless individuals at 425 2nd Street, N.W., and that complies with the Statement of Principles as developed by the Center for Creative Non-Violence (“CCNV”) Task Force.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, That this
act may be cited as the “Plan for Comprehensive Services for Homeless Individuals at 425 2nd Street, N.W., Amendment Act of 2014”.
Sec. 2. The Homeless Services Reform Act of 2005, effective October 22, 2005 (D.C. Law 16-35; D.C. Official Code § 4-751.01 et seq.), is amended by adding new sections 27g and 27h to read as follows:
“Sec. 27g. Plan for comprehensive services for homeless individuals at 425 2nd Street, N.W.”
“In the provision of homeless services for individuals residing at the property located at 425 2nd Street, N.W., the Mayor shall develop a plan that complies with the Statement of Principles, outlined in section 27h and developed by the CCNV Task Force (“Task Force”) pursuant to the CCNV Task Force Emergency Act of 2013, effective August 2, 2013 (D.C. Act 20-147; 60 DCR 11809; 20 DCSTAT 2000), and the CCNV Task Force Temporary Act of 2013, effective December 5, 2013 (D.C. Law 20-45; 60 DCR 14959; 20 DCSTAT 2392).
“Sec. 27h. The Statement of Principles of the Task Force shall be as follows:
“(1) The District of Columbia has an obligation to provide for the needs of homeless District of Columbia residents in the development of its parcel at 425 2nd Street, N.W. This obligation went into effect when the property was first transferred from the federal government to the District of Columbia.
“(2) Any new development of the parcel should be “build first,” that is, the existing shelter should not be razed until replacement capacity is fully available.
“(3) Replacement capacity should be located at the current site to respond effectively to the needs of residents, to the maximum extent possible,.
“(4) Any replacement capacity located off-site should be close to public transportation, and for ease of access to jobs and services, ideally located in the downtown area of the District of Columbia.
“(5) Replacement capacity should primarily be deeply affordable housing, and include single room occupancy (“SRO”), efficiency, studio design, the Housing First model of permanent supportive housing with housing specifically targeting the needs of youth under the age of 25, and 24-hour low barrier shelter and hypothermia shelter. Some scattered site capacity through vouchers or otherwise, might be appropriate or desirable for some residents.
“(6) Any SRO, efficiency, or studio design unit should have sufficient square footage to meet current recommended standards for living space.
“(7) Private bathing and cooking space should be prioritized to the maximum extent possible.
“(8) Any site re-design should be responsive to security needs of residents, both within the building and in the surrounding environments.
“(9) Any new development should follow sustainable and green principles.
“(10) In any new construction, developers should follow “First Source” requirements. All efforts should be made to employ as many residents of 425 2nd Street, N.W., as possible.
“(11) Priority for new units should be given to current residents, people with disabilities, and people who are elderly.
“(12) All efforts should be taken in the redevelopment design to allow families, including families with no minor children, to be housed or sheltered together, regardless of gender.
“(13) It is important to have services available on-site.
“(14) Assessment of service needs, for example, whether a resident needs permanent supportive housing, should be made using the “state of the art” tools and standards available at the time of assessment.
“(15) There should be office space for management of programs included in the site re-design.
“(16) All non-shelter services presently at 425 2nd Street N.W., should be included in the site re-design to the maximum extent feasible.
“(17) All providers and relevant programs should meet the highest standards and have appropriate qualifications for the service provided.”.
Sec. 3. Fiscal impact statement.
The Council adopts the fiscal impact statement in the committee report as the
fiscal impact statement required by section 602(c)(3) of the District of Columbia Home Rule
Act, approved December 24, 1973 (87 Stat. 813; D.C. Official Code § 1-206.02(c)(3)).
Sec. 4. Effective date.
This act shall take effect following approval by the Mayor (or in the event of veto by the Mayor, action by the Council to override the veto), a 30-day period of Congressional review as provided in section 602(c)(1) of the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, approved December
24, 1973 (87 Stat. 813; D.C. Official Code § 1-206.02(c)(1)), and publication in the District of Columbia Register.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Spirituality of Poverty and Advocacy (SPA)


Once in a while I discuss the spirituality of my homelessness and advocacy while making one of my many speeches to high schools, colleges, universities and churches. That's not to say that I somehow choose to be homeless in order to fulfill a spiritual mission. True spirituality is not mission-based, as a mission has a beginning, a middle and an end. Spirituality is a state of being that has a beginning and no end; therefore, it can't have a middle. My homelessness and advocacy have been spiritual insomuch as I have learned about the horrors that exist in the most powerful country in the world; I have tapped into abilities that I didn't realize I had; and, I have made various spiritual connections in my mind as to how power is attained (or obtained) and used vs. how it should be used.

Wikipedia defines advocacy as: a political process by an individual or group which aims to influence public-policy and resource allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions. Advocacy can include many activities that a person or organization undertakes including media campaigns, public speaking, commissioning and publishing research or conducting exit poll or the filing of an amicus brief. Lobbying (often by lobby groups) is a form of advocacy where a direct approach is made to legislators on an issue which plays a significant role in modern politics.[1] Research has started unfolding how advocacy groups in the U.S.[2] and Canada[3] are using social media to facilitate civic engagement and collective action.

As indicated by the aforementioned definition, the primary target of my advocacy is government. However, as Hannibal Barca's (Barcid's) army often surrounded the opposing army and then defeated their virtual prisoners in a "circular battle", I too need an army of concerned and/or directly-affected citizens to surround and inundate government with our demands. Unfortunately, many of the people who could make up this “army” are very weak in spirit and disenfranchised. The poor and homeless have accepted their state as their lot in life and those who have sufficient means of survival don't get involved or cease their involvement in advocacy for any number of reasons ranging from having very busy schedules to believing that the poor and homeless deserve what life has dealt them. But so much for building the army. Let's define the reason for the war – spiritual-class war, of course.

The story begins between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago when God (Allah, Jehovah) spoke the world into existence using power and methodologies that transcend human science and work much more quickly and differently than big bang-evolutionary theory can ever understand or account for. During the first 3,000 years of this world's existence, the Creator made known His Laws which included compassion for the poor. Howbeit, He never demanded that able-bodied people be given hand-outs in perpetuity. He DID however command land owners not to pick up crops that were dropped during harvesting or to go over the field a second time. This would allow the stranger, the fatherless and the widow (those who didn't have a man of means in their lives) to “glean” their sustenance from the field. After all the Earth is the Lord's and it is He who brings the increase.

There were several hundred years during which God is not known to have spoken to anyone on Earth. The confused mixture of religions known as Hellenistic Polytheism sprung out of this era. Then came Jesus. He was born into poverty and homelessness. After Jesus at age twelve astounds the elders in the temple, we don't read anymore about Joseph. It is believed by some that the societal (mis)leaders took the home of his widowed mother Mary and that he had her and other widows in mind when he accused the Sanhedrin (pharisees and sadducees collectively) of taking the homes of widows.

There were various other instances during his ministry that were either possibly or certainly intended to send a strong message to those who oppress or ignore the poor. One such possibility was when Jesus turned water into wine. Jewish weddings were major social events that were attended by many. You didn't necessarily have to be a family member to attend. Notable people were served first and the poor were allowed to usurp the leftovers. The lord of the feast clearly stated that the worst wine is usually saved for last. This, of course, means that the poor get the low-quality wine. Jesus, however, “saved” the best for last.

Jesus was certainly speaking against oppression of the poor during his temple rampage. He accused those selling in the temple of turning what should've been a house of prayer into a den of thieves. It qualified as such for at least two reasons. First of all, God allowed the poor to offer turtledoves which they'd caught that were without spot of blemish. Even when a poor person brought a suitable dove to be offered, they were told by those selling in the temple that it had a blemish and that they must purchase a turtledove from the temple. That's when the second act of exploitation took place. The person had to exchange their money for temple currency before purchasing a turtledove and they always lost money in the exchange.

In addition to Jesus living in poverty and commanding his disciples to travel light, he told a rich young ruler who wanted to become a follower that he had to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor. The man walked away. Christ also told us that there is very little chance of a rich man getting into Heaven. (The “eye of the needle” was a very small doorway that was cut into the city wall. A camel could only come through on its knees with no luggage on its back.) In the parable of the man who planned to build bigger barns, Jesus sent the message that the rich are OBLIGATED to help the poor. The story of a conversation between Abraham who held Lazarus in his bosom while in Heaven and a rich man who'd gone to Hell is believed by many theologians to be true insomuch as it gives the names of two out of three characters. (Maybe Jesus wanted to give other rich men the sense that it could one day be their story – to let them fill in the blank with their own name.) It is worth noting that in both the parable and the true story the rich man simply IGNORES THE POOR and GOES TO HELL. How much more will those who actively oppress and exploit the poor burn for it???!!!

It is also worth noting that Jesus opposed the religious super structure of his day but refused, on more than one occasion, to openly oppose the political super structure. He told those who were speaking supposedly in the name of God how wrong they were; but, he didn't give us any political advice or tell the Romans that they were wrong for anything that they were doing. The Jews wanted a savior to deliver them from the Romans. Jesus was not that kind of savior.

Despite Jesus' avoidance of politics, the disciples began intentional Communist communities as described in Acts chapter 2 verses 42 through 47. It makes sense when you consider the fact that neither partisan politics nor McCarthyism had the place in first century Rome that they have in present-day America. Add to that the fact that people don't need to be political in order to decide that they'll hold all things in common and live together in an intentional community. They just have to care about each other.

The first-century Christians were able to maintain these non-dictatorial Communist communities because, as Galatians 5:22 and 23 tells us: “The fruit of the spirit is Love, Joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, GOODNESS, faith, meekness and temperance. Against such there is no law.” Oddly enough, various state and city governments in this country as well as governments in other countries like that of Budapest, Hungary have outlawed acts of kindness like feeding or giving money to the homeless and/or acts whereby the homeless help themselves by sleeping in public places. People in this country (especially in Florida) have actually gone to jail for helping the homeless. Galatians 5:22-23 is no longer true.

Fast forward to 1945. The United States has become a world power. As a matter of fact, they're well on their way to becoming the most powerful nation on Earth. General Eisenhower who was largely responsible for U.S. victory in World War II would become president eight years later and finish his second term in January 1961. He was the first two-term president since term limits were ratified by the states in 1951.

Though term limits were intended to keep a president from becoming a dictator, they've actually caused the office of the U.S. President to evolve into something quite evil. Someone who rules for life after their election, selection or appointment is likely to become a dictator. Someone who has to be re-elected every four years is likely to bear in mind what the voting public wants and to do their best to deliver insomuch as they want to remain in office for as long as possible. Someone who is in their last term no longer needs to satisfy their constituency and is likely to do anything but. This allows a second-term president to wreak havoc on a politically inept public.

Eisenhower fought against dictatorship among other things and was the last of the “non-imperialist two-term-limited U.S. Presidents” – even if what he did opened the door for present-day U.S. Imperialism. I firmly believe that the horsemen of Revelation chapter 6 correspond with the two-term presidents since Eisenhower:

1 – Nixon went out conquering the political climate of his day and turning the office of the president into a vehicle which the wealthy and greedy could use to implement their evil agendas. Though one might point to acts of greed or corporatism that pre-date the Nixon administration, the early 1970's is when we went full-on with the fascistic marriage of government and corporations and with corporate greed. These acts amounted to giving to the wealthy; but, they weren't yet taking noticeable amounts from the poor.

2 – Reagan definitely was given power to make war. He was the last cold war president. I guess you can say that he caused us to “win” the cold war. He built up the military and funded it by cutting funding for social programs. Reaganomics caused inflation to increase exponentially. The higher prices, low wages and decreased social services made it more convenient for the poor to join the military which had just received their former social service dollars. Reagan even made it possible for the poor to get career training if they came home alive. He clearly took from the "non-militant poor".

3 – The third horseman was given a set of balances and went out saying, “A measure of wheat for a day's wages and two measures of barely for a day's wages”. This horseman was promoting low wages and inflation among other things – low ROI (return on investments) at all levels. Clinton implemented the “Welfare to Work” program which looks good on its face. However, the end result of that policy and other socio-economic conditions is a combination of hard work, continued low income and insufficient sustenance for the poor.

4 – That makes Bush 43 “Death”. While governor of Texas, he oversaw 119 executions, pardoning none. As president he used a personal vendetta against Hussein as the pretext for a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, spent about a trillion dollars on the war industry that was nurtured to maturity by Reagan, decimated an oil-rich country and solidified the U.S. Government's image in other countries as the world bully. We also saw the death of the U.S. presidency insomuch as Cheney seemed to be more in control than Bush. They took the reins of world capitalism and ensured that the U.S. Government would control this destructive beast as much as is possible for any one government to do. It was toward the end of the Bush era that the economy went south in a big way. Bush began the bail-out process which gave ungodly amounts of money to the rich who'd already wasted their means like the prodigal son. He did this at the expense of the poor. Even with Bush 43 out of office, the beast of Capitalism continues to consume the poor.

5 – After mentioning the fourth horseman, scripture tells us that Hades followed close behind. With Bush 43's administration having taken the reins of the destructive super structure of world capitalism, the system of national, state and local governments is becoming more decadent, losing any sense of morality or direction and dying. That leaves Obama to either maintain the status quo or begin something new. It stands to reason that he's beginning something new and that it is so different from what we've known that it's implementation will feel like Hell on Earth for some people.

He's in his sixth year with about 30 months remaining. While he has maintained some of the hurtful policies of his predecessors, he is also known to be one of the softest and sweetest presidents in recent history. I've suspected for some time now that Obama would lord over the de-imperialization of the U.S. – that he would put an end to the practice of the U.S. Policing the world (whether or not that is his intent). That could be Hell for some. If his appointment of a Cuban descendant to the position of HUD secretary is any indication, he could want disadvantaged and oppressed people to advance socio-economically. (There are other political reasons for choosing Julian Castro to lead HUD.) That supposition is turned on its head when you consider how he has not contributed to the social uplift of Afro-Americans. Then again, as was quite clear in his most recent State of the Union address, he loves women as much or more so than I do. It's conceivable that he will do all he can by January 20, 2017 to take power from the men and give it to the women. While it would be Hell for wealthy men, it might cause more to be done for the poor.

There is a way to marry all of those possibilities – the social uplift of disadvantaged groups such as Blacks, women and poor immigrants as well as the end of U.S. Imperialism. After all, it's been more than 50 years since Eisenhower left office and it's been said that a U.S. President affects the country for 50 years after he leaves office. So, it stands to reason that the imperialism that U.S. victory in World War II made possible will now come to an end. That said, the end of U.S. Imperialism doesn't have to be a goal of Obama in order to happen.

On May 20th, 2009 Obama signed into law the HEARTH Act (Homeless Emergency Assistance, Rapid Transition to Housing). Cities and states that receive HUD funding must fully implement it by August 31, 2014 and begin to show decreases in homelessness by 2015. Obamacare elicited some sharp retorts from state governments. Some people went so far as to call Obama a Socialist (a title he should embrace now that he's in his second term). But the HEARTH Act got through, largely unnoticed. It could start a ripple effect that leads to the social uplift of many poor people. Let's hope.

Here in Washington, DC (the “belly of the beast” of capitalism), homelessness rose by 13% from January 2013 (6,859) to January 2014 (7,748). it has probably surpassed 8,000 in this city of +/- 650,000. Fortunately, Kristy Greenwalt who formerly worked for the U.S. Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (USICH) now heads the DC ICH. Given the circumstances, I can assure you that she'll “catch Hell” trying to bring DC up to par. Whether or not DC and various other cities and states succeed at decreasing homelessness, the attempts at implementation are bound to change the public and political discourses in a bigger way than the Occupy Movement did. This could be Hell for the rich. It could be the beginning of a Socialist or Communist revolution. Let's hope. Maybe it will start around the time of my 47th birthday (Feb. 15th, 2016) or sooner. Let's hope.

All of that brings me back to myself and my spiritual journey. Before I first experienced homelessness around Feb. 20th, 1994, I was working a dead-end job in Gainesville, FL. I was OK in this city that has been voted many times (at least 5) by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to be the best city to live in. In short, becoming homeless opened my eyes to the inequities, atrocities and social injustice in the world around me. It has caused me to think about the many things you've just read and to make these and other connections between world events, politics and what the Bible says – especially what it says about spiritual wickedness in high places. Since becoming homeless, I've improved my writing skills and become a public speaker. I often help people to apply age-old scriptures to the here and now. I present some tough logic that flies in the face of excuses that government might give for ignoring the poor. I seek to embolden the poor. All in all, I have become the embodiment of the thinking that is necessary to usher in a Socialist or Communist revolution with a Biblical-spiritual spin. After all, love for the poor is the only Biblical theme that holds fast from beginning to end.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Ending Homelessness: DC's Failure and the World's Efforts


I am known for a number of things that I do – namely for my homeless advocacy. I'm also known for my bass-baritone singing. Then there is my dancing. But this past Tuesday dozens of people were reminded of my propensity for brutal honesty and for being the bearer of bad tidings. After all, homelessness is bad news and the grim reality is that capitalism is a hurtful system that permeates the world. Those who own or control large sums of money are driven by the profit motive and don't want to do anything that will cut into their ungodly amount of profit – such as lowering rents or feeding the poor. And they surely don't want land to be used for the social good of all by, for example, being made available for poor people to build modest homes on. It is truths like these that caused me to add this slogan to my e-mail signature recently: “Asking an advocate for the poor to be nice is like asking a soldier to fight a war without a weapon”.

On Tuesday, June 17th, 2014 the bi-monthly meeting of DC's Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH) took place at New York Ave Presbyterian Church (the church of Abraham Lincoln). Weeks earlier the tabulation for the January 29th point-in-time homeless enumeration had been published, revealing a 13% increase in Washngton, DC's homeless population in one year – as the surrounding counties in the DC metro area posted an overall decrease. During the first public comment portion of the meeting, I told a room full of DC Government personnel and homeless service providers – many of whom make $100,000 or more per year – that we're failing. I stated the astronomical increase in homelessness as the basis for my statement. The city administrator who chairs ICH meetings disagreed and said, “We're not failing. We're facing bigger challenges”. Such statements by city officials begin to explain why some homeless advocates view these meetings as “government masturbation”: government folk making themselves feel good.

I was accompanied to this meeting by Lorena Za`rate, the president of Habitat International Coalition (HIC) which fights for the right to housing in about 120 countries and has gotten other countries to make the right to housing part of their constitutions. She was impressed by the fact that homeless people were allowed to attend and speak at the meeting but appalled by the fact that people are homeless in such a rich and powerful country, let alone being homeless in the capital of that country.

Apart from my mention of the increase in homelessness in DC from 6,859 people in 2013 to 7,748 in 2014 with a population of +/- 650,000, there was no other mention of this disturbing statistic. This was rather alarming to me in lieu of how Sue Marshall, the director of The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (TCP), whose organization oversees the HUD-mandated count has, in past years explained what she believes to be the reasons for the increase or decrease in homelessness. The meeting was extremely subdued and ended earlier than usual, leaving extra time for public comment. Hmmm.

This was the first meeting since Kristy Greenwalt became director of the ICH. She began her cabinet-level job at this newly-created position on April 28th which was only about eight months before the mayor leaves office. Hmmm. She was actively participating in meetings about DC homelessness as far back as December 2013. What made it more peculiar that this failure of the system was only given short shrift was the fact that the federal H.E.A.R.T.H. Act requires DC and other city and state governments to meet certain benchmarks by August 31st in terms of ending homeless, which begins to explain why Ms. Greenwalt was hired toward the end of her boss' term. It should also be noted that Kristy has talked about how most of the ICH's work is done in committee, not at the larger bi-monthly meetings. This is a basic truth about committee structure; but, playing too deeply into it can cause the bi-monthly meetings to become pro forma and pointless.

After the meeting, I introduced Lorena to several people including Kristy. Lorena and Kristy had a brief exchange that I didn't listen in on. Though it stands to reason that they didn't get into any deep philosophical discussion, I almost wish that they had. Those who address homelessness from Washington, DC – at the federal AND local level – stand to learn a lot from a foreigner, especially Lorena Za`rate.

My first encounter with Lorena was on June 15th, 2014 as I exited the annual convention of the National Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT) on my way to the convenience store and she entered the convention. I'd been asked by NAHT to show her around DC. So, I'd taken the time to look her up on-line. As we passed on a concrete island in the middle of the road, I called out, “Lorena!” to which she seemed slightly startled. We spoke and went on our separate ways.

Moments later, we were in the convention hall together. She got to hear me deliver a short but fiery speech. She was on immediately after me. I was thrilled to hear the Marxist leanings in her speech. When she returned to our table, I whispered to her that people would call her a Communist to which she replied, Ï don't care”. I knew then that I loved her.

We spent much time together for the next four days until she had to catch her plane to Canada on the 19th. I brought her to the offices of several agencies that serve the homeless on a local or national level. But during this time I heard her say things that the governments of our nation have yet to sufficiently understand. She opposes the corporate ownership of land and believes that it should be made available for the greater social good. She believes that the right to housing should be granted in any and all national constitutions. She has talked about the need for a well-rounded approach to ending homelessness – one that involves policies that make all of the surplus housing available to the poor and homeless. Lorena Za`rate is a God-send. I love her.

I juxtaposed the most recent ICH meeting and my mention of Lorena Za`rate in this blog post so as to present the problem along with the soluion – a long-standing habit of mine. In times past, I've told the ICH that they should put more attention on housing the “least vulnerable” insomuch as they can be connected to jobs and weaned off of social services whereas the “most vulnerable” will go from shelter to government-subsidized housing but will remain in the system. Helping those who can work will eventually alleviate resources which can then be used on the most vulnerable. This argument represents a solution that has fallen on deaf ears. (I, for years now, have mentioned much simpler ideas such as putting binders containing the descriptions of various homeless and public services in all homeless shelters and day centers so that the homeless can help themselves to this info. That too has yet to be done, as simple and cheap as it is.)

Though city officials aren't likely to tell you this, I have a sneaky suspicion that the profit motive and the unwillingness to attract poor people to DC or even retain the long-time poor residents that are here have a lot to do with this supposed “failure” that I write about. Doing more to assist the least vulnerable would be a tactical solution that wouldn't create a direct afront to the wealthy; whereas, presenting housing as a human right and encouraging public ownership of the necessities of life would be a matter of principle that would indeed create a direct afront to the wealthy. Both are needed. In DC we have neither. That's why we have an ever-increasing number of homeless people.

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Monday, June 9, 2014

DC Putting Shelter Closures and Public Housing Demolition on Fast Track


DC Government is putting the closures of multiple homeless shelters on the fast track. As a man of reason, I understand that shelter is meant to be a stepping stone and not a landing pad. Shelter residents usually have permanent, safe, affordable housing as a goal. However, that goal often remains out of reach for Washington, DC's 8,000 homeless and counting as well as the 70,000 who are on the wait list at the DC Housing Authority with DCHA housing approximately 800 to 1,000 people (about 200 families) per year.

Not only is the shelter which the homeless want to get out of being closed; but, the public housing which they seek to move into is being demolished. In either case, the government's argument is the same: “The building was unfit for human habitation”. Oh how sweet! They care too much about the poor to allow them to remain in a dilapidated building; so, they close down the shelter or public housing complex, only to put the residents into hotels, motels or housing situations that are even more tenuous than the ones they just left.

This is the argument used by former DC mayor Adrian Fenty as he closed the DC Village Family Shelter in 2007 as well as the Franklin School Shelter in 2008. It is presently being used to justify the closure of the DC General Family shelter and could soon be used to expedite the closure of the CCNV (Community for Creative Non-Violence) Shelter. It is also being used to close and demolish the Barry Farm Public housing Complex.

I was recently a guest on the Kojo Nnamdi Show along with DC Chief of Police Cathy Lanier. She explained that she thought that public housing was the worst thing to happen to poor people insomuch as it is poorly maintained. I responded by telling her that government officials have become the new “red-liners” who disinvest in poor communities. The difference though is that, unlike when banks were the red-liners, it is the government's duty to maintain these very properties that are falling into disrepair.

The government establishes shelters for the homeless. Bitter-sweet. The government builds public housing for the homeless to move into. Great. The government allows shelters and public housing to fall into disrepair. Horrible. The government declares the shelter and public housing to be unfit for human habitation. So compassionate. This is a behavioral pattern that I refer to as “the facade of caring”. Additionally, DC Government is presenting its negatives as positives by “caring” enough to remove poor people from a building that was neglected by the very government that moved people into that building in the first place.

This is reminiscent of how DC Government patted itself on the back for housing Denise Gibson and her 10-month old baby in December 2011 only to be exposed by a response article in the Huffington Post as the reason for Denise's homelessness in the first place. It seems like DC Government's MO is: Create a problem; solve the problem; get credit for the latter only (unless someone who's paying attention exposes you).

A certain Robert Samuels a writer for the Washington Post recently covered the bad and worsening conditions at the DC General Family Shelter. I don't doubt for a minute that conditions are as bad as residents say they are. Neither do I disagree with the assertion that the building should be closed and demolished. However, other WashPo writers have enough guts and gall to place the blame for the disrepair where it belongs – right in the lap of DC Government. Mr. Samuels wasn't so analytical or brutally honest.

Mr. Samuels also wrote about the fact that the 1,350-bed CCNV/Federal City Shelter recently failed a fire safety inspection. I wondered how they could fail, being that I often hear the alarm sound so loudly and annoyingly that I swear I've seen a dead person or two awakened by it. I can't speak to the operation of the sprinkler system, as I've never seen it in operation. Nonetheless, the article lacked some important facts. It quotes Councilman Jim Graham as saying that conditions in the building are “deplorable”; but, it fails to mention that different parts of the building are currently under renovation. (Much of the Franklin School Shelter was renovated shortly before the September 2008 closure.) Neither did it mention the fact that the CCNV Task Florce which is headed by Councilman Graham has been meeting since October 2013, will dissolve in July 2014 and will offer recommendations to the mayor and the full council as to what should be done with the people and property when the congressional mandate to serve the homeless from this building expires on July 7, 2016.

You might want to know why I'm airing my dirty laundry concerning a presumably new writer here in my blog. Well, I don't have anything against Robert Samuels personally. But he has already been used by the establishment to convey incomplete and misleading statements and present them as facts. I am therefore using that same public arena called the internet to convey the truth. Maybe every time that an article of his is googled, my blog will also show up in the search. Let's hope.

I was taken aback by the mere fact that a fire alarm system not passing inspection even passes as news. That doesn't make sense until you consider how the “facade of caring” is used by city officials as a pretext for gentrifying the homeless and the poor out of DC. I was perplexed by the fact that DC Government didn't simply add maintaining the fire alarm system to the to-do list of those renovating the shelter. There are other aspects to this situation that don't make sense until you know other facts pertaining to development taking place around the shelter as well as how DC Government “works” (for lack of a better term).

The CCNV Shelter has as its neighbors: Georgetown Law School on the north side; Hyatt hotel on the East side; U.S. Dept. of Labor on its south side and the U.S. Tax Court on its west side. Between CCNV and the tax court is a 50-foot deep ravine containing I-395. Beginning at the southwest corner of the shelter and extending at least 5 blocks to the north and to the west is a ginormous construction project that is expected to take 10 years to finish. When all is said and done, there will be a building over the I-395 ravine, as is the case with U.S DOL even now. The area is being spruced up.

It stands to reason that a draconian mayor who is giving DC to the wealthy and well-to-do on a silver platter would want to remove the homeless from this area ASAP. According to the annual contract, CCNV must be given 220 days to vacate the premises in the case of a contract termination. On the other hand, if the building is deemed an immediate danger, it can be closed immediately. Furthermore, the task force is discussing the construction of 900 apartment units and 350 shelter spaces before CCNV is closed. This construction could take until mid-2017, all things considered. And it would enable the poor to remain in DC. A “caring” mayor could declare the shelter unfit for human habitation, close it within 30(?) days, bypass the task force process, not await the new construction and force over 1,000 homeless people out of DC in one fell swoop. Add to this the fact that the homeless of DC only have a right to shelter when the temperature is 32 and below or 95 and above. Early summer is the perfect time for a building maintenance “emergency”.

In closing I'll say that there have been numerous occasions in which people were moved out of a dilapidated public housing complex, promised the right to return and had that promise broken. There have been various occasions in which shelters have been closed due to being poorly maintained and unfit for human habitation. There have been multiple occasions of DC Government receiving praise for solving a problem that they created. The poor and homeless are being pushed around and gentrified. The broader public is being duped into thinking that DC Government is doing what's best for its most vulnerable citizens. The poor are all the worse for it. We need to quit going for the okie doke – ALL of the okie dokes, that is. The facade of caring is being used to hand the city to the wealthy and well-to-do on a silver platter. Period. Full stop.

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Open Letter to Kristy Greenwalt The First Ever Director of DC's Inter-agency Council on Homeless (ICH)



Dear Kristy Greenwalt,

I am extremely glad to have you as the first ever director of DC's Inter-agency Council on Homelessness. This body has existed since June 2006 and seen homelessness increase from 6,157 people in January of that year to over 7,000 people now (exact figures due on May 14th, 2014). in their defense, there was the economic downtown of 2008. Even so, they haven't gotten a handle on the problem in the more than five years since.

I'm sure that your experience with the USICH will enable you to do what others have not been able to do – decrease homelessness in DC. After all, the most effective housing programs that DC has had originated with the federal government. They include Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) and the System Transformation Initiative (STI). So, it stands to reason that a former federal employee is what we need.

Unfortunately, when the DC Council created your position, they only created funds for your position but didn't attach any resources. This wreaks of the half-heartedness with which the former administration funded the office of Leslie Steen, ostensibly so that she could oversee the creation of affordable housing. She left a year later due to having been given a job to do and then having had her hands tied behind her back. Welcome to DC, the land of lip service and token efforts.

I began advocating in June 2006. I witnessed the immense effort it took to get DC Government to create PSH for single, homeless adults who have mental illness, physical disabilities and other issues that make them vulnerable. I've also witnessed the three years of bad press and the even more intense advocacy that it took to get DC Government to assist homeless families. It was almost impossible for the government to say with straight faces that they wouldn't assist vulnerable adults. When it was the children who were vulnerable but their parents were not, it became slightly easier for the government to refuse them help. As a matter of fact, the Gray administration took to calling the heads of homeless households lazy, shiftless moochers. But we persisted and the administration finally gave in.

So, as we begin to focus more on connecting able-bodied and -minded homeless singles to living-wage jobs and affordable housing, I expect that we're in for the fight of our lives. Let's fce it. City officials as a whole don't want to ensure that low-wage workers can afford to live in DC – even when they contribute to the life of the city through their employment. This is most definitely a moral dilemma. The mayor, in his State of the District addresses has said that we must attract high-income earners to the city in order to pay for social services; but, when the city's revenue increases he puts much of the surplus into the rainy-day fund and the advocates have to fight to get anything added to social services – the best (but least talked about) social service being a program that effectively connects people to living-wage jobs.

I'll assume that you life to “top-load” your agenda. That is to do the most difficult things first and get them out of the way. If so, then getting city officials to do more for able-bodied and -minded homeless singles who can and should work will be at or near the top of your to-do list. I've said periodically for years that, while the vulnerable homeless people will always be in some part of the Human Services system, those who can work would eventually be weaned off of the system once they are properly assisted. The “invulnerable homeless” would eventually begin (or simply continue) to work and pay taxes. They'd free up resources and alleviate some pressure on the system once housed or after they advance to better-paying jobs.

I believe that city officials know this but are afraid that making DC affordable to low-wage workers will attract tens of thousands of them to DC and reverse the trend toward making DC a “world-class city” i.e. a city for the wealthy and the well-to-do that the last three mayors have supported. City officials would much rather have these workers to bus in, make their eight hours and return to Prince George County which is often called “Ward 9” – touse them and refuse them. This is an under-pinning of DC's delivery of Human Services which you'll need to fight tooth and nail if you're going to get anywhere in this scandalous city.

But so much for local politics and the challenges of your new job. You've said a number of things that I really love. You're inclined to make a decision and move on it when the group can't arrive at a concensus. I love your centralist and decisive ways. You plan to change the way that homeless people are appointed to the ICH from the present system whereby the mayor appoints even the homeless ICH members to one where the homeless community decides who they want to represent them on the ICH – a democratic policy, by all means. (I'm sure that many people will recommend yours truly.) I guess that makes you a “democratic centralist” – a term used by my Marxist friends and I. (I'm not an atheist though.) You believe that people sometimes work hard at the wrong things and plan to get them working hard at the right things. I fully appreciate that. Make them think hard too, please.

When we discussed the changes that would be made in terms of homeless representation on the ICH, it became clear that you want those five positions to be taken more seriously by everyone – including the homeless reps and the homeless community as a whole. You want the reps to communicate with the homeless community between the bi-monthly ICH meetings and you plan to elicit the cooperation of homeless service providers so that the reps can make announcements and hold meetings at shelters and at homeless day programs. I raised the idea of paying the reps and you said that you were already considering that possibility. Great minds think alike.

In closing, I would like to reiterate how much I enjoy having you on board. I look forward to working closely with you. I'm one of many homeless advocates who have spoken off and on over the past three years about the need to become more proactive and less reactive. I'm one of the few who have followed through on this idea. That said, I figured that I should give you my analysis of local conditions and a few good ideas to help you get started rather than venting my displeasure at a gripe session several months hence. (I can't stand folk who only vent but can't plan their way out of a wet paper bag.) Here's to proactive planning and logical solutions to long-standing problems.

Your partner in real and logical solutions,
Eric Jonathan Sheptock
ericsheptock@yahoo.com 240-305-5255

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Monday, May 5, 2014

DC Mayor Vince Gray Uses Business Community to Push Homeless Out of Sight and Mind



DC Mayor Vince Gray is using DC's business improvement districts to move the homeless to parts of the city that are away from the attractions and away from all of the hustle and bustle. He might even be trying to move them out of town right before he gets booted out of office. I recently learned from a caseworker who has assisted homeless people for 27 years that at least some of the business improvement districts in Washington, DC are giving homeless people $50 to leave that BID's part of town, possibly going over the line into Maryland or Virginia. Mayors in various cities use BID's to do their dirty work. (I'm not surprised that a BID would do the bidding of the mayor, no pun intended.) It is apparently a trend.

As early as next week the aforementioned caseworker might connect me to a homeless recipient of such funding. This person wants to "sing like a canary" about how the business community is working to get the homeless "out of sight and out of mind" (for the mayor).

You might ask, "How did I make the connection between the BID's and the mayor so as to prove that they're in collusion with each other?" Well, it's really just a sneaky suspicion of mine. After all, several of Gray's campaign workers and one wealthy donor have been indicted. We've yet to prove that Gray knew about the illegal campaign contributions. As far as I'm concerned, Mayor Gray is either guilty of accepting illegal campaign contributions or of criminal negligence and ignorance due to the incompetent manner in which he ran his campaign. But he's guilty either way. Once again, we have the mayor being surrounded by people who are doing extremely controversial, if not illegal, things. Either Vince Gray is as crooked as a Chicago politician or he's as dumb as a rock. Or both.

I've been keenly aware of the primary purpose for and intent of the BID's for some years now. After all, it's in the name "BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT". it doesn't get any clearer than that. What a BID does for the homeless is, at best, secondary to what it does for businesses. A certain BID used to pay $450,000 per year into a day program that fed the homeless in the basement of a church six days per week and had a slew of other services as well. That church was torn down in 2007 and construction of the new church was completed about 2 years ago. However, the primary financier for the new building demanded, as a condition of receiving the financing, that no homeless services be located in the church's new building. How ironic that a church is not allowed to help the homeless!!!

That same BID wants to stop DC Government's Dept. of Human Services from having the homeless bused in from the far-flung shelters which are located on the outskirts of town and dropped off in the downtown area where the bulk of homeless services are located. One of the downtown shuttle bus stops was right next to the aforementioned homeless day program.

What's more is that there is discussion within the DC Council about creating additional BID's that cover Wards 7 and 8. These 2 wards are sometimes called "Ward 15" due to their similar demographics: high poverty rate, high unemployment, high illiteracy etc. They are the only 2 wards on "the other side of the river" as opposed to "the other side of the train tracks". The locals sometimes call Wards 7 and 8 "the final frontier" for gentrification -- a process which is now well under way there. The BID's are like occupying soldiers who move in and raise the flag after a land has been conquered. The city is trying to seal its victory over the poor by occupying Southeast Washington, DC with business improvement districts.

Instead of making a robust effort to help all of DC's poor families to do better for themselves, the mayor and his administration have taken to disparaging homeless families by, more or less, making them out to be lazy and shiftless. They've used this assessment as a reason to afford homeless families sub-standard living conditions in recreation centers where they sometimes didn't have access to showers for days on end, where kids had to take the bus for two hours one way to get to school, where only thin partitions with spaces between them separated families and where the lights were often kept on all night.

We can also factor in how DC Government and the DC Housing Authority are creating housing programs to replace shelter only to have the housing program to lose its funding and go belly-up soon after the shelter it replaced is closed or how the housing authority is tearing down public housing before they build the promised new units, leaving people with nowhere to go in the meantime. All of this contributes to the poor and homeless being gentrified out of DC.

I'm sometimes left to wonder whether various DC mayors give orders to the BID's or take orders from them. With the mayor serving as the front man for a corrupt but complex system, it's often impossible to determine whether he's implementing his own decisions or doing the dirty work of the business community. I'm left to assume that it's a little of each. "You scratch my back; I'll scratch yours." Next to government, the corporatists/capitalists are the second most powerful group in any segment of society. They are therefore the only group that government feels it must reckon with. But, if the masses would organize, we could change that.

All of this lends itself to why I like David Catania more than Muriel Bowser. I don't know what either of them plans to do for DC's homeless if they were to become mayor. But I do know that David Catania is smarter and has a lot more backbone. He would definitely be harder for the business community to buy off than Muriel Bowser would be. When you consider that he'd be the first White, gay and Independent mayor that DC has ever had, it seems that Mr. Catania can relate to the adversity faced by Black and poor Washingtonians much better than Muriel Bowser.

But, as you can see, there is a robust effort within DC Government to gentrify the poor and the homeless out of town. But there are so many moving parts that it is very difficult to pinpoint the mayor as the one handing down the orders and spearheading the process. Nonetheless, we can use what credible information we have in order to make a public indictment of the mayor and force the mayor to defend himself. Let's go for it.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Poverty Politics: Mayor Muriel Bowser -- Part IV of IV in 20-yr. Plan to Gentrify DC


Councilwoman Muriel Bowser won DC's Democratic mayoral primary yesterday. She will face off with Councilman David Catania (Independent – at-large) in November with him being a strong contender for the mayor's seat. I'm inclined to believe that Catania will do less harm to and possibly more good for the poor of our nation's capital than Bowser will do. But this is a Democratic city and since “Home Rule” was passed in 1973, the winner of the Democratic primary has become mayor. Pity.

But, as I said in my blog post yesterday, who becomes the chief executive doesn't determine the direction of the city. In much the same way that the primary job of the sheriff of Philadelphia is to evict people from their homes, the primary job of the mayor of Washington, DC is to push poor people out of the city through a mix of draconian policies. I see a 20-year plan which was devised by the business community behind closed doors coming to fruition. Mayor Anthony Williams (1999-2007) started the ball rolling. Mayor Adrian Fenty (2007-2011) was slightly more draconian toward the poor. Mayor Vince Gray (2011-2015) is the worst of the three. Unless she breaks the pattern, Ms. Bowser would be the fourth and final part of the business community's plan.

Muriel Bowser was a Fenty shoe-in. She was a personal friend of Fenty's who gained his council seat when he became mayor. All of this raises the question of which way Muriel Bowser will swing if she wins in November. Will she become anything like Adrian Fenty whose protege she is or continue the downward spiral by becoming even more draconian than Mayor Gray??? Even if she attempts to become “a woman apart”, she's liable to be bought and paid for by the behind-the-scenes but ever-powerful forces in the business community – and this in spite of her role in passing legislation to create a code of ethics for the DC Council. It therefore behooves the local advocacy community to court the present and most likely future mayors – Gray (71) so as to help him seal his legacy by doing good for the city's poor, thus checking another item off of his political bucket list; Bowser so as to prep her for the daunting task of assisting the city's poor and to feed her some ideas.

It is important to note that there was another primary election yesterday whose result more directly affects the city's poor. Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham who chairs the Human Services Oversight Committee (a city-wide, at-large committee that oversees the delivery of social services to the poor) lost to political newby Brianne Nadeau. He also chairs the CCNV/Federal City Shelter Task Force which held its first meeting in October 2013, will be dissolved in July 2014 and will offer suggestions to the council and the lame-duck mayor as to what should be done to the facility and its 1,350 homeless people – slightly under one-fifth of DC's homeless population. This raises a few questions: When the mayor receives the task force's recommendations, will he make a decision before leaving office??? Will the new mayor honor that decision or make a new one??? If the project is not budget-neutral, will the new council adequately fund the mayor's proposal???

But irrespective of who wins any of the races in November, the advocates need to inundate them with our demands, hold their feet to the fire and ensure that they keep their campaign promises. We need to step up our advocacy in other ways as well. Consider this analogy:

The average person eats four pounds of food per day. The government has been providing a certain poor person with one pound per day. The mayor decides to cut two more ounces from this pound but threatens to cut four. The advocates succeed at getting the council to return two ounces, bringing it to the figure that the mayor intended all along. These 14 ounces of food per day are still woefully inadequate but represent a smaller cut than was initially threatened. The advocates feel useful. The council seems effective at mitigating some of the mayor's draconian policies. The mayor seems less cruel and willing to budge. All of them maintain their employment. But the poor person still doesn't have anything close to what they need.

The point of the analogy is this: We need not compare the council's final decision (cutting two ounces) to the mayor's initial threat (cutting four ounces). We need to compare the final result (14 ounces of food/ day) to the actual need (four pounds/ day). Furthermore, we need to stop merely reacting to the mayor's budget and start putting forth our vision of a just city and what its poorest, most vulnerable citizens should have access to on any given day. Lets stop being reactive and start being pro-active. On that note, I'll be communicating with the aforementioned politicians within 24 hours so as to begin the conversation around how they'll serve the homeless for the remainder of this year on into next year.

Hhyperlinks to be added later, as I'm pressed for time.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Poverty Politics: DC -- A City for the Wealthy and Well-To-Do (Not the Poor)


QUESTION: What does the story of a missing 8-year old homeless girl named RELISHA RUDD (who was failed by several DC Government agencies) have to do with the business community's government-sanctioned plan to rid the city of poor people?

ANSWER: A .lot. It may take a while to get to the answer but we will. Read on.....

My greatest struggle as a homeless advocate is getting the homeless or formerly homeless to take a break from their many direct actions so as to do some political analysis of the conditions that we're up against. The fact of the matter is that, so long as our ability to analyze societal conditions falls short of what is required to overcome these conditions, they'll continue to get the better of us.

So, today is April 1st -- April Fools' Day. Washington, DC's Democratic primary is taking place today, with the mayor being up for re-election. Some may write that off as mere coincidence. I know otherwise. With this being a Democratic city, the Democratic primary is usually the de facto election. But with Councilman David Catania (independent--at large) being a strong mayoral contender in the November election, this year may be an exception to the rule. And just like fools, many Washingtonians seem to be under the impression that who they elect as mayor actually determines the direction of the city. Mayor Vince Gray seems to be one such fool -- assuming he actually believes what he says.

In recent speeches the mayor, who is under federal investigation for campaign finance fraud, has touted the city's current financial health as an accomplishment of his administration. But surveys have indicated that some Washingtonians believe that the direction of the city is not dependent on who the chief executive is. I agree with the results of the surveys.

Much like Chicago, this city is controlled by forces that operate behind the scenes. The mayor is just the front (wo)man for a business community that is about 15 years into a 20-year plan to push poor people out of a city that many of them have called home for a very long time. And as far as I can tell, they're well ahead of schedule. On the other hand, dozens of city officials and homeless service providers adopted a 10-year plan to end homelessness in 2004 and scrapped that plan several years later due to their failure to meet benchmarks. That said, we are not on track to end homelessness in the city by year's end.
The city council has passed business-friendly laws that attract high-end businesses to the city. The last three mayors have made it their business to push the poor out of the city through their draconian policies and use of the bully pulpit to sway public sentiment concerning poor people. But it is the business community that pulls the strings.

Mayor Anthony Williams (Jan. 1999 to Jan. 2007) convinced the council that they should eliminate the "rent cap" which created a ceiling for rent levels and replace it with "rent control" which allows rent to be raised at a fixed rate. But the parts of this law that were ostensibly intended to soften its negative impact on poor people have no teeth and there are so many loopholes that the rent doubles every ten years and over 40,000 Afro-Americans left DC between 2000 and 2010 -- namely due to the increased rent. It has been determined more recently that about 3,000 poor (mainly Afro-American) people per month are leaving this city due to the high cost of living while just over 4,000 (mainly non-Black) high income earners move in.

During Williams' last year in office, the council passed the Inclusionary Zoning law which requires that 8 to 10% of all new residential developments be affordable to middle- and low-income people. The law has caveats that allow many developers to obtain waivers and very little affordable housing has been created by this law in the seven and a half years it's been on the books. Also during his term, a sweat equity law that would have allowed people to rehabilitate depressed properties and move in was rejected by the council. Five years and much public pressure later, Mayor Gray instituted a government-administered "sweat equity" program through which the heads of homeless families were trained in the construction trades while renovating a building which they would then be allowed to live in for three years.

After Williams there was Adrian Fenty (2007 to 2011). He closed two shelters and created two housing programs for which he didn't create long-term funding streams. In the case of both the DC Village Family Shelter and the Franklin School Shelter he said they were "unfit for human habitation". In the latter case he also said that he didn't want to "warehouse homeless people in large shelters". The Franklin School Shelter had 300 men on two floors of the 5-story building. The CCNV/Federal City Shelter has 1,350 people but he made no mention of plans to close it. Franklin School (built in 1869) is in the heart of Downtown DC and surrounded by new development. Many of the advocates who were around in 2008 when the shelter was closed believe that the business community (led by Downtown BID) was behind the shelter closure.

Homeless families were given the impression that they'd receive rental assistance indefinitely but now are being given assistance for only four months with the possibility of receiving two extensions -- 12 months of assistance. Some see no point in leaving shelter because they'll never make the $89,000 per year that a family needs in order to live in DC. Many of the homeless singles who were placed in the city's Permanent Supportive Housing Program are being transferred over to federal vouchers with a lingering threat of having those vouchers cut. It is also difficult to get any information from the city on attrition rates for what is left of PSH.

Mayor Vince Gray is the most overtly anti-poor mayor that I've met during my nine years in DC. Both he and Fenty have told lies of omission or emission to the public concerning the poor; but, Gray has gone so far as to accuse homeless families of gaming the system in order to get free room and board as well as other amenities. He had Deputy Mayor Beatriz "BB" Otero to begin that narrative in an April 30th, 2013 e-mail to dozens of advocates. At this point, several other members of his administration have used that narrative -- including Director of the Dept. of Human Services David Berns who is also on the record as saying that he can't end homelessness.

David Berns has told me that, while it's cheaper to house a homeless family ($15,000/yr) than it is to shelter them ($50,000+/yr), it's actually cheaper to shelter homeless individuals who don't have mental or physical handicaps than it is to house them. This begins to explain why the city has finally begun an effort to house homeless families, though we can't ignore all of the public pressure that's been applied. it's a fiscal decision, not a moral one.

What could DC Government possibly know about morals? They disinvest in public housing and allow it to fall into disrepair, only to have police Chief Cathy Lanier say that public housing is the worst thing to happen to poor people in lieu of the disrepair. I told her, in response, that it is now the government -- not the banks -- doing the "red-lining". Poor people in various developments (government- and business-owned) are told to move out of their units during renovations and that they'll have the right to return at the same rent levels, only to have those promises broken time and time again. We have Arthur Capper, Kelsey Gardens and Temple Court just to name a few.

But DC's failures toward the poor community extend far beyond issues of shelter and housing. The sad account of RELISHA RUDD is just another chapter in this ongoing saga of DC's systemic failure of the poor. Her mother was visited by Child Protective Services due to 1 -- having filthy living quarters, 2 -- having insufficient food in the house, 3 -- failure to provide necessary medical attention and 4 -- child abuse. Her kids weren't removed. If any effort was made to improve her parenting skills, it didn't work. Now her eldest child is missing and presumed dead with her having released the girl into the custody of someone who should never have had time alone with the girl. He's since killed his wife and himself.

This story wreaks of incompetency on the part of CPS and is reminiscent of the Banita Jacks case in which a poor Afro-American woman was reported to CPS, allowed to keep her four girls and ended up killing them as early as May 2007 with police finding the bodies in her freezer in January 2008. I personally know a grandmother whose 5-year old grandson has asthma and epilepsy. The boy's mother left him in a mall parking lot at four years old. police found him. He was given by CPS to the grandmother for 11 months and returned to the mother who still uses drugs and leaves him home alone. The grandmother fears for his life. Could this be micro-genocide/democide at the local level???

Denise Gibson was taken away from her mother at age 6 in 1990 due to her mother having become homeless. She aged out of foster care in 2005 and became homeless. Her year-old daughter was taken away. She had a son in February 2011 and he was homeless for his first month of life. The Washington Post patted DC Government on the back for housing Denise in late 2011. The Huffington Post wrote a more accurate response article which blamed DC Government for not interrupting the cycle of generational poverty.

Only about half of DC students (51%) have graduated in recent years. 36% of Washingtonian adults are functionally illiterate. 90% of Washingtonian adults have diplomas. If 90% have diplomas and only 64% are functionally literate, then 26% are being given diplomas that they didn't earn. It's been determined that 68% of jobs in DC require an education beyond high school but only 25% of Washingtonians received an education beyond high school. This is the same school system that failed to report RELISHA RUDD's absences to police until she'd been missing for over three weeks.

Several years ago Councilman Marion Barry began a poverty commission that didn't get far. He was supposedly going to figure out how to combat poverty in DC; but, he was censured for seemingly unrelated reasons and had his committee assignment taken away. Since then, no one in DC Government has taken up the cause.

As the conversation around the future of the CCNV/Federal City Shelter continues, I see that the concerns of the business community are moving to the fore and slowly replacing the concerns of the homeless community -- the latter of which is quite disenfranchised and often won't stand up for itself. The process has not evolved enough for me to definitively point the finger; but CCNV, like Franklin School, is also in the part of town covered by Downtown BID. This is cause for concern.

Taken together, these considerations paint a grim picture of there being a concerted effort within the ranks of DC Government and the business community to push the poor out of DC. Create laws that cause the rent to skyrocket. Disinvest in public housing. Close shelters only to disinvest in the housing programs that replaced them. Disinvest in public education. Allow incompetency to reign supreme for years on end within Child Protective Services. Take poor families and color them bad. Break promises to allow former residents to return to renovated properties. Veil your desire to push poor people out of the city in a facade of caring i.e. closing "uninhabitable dwellings" without one-for-one replacement. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

I asked, "What does the story of a missing 8-year old homeless girl named RELISHA RUDD (who was failed by several DC Government agencies) have to do with the business community's government-sanctioned plan to rid the city of poor people?" Simply put, if you fail to adequately deliver much-needed social services to the same poor community that you failed to properly educate and who can't compete in the local job market, they'll leave the city out of necessity. James Earl Jones might just put it like this: "If you tear it down, they will leave".

Now maybe you've begun to see why some people refer to "urban renewal" as "negro removal". It's not that Afro-Americans don't like nice things. It's that we can't afford to remain after those "nice things" are built in our neighborhoods.

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Monday, March 31, 2014

Improving Homeless and Housing Advocacy



We have a crafty, if not altogether dishonest, mayor who (like his predecessor) preys on the public's ignorance of the homeless issue and other issues. He and much of his administration are using the “mooching homeless family” narrative time and time again. That is to say that they are claiming that the heads of homeless families are accessing homeless services during hypothermia season so that they can receive free hotel rooms, food, transportation etc.Even though the advocates often have and use opportunities for rebuttal, much of the general public is liable to buy into the government's narrative and the mayor has the bully mic. Let's not forget that, at the end of the day, it is the administration that determines how DC's funds are spent.

During the February 11, 2012 One City Summit, Vince Gray talked about DC being one of the most literate cities in the U.S. Just a couple of weeks prior and a few days apart there had been two articles about DC literacy. One said that DC was among the most literate U.S. Cities insomuch as it has many libraries, bookstores, places that offer free internet access and other literary resources. The other said that 36% of adults in DC are functionally illiterate. Vince Gray forgot to mention the latter. He told a lie of omission to the public.

A couple of years ago, Vince Gray said that he wouldn't vie for higher taxes on the wealthy because the wealthy don't want to pay higher taxes in order to fund social services for the poor and needy among us. The DC Fiscal Policy Institute conducted a survey among those who earn at least $100,000 per year. 85% of respondents said that DC Government should go ahead and raise their taxes. This flies in the face of the mayor's uninformed assumption and proves that he's willing to fabricate lies and/or unproven statements about his constituents whom he obviously doesn't know well.

Former Mayor Adrian Fenty used the “unfit for human habitation” narrative to close two shelters and begin two housing programs which he didn't guarantee would have indefinite funding streams. He also broke a lot of promises and preyed on the public's ignorance of the homeless issue. Nonetheless, his director of DHS, Clarence Carter, was given more latitude to think for himself than the present director, David Berns, is given by Vince Gray. In hind sight, I believe Fenty was the better mayor.

One of the biggest fights that the advocates had with Fenty prior to the economic downturn which was felt most severely in the fall of 2008 was the fight to get him to offer sufficient wrap-around services to the vulnerable homeless who were housed during the closing of the Franklin School Shelter. I'll take that over what the Gray administration is presently doing to families.

When the aforementioned issues are juxtaposed, a pattern emerges. We've gone from having a mayor who preys on the public's ignorance of an issue by using a semi-accurate narrative and provides housing with insufficient services and funding to having a mayor who preys on the public's ignorance of an issue by presenting an altogether dishonest narrative, tries to diminish the public's sympathy for the needy, makes an errant claim that the wealthy lack enough sympathy to assist the need through higher taxes, scares the needy out of applying for services, vilifies the needy, makes the services that he offers very uncomfortable and unattractive and then houses whoever endures all of his draconian antics.

That said, the last two administrations have refused to make a good-faith effort to house homeless singles who are ready, willing and able to work. All of this leaves me to wonder what the next mayor will do. I can't help but notice that Gray is much more dictatorial and capable of getting all of his administration singing the same song – the song of the lazy, shiftless homeless person. This is all the more cause for concern.

Now that I've begun to build the case for my assertion that the government whom the advocates approach for redress of grievances is doing all that it can to avoid making DC affordable or attractive to the poor, I'll address some of the shortcomings of the advocacy community as seen from my bird's-eye view. The preceding paragraphs comprise a mere sample of the type of analysis that is necessary if we are going to effectively make demands on the government and have those demands met. Unfortunately, most of the homeless or formerly-homeless advocates that I've met don't want to engage in this level of critical thinking, leaving me to publish such analyses on my own. This lends itself to me being seen as a dictator of sorts; because, I'm the only one trying to bring greater analysis to what the advocates do – or so it seems.

I've accused DC Government and its ICH (Inter-agency Council on Homelessness) of failing to devise an over-arching and comprehensive plan for ending all homelessness in the District. They tend to work in separate silos and, when it comes to ending homelessness for able-bodied, single adults who just need a little help, they avoid that like the plague. But many of the advocates also fail to formulate an over-arching approach for addressing government – one that takes into consideration what the motives of government officials and elected officials are and proceeds to come up with a comprehensive plan for putting their backs against the wall. As Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand; It never has and it never will”. I would add that such demands must be logical, viable and set forth with a concerted effort.

Some fellow advocates want an explanation for certain recent behaviors of mine. I'm glad to offer that explanation. Unfortunately, there are those who have proceeded to make assumptions about my thought process without asking me my thoughts first. What's worse is that a few of them have TOLD me what they assume I'm thinking while giving me little or no opportunity to explain myself. Neither makes any sense.


I'll offer this explanation:

I, Eric Jonathan Sheptock, began advocating for the homeless in June 2006. I became the chairman of the group that eventually named itself “SHARC” in April 2011. As chairman, I filed a FOIA request with the federal government in January 2013 in order to gather information on the property rights pertaining to the Federal City Shelter. Other SHARC members came on-board and put a lot of hours into bringing the future of the 1,350-person facility to the forefront.

Even so, many advocates are more concerned with organizing actions that amount to shouting down city officials than they are with construing and presenting strong logic that backs government officials against the wall and calls their bluff. My personal contributions to the campaign around the Federal City Shelter have focused on presenting strong logic and getting other homeless people to come to the table to present their reasoning as well.

I've become keenly aware of the fact that I got off on the wrong foot in 2006 by joining forces with the “shouting advocates” rather than the “reasoning advocates” It was an easy mistake and I'm sure that I'm not the only one to make it. I've learned a lot over the past eight years and am now trying whole-heartedly to incorporate that knowledge into what I do as an advocate.

In recent months I've attempted to get other advocates to make the switch from emotional advocacy to logical advocacy. In some instances I've unabashedly disparaged the emotional “shouting advocates”. In any instance, I'm doing my best to distance myself from any irrational approach to advocacy and connect myself to a more logical, analytical lot of advocates. I'm sure that when I am the lone voice crying for a more logical approach it comes off as being a bit dictatorial. I'll wear that. But I refuse to just plan action after action without any analysis of the capitalist system and am reluctant to involve myself in actions that are organized by groups that fail to articulate a social theory, preferably an anti-capitalist one.

I am struggling to strike a balance between the idea of not involving myself in actions that aren't part of an organized, long-term campaign which is the result of proper analysis and the idea of continuing to communicate with my long-time fellow advocates who don't seem to want to make the switch. There is a tension between wanting to use logic (as opposed to emotion) on the one hand and wanting to continue associating with certain fellow advocates on the other hand. I've decided that, for the moment, I'll maintain my connections and avoid dismissing anyone. Nonetheless, there will come a time when I'll dismiss anyone who can't or won't make the switch.

That said, there is very little room to find any middle ground, as the government's ability to reason (how ever evil its direction might be) gives government the upper hand on the emotional camp. Circumstances beyond our control dictate that we must rise to the challenges of homeless and housing advocacy in ways that many may dislike. If we fail in this capacity, we'll find ourselves running into that proverbial brick wall for decades to come. I refuse to be a part of any such colossal failure.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Housing One-Fifth of DC's 7,000 Homeless in One Fell Swoop?!



On October 31st, 2013 the CCNV Task Force which is headed by DC Councilman Jim Graham will meet on the 3rd floor (3-North) of CCNV which is located at 425 2nd Street NW, Washington, DC. It is located right on the edge of Capitol Hill and is metro accessible, being 2 blocks from the Judiciary Square Metro Station and 3 blocks from Union Station (both on the Red Line). The D6 bus stops right in front of the shelter (as long as the driver doesn't refuse to do so). The meeting is open to the public.

Here's a brief account of what got us to this point.....

The Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) homeless shelter was established in the 1980's by Vietnam-era veterans who'd renounced violence, thus the name. Through the direct action of Mitch Snyder and dozens of homeless people (many young and old veterans being homeless even in this day and age), a vacant federal building was wrested from the Reagan administration and given to DC Government with strings attached. The building would have to serve homeless people for at least 30 years beginning on July 7th, 1986. If the city complied with this and others terms until at least July 7th, 2016 they would gain full ownership of the building and could do as the please with it.

SHARC (Shelter, Housing And Respectful Change), the group of homeless advocates of which I'm the chairman, has brought the impending end of the federal covenant to the forefront and asked city officials what their plans are for the property and its 1,350 residents come 2016. We did the research, sent it to DC Councilman Jim Graham who oversees the Dept. of Human Services, attended a hearing that was convened by Mr. Graham, did outreach to get others to the hearing and are now involved in the task force process.

During the June 27th CCNV hearing, about a dozen homeless people and a few homeless service providers testified about services offered within the building, needed improvements to services, additional services that should be offered, maintenance problems and the behavior of staff. The Dept. of Human Services (DHS) and the Dept. of General Services (DGS) which maintains DC Government buildings were also there. But the one major decision to come out of the hearing was the decision to create the CCNV Task Force.

The task force has at least 16 members not counting the chairman, Councilman jim Graham. Half have voting power and the other half are ex-officio members who lack voting power. I'm an ex-officio member. As it turns out, most of those who have voting power (5) have neither been homeless nor worked closely with the homeless. On the other hand, most of the ex-officio members (6) HAVE either been homeless or worked closely with the homeless. The homeless and their advocates find this to be a disappointing way of appointing people to positions. We continue to raise our voices concerning this matter. But it also begs the question: "What was the rationale for determining who would or wouldn't have voting power on the CCNV Task Force?????"

The task force held its first meeting on October 8th during which we primarily discussed the task force process and why we were all there. The second meeting will take place on October 31st. (See first paragraph.) This meeting will address legal issues. We'll need to look at the Mckinney-Vento Act, a federal law pertaining to the delivery of homeless services. That law was created by Mitch Snyder and company. Some of the lawyers who fought for the homeless in the 1980's and were instrumental in creating that law are still practicing and are involved with the task force and with SHARC. We also need to look at paperwork pertaining to the transfer of property from the federal government to DC Government. There is the original paperwork from 1986 and there are 2 quitclaim deeds from 1991 and 1993. This should be fun. (I say that sarcastically.)

It is important to note that all else which the task force does will flow from what is determined tomorrow, though chances are that we won't fully address all legal issues in this one meeting. But whenever we adequately address legal issues, we'll then be able to formulate a legally realistic vision for the property and its residents.

The task force as a body is several steps behind SHARC and others in its thought process. I guess that's to be expected. So, the task force has not stated its desire or even a possible vision for the property or the people in it. SHARC, on the other hand, has learned that it's feasible that we could build 2 buildings which have a total of 800,000 square feet on the property.

We've even taken it a bit further by doing the math. If we estimate that 10% of the square footage will go toward halls, stairwells, utility rooms and the like, that leaves 720,000 sq. ft. of usable space. We want 80% of that space to be used for affordable housing for the homeless (residents of CCNV and the Federal City Shelter) and 20% to be used for homeless services and retail. (All new DC buildings must be multi-purpose by law.) That means that 576,000 would go toward housing the homeless and 144,000 sq. ft. would go toward other homeless services and retail. With 576,000 sq. ft. for housing, we could create 640 units at 900 sq. ft. each; create 960 units at 66 sq. ft. each or create 1,440 units at 400 sq. ft. each (which is very small). In the end, the zoning commission decides how many units can be put into a new development. I'm banking on the 640-unit figure or something close to it; but, I'd be ecstatic if they allowed 960 units to be built there.

In any instance, any plan to close the CCNV/FCS Shelter would have to include housing at least 1,350 people. We'll house as many as possible in the new development and would need to find places throughout the city to house the difference.

In closing I'll say that this is the next chapter of the Mitch Snyder-CCNV saga. In the 1980's the story of how this shelter was created made national headlines. Stars such as Martin Sheen, Whoopi Goldberg and Cher got involved. PBS broadcasts aired "Promises to Keep",an hour-long documentary around the world. The lingering effects of what Mitch and others did over 25 years ago include the McKinney-Vento Homeless Services Act which was renamed the H.E.A.R.T.H. (Homeless Emergency Assistance, Rapid Transition to Housing) Act and signed by Barack Obama on May 20th, 2009. But tucked neatly away with the Act is a thing called Title V. Title V gives local homeless services first dibs at any federal property that becomes surplus. Homeless service providers are first in the pecking order -- before the state government or local government and before the right of first refusal kicks in or the property goes on the open market. Unfortunately, Title V is grossly underused with only 85 of the 70,000 vacant federal properties having been acquired through this mechanism since the law was created in 1987. The CCNV/Federal City Shelter was the first property transferred under Title V. What happens with CCNV therefore sets a precedent for all other Title V properties. Mitch and company gave us a lot. His is a big pair of shoes to fill. Nevertheless, we must keep pressing on -- not just for things that will help the homeless in the immediate such as food, clothing and shelter; but also for an end to homelessness through the creation of living-wage jobs and affordable housing.

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