Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Communication Breakdown & the Solution: Kristy Greenwalt's ItCH vs Homeless Advocates

While thinking to myself recently about what I would discuss with DC ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt if she were to accept my invitation to treat her to lunch in October and to mend fences, I began to consider the following question:

"What qualities does having an ICH director add to the process that weren't present during the nearly eight years that this body existed without a director???"

The DC ItCH (inter-agency Council on Homeless) held its first meeting in June 2006 (the month I began advocating). It was held in the One Judiciary Square Building (441 4th St NW DC). As per DC Law, it was chaired by the city administrator who at that time was Robert Bobb. Since then we've been through city administrators Dan Tangherlini (who went on to direct GSA), Neil Albert (who now directs Downtown BID) and Allen Lew (who oversaw the construction of the Convention Center and Nationals' Park both of which displaced low-income people). Rashad Young is now DC's city administrator under Mayor Muriel Bowser.

I didn't get much of an opportunity to get to know Mr. Bobb before Mayor Tony Williams left office in January 2007 and Mayor Adrian Fenty brought on his successor. Neil Albert is, in my opinion the best of the four whom I've had sufficient opportunity to get to know. Mr. Albert had a penchant for getting immediate answers. If anyone -- even a homeless person -- mentioned a problem with a program that was run by DC Government or any of its contractors, CA Albert would call the program director on the carpet immediately. He was also swift to enact practical solutions to problems that other administrators take forever to address. He didn't suffer from "analysis paralysis" by any stretch of the imagination and he connected well with anyone and everyone, from what I can tell. (Those whom he called on the carpet might not have been all that fond of him.)

That said, it is not the job of the city administrator to focus his (or her) energy totally and completely on addressing poverty and homelessness. In past administrations the member agencies of the ICH have found ways to work together as the number of homeless people swung through modest decreases and astronomical increases for eight years -- going from 6,157 in January 2006 up to 8,350 in 2016. The ICH has served to slow the increase in homeless people but failed to actually decrease it. That brings us back to the question:

"What qualities does having an ICH director add to the process that weren't present during the nearly eight years that this body existed without a director???"

In trying to answer that question, we can consider the three aforementioned categories:

  • Ability to decrease DC's homeless population
  • Penchant for immediate, practical solutions, as opposed to analysis paralysis
  • Ability to connect well with all types of people -- especially the homeless

Homelessness continues to rise in DC -- both before and during Kristy Greenwalt. Everybody fails in that respect. (That was almost too easy.)

I've never seen anyone in DC Government besides Neil Albert make a call to the responsible party while the group I had come with was still in their office, discuss a solution in our presence, hang up the phone and explain to our group how he'd just solved a long-standing problem in five minutes or less -- as soon as it was brought to his attention. I've never seen any other city administrator call a program director on the carpet during an ICH meeting and ask for an immediate response to the problem that was articulated by a homeless person. All others either say that they'll "get back to you" (which they don't always do) or they do their best to suppress a topic that they don't care to address (especially if it involves a government administrator or program staff having wronged a homeless person). From what I can tell, no one in the current ICH nor any agency contracted by DC Government to serve the homeless has a penchant for immediate and practical solutions. Analysis paralysis runs rampant -- as does gentrification.

One reason that the ICH doesn't implement immediate solutions to the simpler problems and has yet to yield any measurable results for the longer term problems is that they have ceased and desisted from engaging the advocates who have experienced homelessness in any meaningful communication. The ICH has become quite matriarchal in nature -- "Mother knows best".

The DC ICH held a quarterly meeting on September 13th, 2016. While it was dominated with administrative updates that didn't seem to interest local homeless advocates at all (myself included), the meeting was punctuated with messages about an apparent communication breakdown that has manifested in the smaller committee meetings as well.

Before the meeting started, a fellow advocate asked me if a labor law known as "WIOA" was part of a homeless services act known as the "H.E.A.R.T.H. Act". I explained that HEARTH was signed by Obama on May 20th, 2009, that WIOA was signed by him on July 22nd, 2014 and that the two were separate. He asked if it was high time for us to get into DC Government and the ICH and insist that they move more swiftly to implement WIOA. I explained that, after WIOA was signed into law, it was up to Congress to fund it; it was up to the U.S. Dept. of Labor to implement it nationally; it was up to the DC Council to provide any necessary local funding; then the ICH can act. I explained that, until everyone else has gotten all their ducks in a row, there's n point in hammering the ICH or DOES.

During the meeting, a homeless advocate who the government determined to be polished enough in his mannerisms (which they don't think Yours Truly is) told the group that he needed them to translate their bureaucratic, administrative talk into plain and simple English. He said, "you're sitting here talking about different programs and funding mechanisms. When I go out and speak to my homeless constituents, what can I say this means for them??? How many of them will get housing???" Kristy Greenwalt explained that for three of the five programs that were discussed, the talk was about continued funding for housing programs that were already full. She said that one of the programs discussed was changing its format and that only one of the programs was actually new. (I think it amounted to a net gain of 100 housing units for DC's almost 9,000 homeless people, assuming we've gained a few hundred since January.)

There was a second public comment period at the end of the September 13th ICH meeting -- something that has been a rarity for the past year and a half. Having spoken during the first comment period, I also stood up during the latter one and thanked Kristy for affording an answer to the advocate who was at the table. I also explained that the homeless advocates need to have opportunities to set the agenda and discuss matters that are not part of the government's over-structured agenda. With several homeless people and advocates having mentioned matters that fall squarely into the lap of DCHA Director Adrianne Todman during the first comment period, I pointed across the room to her during the second comment period (having wondered why she sat there quietly instead of offering an immediate response). She graciously responded to people's concerns once they knew who she was.

The ICH has a committee format. Kristy Greenwalt made it clear early on that she believes that more gets accomplished within the smaller committees than gets accomplished in the larger quarterly meetings of the full council. In spite of having said in early 2014 that she would make centralized decisions in the absence of any decisiveness from the group, she has allowed this body to function in a decentralized manner since she started as its director on April 28th, 2014. This decentralized format doesn't work well for the homeless. It probably does more than any other policy or practice to create a breakdown in communication.

In some respects the thinking of the homeless is more organized than that of government. My admonition that Kristy and her ItCH begin the thought process with the grim and sobering reality that DC could reach 10,000 homeless people during what might be Muriel Bowser's only term as mayor if she doesn't play her cards right is about more than just choosing to focus on the negative. It's also about being a realist and having an organized way of thinking that gives all people working to end homelessness a point of reference that they can use to determine if our shared goal is being met.

Simply put, if DC had 8,350 homeless people in January 2016 (which it did) and another 3,650 people are projectedto fall into homelessness during the remaining four years of the plan, then the city must house an average of 3,000 people per year in order to meet its goal -- doing the "balloon payments" that they've talked about doing if they should house less than that in the first years of the plan. Each full council meeting and every committee meeting should begin with an explanation of how much closer the matters being discussed in that meeting will bring us toward satisfying the annual goal. The person leading each meeting should speak as though they were referencing an organizational chart that shows how that day's efforts fit into the big picture. (It wouldn't hurt to actually have an organizational chart that everyone can see.)

Like the advocate at the table who asked that the administrative-ish be translated into everyday English, other advocates are attempting to take the disparate conversations that the ICH has about programs, policies and initiatives and to "pin the tail on the bureaucratic [donkey]". We're left to wonder if ICH members from the government and the non-profit community are deliberately trying to blind-fold us so as to make it pointless for us to attend meetings. I'm inclined to believe that this is their intent, seeing that there have been recent ICH committee meetings where I was the only "homeless homeless advocate" who was present. Others have gotten fed up with college-educated people talking over their heads. Kristy needs to make it a common practice to "translate" what's being said, as opposed to the one-off occasion of September 13th. (Maybe we the advocates should invite numerous Spanish-speaking homeless people to meetings, talk out of turn and say, "No ingles" when told to be quiet.)

In light of the three bullet points, it would seem that fostering better communication between the homeless and the ICH (bullet three) is an idea that can be implemented swiftly (bullet two) and might even lead to a more comprehensive plan for decreasing homelessness -- making it "rare, brief and non-recurring" (bullet one). Apart from what the ICH already did before April 28th, 2014, the added quality that its first and only director has brought is a more disparate way of thinking that is so maligned with the organized thinking of the homeless that it is pushing the advocates away -- apparently the desired outcome of certain key players. Let's not give them what they want.

In closing, it's worth noting that one administration staffer got it right. Knowing of my interest in employment for able-bodied homeless people, she has made herself available so that I can get all of the information that I need on this issue straight from the source. Furthermore, I've developed a working relationship with DC Government's Dept. of Employment Services and hope to have some good news to divulge to the homeless community beginning in six to 12 months. Patience is not one of my virtues; but, I'll "wait reluctantly" so long as there is a realistic hope of success in the short term (a year or less). After all, when DOES begins to roll out programs that it is currently designing, this department might end up leading the charge on ending homelessness. A January point-in-time count of 9,000+ homeless people would likely put the mayor on edge and cause her to invest a higher percentage of the city's homelessness-ending dollars into ABAWDS and a lower percentage into PSH and related programs. One can only hope. But, while waiting and hoping, let's work on that communication, Kristy.

Kristy, I'll say it again like I did in a text that you didn't respond to: "I'd like to treat you to lunch in October when I have more good news to convey concerning homeless employment. Then, we can mend fences, talk openly and honestly about past and present points of disagreement, foster better communication between the homeless and the ICH and discuss an all-around better way of confronting homelessness. (I've noticed how you acknowledge your insurmountable challenges like low wages and expensive housing. I see some progress and the chance to work things out.) I'll be contacting you one-on-one soon.

P.S. -- Thousands have seen this.


Homeless Men Thwart A Terror Attack; Trump Revives FDR Internment Rationale

Though the media tends not to disclose the socioeconomic status of criminals who are not homeless, they almost always discuss when the perpetrator of a crime is homeless -- even when the crime committed is not directly related to their homelessness. (Sadly, Americans who assert that poverty breeds crime are more interested in locking up the poor criminals than they are in employing petty criminals after the fact or addressing poverty in blanket form before the fact. Think solutions.) This practice by the media of mentioning someone's homeless status (especially if it's a violent crime) does much to contribute negatively to societal biases and stereotypes concerning the homeless. While the media does indeed cover stories of homeless people being attacked as they sleep outside, the general public seems only to remember the stories of homeless people committing crimes and to forget about the many cases in which homeless people are victimized by housed people (often wayward adolescents ages 15 to 23).

Then there is that occasional story of a homeless man like Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax who was stabbed while rescuing a woman who was being robbed -- only to then be left to die while dozens of passers-by ignored him as he bled to death or lie there dead. If you spend enough time using social media, you might run across stories like that of a homeless man who stopped to assist a freezing adolescent whom thousands of people had walked past and expressed no concern for -- only to eventually find out that the boy was being watched from a distance by family members who were doing a social experiment to see who would care.

Now it's "homeless man (err 'men') to the rescue once again". We have homeless men helping to thwart terror attacks. Two homeless men hanging out near a train station in Elizabeth, NJ (the city where I got adopted by the Sheptocks in 1975 at six years old) found what turned out to be pipe bombs in a trash can -- a fact that has only received brief mention in articles that are bound to increase xenophobia and distrust of Muslims (or "Moslems" where I come from). The image of two homeless men digging through a trash can in a train station, finding bombs, saving lives and being given short shrift by the media creates in my mind a strange confluence of circumstances. When you consider the circumstances that led to Ahmad Khan Rahami being "radicalized", that only adds to this strange confluence -- a topic that must be teased out and talked about.

The next time you see a homeless person digging through a trash can, you might not be so quick to mock them or talk trash about them (no pun intended). You might instead question whether or not they're saving lives or even speculate as to why Homeland Security doesn't employ them as "bomb gestapos". When this person exits the trash can, you might even offer to buy them a meal in lieu of their apparent usefulness -- a gesture you should have considered even before the "Rahami Rampage". I expect that travelers won't find the homeless people in airports, train stations or bus terminals to be so repulsive anymore. I also suppose that Middle Easterners who like to keep up with Donald Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric will read articles about the NYC bombing, notice the line about these two homeless men and exclaim, "They have homeless people in America???!!!".

Given the facts that we've learned thus far about the bomber, it would seem that he was angry about how the U.S. military has decimated his country of origin -- only to find Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan after starting wars in two other countries and destabilizing the entire region with money that would have been better spent assisting poor Americans whose plight just gives "terrorists" more fodder for their war on the American government. We know that Ahmad Khan Rahami made multiple months-long trips to his native Afghanistan and to Pakistan since 2014. We don't have any clear indication that he was in direct contact with any known terror group. It stands to reason that he was angered by the decimation he saw -- especially when it's coupled with the fact that many Afghans have absolutely no idea as to why the U.S. started raining ballistics down on them in late 2001. My guess is that Mr. Rahami was "radicalized" by the harm that the U.S. government has done to his homeland and came back to the U.S. to carry out some "homeland security". Now, before any of you xenophobes say that he should have just gone back to his homeland if he missed it so much, bear in mind that he doesn't have much of anything to go back to -- thanks to the U.S. military and its "bad intelligence" (otherwise known as "governmental stupidity"). In a sense, Mr. Rahami's situation is similar to that of the men who found the pipe bombs. One has no homeland and two have no homes; but, none of the three has a place to go back to.

As for the fact that many Afghans don't know why they were attacked beginning in 2001, I expect every Black American to relate to this matter. Why??? Philando Castile. Walter Scott. Eric Garner. Eric Harris. Alton Stering. Terrence Crutcher. A Black man can't even assist his autistic patient without being shot by a trigger-happy cop. These are cases where the Black person who was shot didn't see it coming; because, they'd done nothing to bring it on. (I purposefully avoided mentioning those who I'm not sure where innocent of a violent crime.) I'm left to wonder why more Black Americans haven't been "radicalized" against the American system, in light of the aforementioned as well as additional circumstances -- especially with the 50th anniversary of the Black Panthers taking place in October 2016. In any instance, the "Hands up; don't shoot" slogan has been turned on its head and rendered useless by the mounting number of instances in which a Black man HAD his hands up and got shot by cops anyway. Logic says that my chances of surviving ANY encounter with police -- even a traffic stop -- are greatly increased if I have MY gun at the ready. I'm waiting for this logic to catch on and spread like wildfire.

Then again, there is the troubled (and troubling) thinking of people like Donald Trump whose primary similarity to other Republicans is that he knows (to a small degree) what he's against but has absolutely no idea as to what he is for. He fits more snugly in "the party of 'No'" than he does in "the party of 'Let's go!!!'". It's a terrible indictment on the U.S. that Trump has gotten as far as he has in the polls and has gone on to become the GOP candidate. He's ridden the Ferris wheel of fear all the way to the top and gotten stuck (for a short time, hopefully). He's given fearful Americans the hope that he'll act impulsively on bad intelligence (governmental stupidity) so as to make xenophobia standard fare in America, to justify racial and religious profiling and promote more war for oil.

During his third term in 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt used antics that Donald Trump and other fearful Americans can appreciate. FDR had Japanese Americans rounded up and put in internment camps after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. Some 75 years later the best and longest-serving president this country has ever had is still ostracized for this particular decision, even though Americans in 1944 loved him enough to give him a fourth term during which he died. (Term limits began in 1951.) In addition to his final election, he also has in his defense that he was the Democrat who brought America out of the Great Depression that Republican President Herbert Hoover "sucked" us into.

The silver lining here is that Mr. "not-to-be-president" Trump is reaching across the political aisle so as to borrow from the Democratic playbook. The dark cloud is that he is only attempting to imitate the most contentious and disagreeable decisions made by his predecessors (whom he supposedly doesn't even read about). Who read to him about FDR's internment camps??? Donald, Jr???

By now, you the readers are probably taken aback by the way that I connect issues. You might go so far as to call it "a strange confluence of thoughts". This post has covered: homeless men finding pipe bombs and averting a disaster, a bomber whose homeland has been destroyed by our military, unarmed Black men whose lives have been destroyed by trigger-happy police for at least 50 years and counting, xenophobia in America for 75 years and counting and a man whom many people the world over hope doesn't become America's nut-case-in-chief. The flow should indicate that these issues are all connected. The bombs we dropped in countries that have done us no harm have now jumped back across the pond and landed in American trash cans where they are being found by the people whom the money we spent killing innocent civilians and their defenders actually SHOULD have been spent on. It's time to get off of the Ferris wheel of flaws and failures and to board the Ferris wheel of fixes and forgiveness. Finished.

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Monday, September 12, 2016

Government Accountability and Action: Get There in a GOOD Way

If we're going to get there anyway, we may as well get there in a GOOD way.

All of us can relate to this scenario: Someone asks that another do something for them; gets turned down; gets upset and gets what they originally asked for.

It's enough to make you wonder: Why didn't the latter person grant the request BEFORE the temper tantrum???

Sadly, this scenario plays itself out time and time again in the relationship between government and the public they are supposed to be serving. Advocates for various causes have, in times past, developed detailed agendas that included stepping up the pressure on government if and when government failed to make good on the requests of the people the first time that a request was made -- to transition from making a request at a calm meeting with a few advocates and politicians present into staging large rallies or protests at which the advocates make demands to the politicians and might create bad press for said politicians. Even so, government seems to always try to ignore the requests of their constituents who don't contribute financially to political campaigns. That is, until the people become rancorous enough.

Truth be told, government might be all the smarter for making this choice, being as the crowds often give up and go away if they get ignored long enough by government. After September 2007, the Iraq War protesters went away. By the beginning of 2012, the Occupy Wall Street Movement had disbanded, though some of its participants involved themselves in advocacy and activism in other ways. Shortly after DC's Franklin School Shelter was closed, the hundreds of concerned citizens who fought to keep it open rode off into the sunset, never to be seen or heard from again.

Beginning in 2010, non-profits began to invite homeless parents to the annual performance oversight hearings that the City Council holds for the various departments of DC Government; and, these parents would talk about the deplorable conditions at the shelter. The groups of homeless parents would then go away from June of one year until March of the following year when they'd complain again. It wasn't until an eight-year old girl was abducted from the family shelter in early 2014 (and is now presumed dead) that the public stepped up pressure of DC Government to improve conditions for the one-fifth of homeless families that reside at the DC General Shelter, the city's development and gentrification plans notwithstanding. It stands to reason that, if enough children die from poverty-related circumstances, then the city government will effectively address the issues that we've known about for many decades.

The silver lining is that one-fifth or less of an ever-increasing number of homeless families in the city will move into better shelters by early 2019. The dark cloud is that these 270 families might be one-seventh of the total number of homeless families by then and -- you guessed it -- they'll still be homeless. So, speaking truth to power will have improved the situations of 270 families, though not in the way that one might hope. Had the deplorable conditions at the family shelter been adequately addressed beginning in 2010, we might already have seven smaller shelters; Relisha Rudd might still be alive; Vince Gray might still be mayor (not that I liked him); and, the DC General campus might have already been built over as a subdivision or an Olympic Village. In light of the shelter replacement plan, we can rightly say, "[Since] we're going to get there anyway, we [should have gotten] there in a GOOD way".

Now to go from considering a family shelter to considering a singles shelter. In mid-October I was called by the director of the DC Inter-agency Council on Homelessness. She was concerned about a blog post of mine in which I'd juxtaposed various facts that seemed to be pointing to an impending closure of the CCNV Shelter. I listed more than a half dozen reasons for believing that the Bowser administration was going to wait until less than six months before the closure to alert its homeless residents -- as was the case with Franklin School Shelter during the Fenty administration. Kristy said to me, "Eric, if you're going to be on the ICH, you have to be careful what you say about the mayor". I complied with her request by changing a couple of phrases to reflect the fact that I was merely speculating. (I had to delete the original post after pasting it into a new frame, as that's the only way to change the title. It now appears as my November 10, 2015 post.) I'm not a homeless representative on the ICH, in spite of this compliance. Long story.

As government began to tell me that my guess was wrong, I began to tell the homeless and my other associates the same. Their response was always, "If the government is saying that your prediction is NOT the truth, then what IS the truth???" I prodded government for answers for several more months. Then, on February 3rd, 2016 I attended a meeting of one of the ICH committees. A certain woman explained how she and the non-profit for which she works get inundated with questions from the public every time that the DC budget is released. I used her story to then explain how the homeless are inundating ME with questions about the future of the CCNV Shelter. Kristy promised to hold a meeting at the shelter. I prodded her every couple of weeks -- like I did with then-Councilman Jim Graham from March 13th, 2013 until June 27th, 2013 when he held the CCNV hearing that he'd promised me. The meeting took place on April 27th, 2016. When she called me in October 2015, she could have promised THEN to have a meeting at the shelter. We might have had the shelter meeting four months sooner; there might have been less tension between her and myself; I might have seen that I could get answers from the administration without going rogue; and, I might be on the ICH where I can be reined in to some degree. If we're going to get there anyway, we may as well get there in a GOOD way.

On May 27th, 2015 I attended an ICH committee meeting at which Dallas Williams of DC Government's Dept. of Human Services said that the John L. Young and Open Door Women's Shelters on either end of the CCNV/Federal City Shelter building would be combined and relocate to DC's Chinatown by November 2015. The following day, women from Open Door told me that he'd visited the shelter the previous evening to "encourage" those who were 62 and older to enter into one of the city's housing programs. These women and I began to wonder why he didn't mention the impending closure to THEM hours after he'd mentioned it in a meeting.

In early July 2015 I called the woman who ran both of these shelters so as to discuss the situation of a homeless woman who'd been unfairly ejected from John Young. During the call, the director accused me of accusing her of withholding information from the women under her care. (The women had drawn the conclusion, apart from anything that I personally said, that Director Johnson knew about the relocation plan and was holding out on them.) Director Johnson referenced an e-mail that I'd sent in which I wondered about the aforementioned matter. After a brief back-and-forth in which she doubled down on her accusation, she said, "Mr. Sheptock, I'll read the e-mail again; and, if you're right, I'll call you with an apology". She got the woman back into the shelter that night. I got that apology two days later.

Director Johnson told me that she hadn't been told about the plans as of July 2015 and that she would call DHS for confirmation. She got it. The shelters relocated in April 2016. New Hope Ministries for which Ms. Johnson worked, didn't get the contract to run the new site. The homeless have countless reasons to believe that government is withholding information concerning the future of services until the last minute. Homeless people have an even more cynical view of government than the general public. If we're going to [find out about changes in service delivery] anyway, we may as well [find out] in a GOOD way.

The 2014 Point-in-Time count revealed that DC's homeless population had risen from 6,859 in 2013 to 7,748 in 2014. I attended the then-bi-monthly (now quarterly) Full ICH meeting in June 2014 -- with the numbers from the January count having been released in May. At the end of the meeting, I told the room how that I found it appalling that the group hadn't done its usual report-out about the PIT count following a 13% one-year increase in homeless people. Then I said, "You're failing at decreasing homelessness". Then-City Administrator Allen Lew replied, "We're not failing. We're working on it". I sat down. As indicated in my previous blog post, DC could have 10,000 by 2018 or 2019. All things considered, the city will need to eventually decrease its focus on the disabled homeless and focus more on those who are ready, willing and able to work. If we're going to [start addressing the need for living-wage jobs and affordable housing] anyway, we may as well [start doing that] in a GOOD way.....and BEFORE Mayor Bowser gets credit for bringing DC to the grim milestone of having 10,000 homeless people.

By now, you're probably wondering what more I have to say about SOLUTIONS to homeless such as employment and the creation of affordable housing. I'll forgo addressing affordable housing for now, in part because NOTHING is "affordable" if one lacks income. As far as employment is concerned, my colleagues and I have harped for almost 10 years about the need to connect able-bodied homeless people to living-wage jobs. In July 2014, Obama signed legislation that I hoped would FORCE DC Government to shift some of its resources toward satisfying this legislation by July 2016. I'm still hoping and working with the administration to reach this goal. Progress is being made, even if it's not as swift as one might hope.

I began to make videos whose intent was to ensure that DC Government continues to make progress on homeless employment. These videos were posted on-line and e-mailed to government. A government staffer contacted me about my much-publicized requests. She updated me concerning the process for addressing homeless employment. She "engaged" me in multiple phone calls, has e-mailed pertinent information to me and has opened up a strong line of communication by encouraging me to call her with any questions that I might have. She understands that I want answers and constant progress on a matter that I've spent 10 years pushing for. I understand HER concerns and have told her to call me with any of her needs or concerns. SHE got it right. She knows that if [the advocates are going to get answers and action on homeless employment] anyway, we may as well get [them] in a GOOD way.

"If we're going to get there anyway, we may as well get there in a GOOD way."

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Friday, September 9, 2016

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

First published on May 12th, 2014
Last updated on September 9th, 2016


Kristy Greenwalt began her job as the first-ever director of Washington, DC's Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH) on April 28th, 2014 -- just months after DC counted 7,748 homeless people (up from 6,859 in 2013). Though she is not to blame for the fact that DC calculated (without doing the canvassing/foot count) an increase to 8,350 homeless people in January 2016, I strongly suggest that she and any person working on ending homelessness should have or quickly develop the ability to wrap their heads around any and all grim realities of life -- especially if they earn six figures.....especially if the number of homeless people is INCREASING dramatically.

(also a header that should be the first paragraphs of the 5-year plan and get updated annually) 

  • Washington, DC's homeless population increased by 889 people from 6,859 in 2013 to 7,748.
  • After dropping by 450 people to 7,298 in 2015, it rose by 1,052 to 8,350 in 2016.
  • The special circumstances surrounding a presidential inauguration year (2017) can conceivably add to any increase in homeless people that might have already been underway.

Being as two consecutive annual increases of at least 825 people each would bring the nation's capital to the grim milestone of having 10,000 homeless people, it is incumbent upon the member agencies of the ICH to redouble their efforts to rein in any and all of the conditions that lead to a person becoming homeless and to both quickly and efficiently exit people from homelessness. Though the people working to decrease homelessness want [sic] -- apart from and in spite of any grim numerical milestone -- to continue to decrease homelessness until no one in shelter has been there for more than 90 days, our current approach toward 10,000 homeless people is bound to trigger much negative publicity and lead to the discouragement of all aforementioned workers.

Furthermore and most importantly, DC Mayor Muriel Elizabeth Bowser doesn't want to wear the label of "the mayor who oversaw the most dramatic increase in DC homelessness (and percentage-wise nationally)"; as, this could adversely affect her re-election bid. Should we not reach and bypass the 10,000 mark until some time between February 2018 and January 2019, there would be a decreased impact on Ms. Bowser's re-election bid; but, she would most likely face the "10,000 dilemma" in her second term -- if re-elected. The worst-case scenario is that she not be re-elected and a myriad of administrative and legislative changes slow and reverse what little bit of progress has been made.

Below is the unadulterated (except for font) original post from 2014:

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 face 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 like 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” – to use 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 consensus. 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, August 29, 2016

DC MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER: "She-a Look-a Like A Man"

DC MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER is indeed a beautiful woman. I can't take that away from her -- no matter how many OTHER men might say that she's not (always) voluptuous or bodacious enough for their taste. With regard to her physical appearance, I can't honestly say, "[S]he-a look-a like a man". However, her policies and mannerisms hearken back to those of other male mayors and bring to mind the words of the Asian woman on Mad TV -- "[S]He-a look-a like a man".

I noticed on December 29th, 2014 -- just four days before her inauguration -- that many of the cabinet members that Ms. Bowser had chosen were women -- several of whom flanked her during an Event at Miriam's Kitchen (which serves the homeless and where Michelle Obama visited in 2009). That was fine with me; as, I'm all for gender equality, so long as we don't lower the bar when a job that has hereto now been done by men is opened to women. Some would argue that I'm not true to form insomuch as I seem to go easier on women like Mayor Bowser than I went on men who held the same position previously (DC having had one other female mayor from 1991 to 1995). It should also be noted that I've famously gotten angry at women who were in pubic office, even if my critiques of them don't seem to be quite as tough as what I offer men.

"She-a look-a like a man" in terms of her approach to me. With Adrian Fenty having been just under 21 months into his only term in September 2008 when we became famously antagonistic toward each other, we are now approaching that point in Muriel Bowser's term. The facts point toward history becoming "her story". A wise person once said, "What we've learned from history is that we don't learn from history". (That person and many others should say that more often.) I'm proud to say that, in at least one respect, Ms. Bowser might just be the exception to the rule. I've thought since my conversation with her on December 29th, 2014 that she was using Mayor Vince Gray's approach "to" me by avoiding me like the plague unless and until I assert myself in an irresistible manner -- as I did that day. Fenty made a considerable number of outdoors speeches at low-security events where he got way-laid by the likes of me. He was (in)famous for speaking to advocates and activists as he walked from the podium to the car. He and I have had some tense moments under those very circumstances. Bowser makes a lot less outdoors speeches. Maybe that's why.

"She-a look-a like a man" in terms of her timeline for upsetting myself and possibly other advocates. Like Adrian Fenty whose protege she is, Bowser's homeless policies are focused largely  on the most vulnerable albeit a different subset of that subset of the homeless. Fenty focused on disabled singles in an effort to vacate the Franklin School Shelter. (Franklin School remains vacant almost eight years later as DC Gov seeks a temporary space for the 360 men at the New York Ave Shelter which is slated for renovation and located in a quickly gentrifying neighborhood.) Bowser is supposedly focused on homeless families due to their vulnerable children. However, she does not seem to be as concerned with the +/-1,000 homeless families in hotels on the city's dime as she is with the +/-270 families in the DC General Hospital-turned-shelter -- a point that was made repeatedly by various "NIMBY-ists" who came out against her original plan to replace the DC General Family Shelter beginning in February 2016. Like Franklin School, the hospital is prime real estate because of its location. It has been sought after by developers since as far back as early-2008 when there was talk of a Hill East subdivision. Unlike Franklin School, the hospital is not designated as historic both inside and out. It, therefore, doesn't have as many restrictions on what can be done with it. In any instance, it has taken Ms. Bowser as long as it took Mr. Fenty to either break campaign promises or have her efforts fall flat. Various individual advocates, advocacy groups and non-profits are either losing faith in her or becoming altogether outraged at her. If Ms. Bowser plays her cards right, she might recoup that faith. Her having learned the aforementioned lesson from her predecessors, gives me hope that she might just do that.

In all fairness, I should add that Ms. Bowser also has employment programs for young adults 18-24 years old -- even if they don't have children. But before we give her too much credit for being motherly toward those who are young enough to have been her children (herself being 44), let's remember that she is subject to federal policies that mandate that 75% of available job-training funds be spent on this age group. This also means that those of us who are 25 and older can't rightly get angry at Mayor Muriel Bowser for neglecting our employment challenges. (If I send this blog post to her administration, maybe they'll hire me to write for them. I'll do just that.) Being as I don't like to let my opinion about a public figure cause me to present faulty arguments that can easily be shot down, I'll go so far as to say that the Bowser administration has disclosed to me that they plan to transition into doing more for the 25-and-up group. Hopefully it will happen long before my transition to Glory.

"She-a look-a like a man" in terms of her oft-repeated vision of making homelessness "rare, brief and non-recurring". That is, no doubt, a noble cause. I'm fully on-board. However, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry (2009-present) said in 2011 that HIS administration would make homelessness "rare, short-lived and non-recurring". It's worth noting that this is the best way in which "she-a look-a like a man". Now if she could just inject a little more testosterone into her plan by making it considerably more aggressive and well thought out, then I wouldn't care if she grew facial hair to accompany her short hair. (I'd still love her.....from afar.)

Now let's revisit the matter of her approach to me. Being constrained by rationale as I am, I often keep silent about my suspicions unless and until I've gathered enough evidence for a strong and irrefutable argument. That said, I've withheld my suspicions about Ms. Bowser having taken note of what her two most recent predecessors felt was the best approach to Eric Jonathan Sheptock. I've quietly harbored my suspicions until now. I did the same concerning a suspicion that she might have had an administrator whom she knows I've been fond of since we met in July 2007 to join me on the Kojo Nnamdi Radio Show (WAMU 88.5 FM) in April 2015 -- quite possibly for the purpose of pitting this friend and her narrative against me and my narrative. I admit that this remains a largely unfounded and weak suspicion hereto now.

I've wondered whether another administrator (also a woman) was antagonizing me of her own accord or at the behest of the mayor. That vendetta has since been reduced to an uneasy truce, but still leaves me to wonder if she has failed in her "task" of getting Eric Sheptock out of the way. This latter admin discussed a personal situation of mine with someone who is not in government. That person told me and I left some angry messages for this WOMAN. Since then, I've noticed a heightened level of respect for me when I attend meetings. I wasn't invited to partake in the discussions that others in government had with the offender, though I sense that such conversations DID take place. I suppose that the offender was told not to do anything else that fits the bill of what I'd been accusing her of doing, lest it strengthen my argument. Wise move.

I wonder if they also said things to make the offender feel as though I was dealing with other personal issues and feelings and that she was not worthy of the degree of anger that I expressed toward her -- electronically only. If so, then they were wrong for that. (So much for DC Gov having said in the past, "Nothing about us [the homeless] without us".) The behavior of various administrators since mid-June 2016 gives me the sense that they think that I feel unappreciated after 10 years of advocating for the homeless. I assure you that I'm not in it to be appreciated. I'm in it to get results. That's it. That's all.

Howbeit, I'm using this new-found respect to push more aggressively for real solutions to homelessness. I noticed that, for the past couple of months, various government officials and non-profit personnel are listening more intently to what I say at meetings, as opposed to just "waiting for the noise to stop" and then possibly giving my comments short shrift. This, of course, means that what I say has to be well thought out, lest them listening more intently makes them more keen to my errors or shortcomings. It is indeed a two-way street. Truth be told, you don't owe someone a favor in return when they finally begin to do what they should have been doing all along. This isn't as much of a return favor from me as it is a matter of me not giving them a legitimate complaint about me or a legitimate reason to dismiss me. Even as I have done for years now, I continue to put myself forth as someone who can and will assist DC Gov with any noble effort they undertake that aims to decrease homelessness. That is a standing offer, DC Gov. I'd like to get paid for it though.

"She-a look-a like a man" in at least one more way -- the likelihood that she'll be a one-term mayor. I came to Washington, DC in the summer of 2005 -- less than two years before Mayor Anthony Williams finished his second term. His threat in June 2006 to close the Franklin School Shelter was the reason I began advocating.  He ran for a third term and lost. Adrian Fenty who unseated him as well as Vince Gray each had policies that the homeless advocates and homeless people found to be unfavorable. Bearing in mind that we can prove coincidence but we can't prove causation, all of this leaves one to wonder if dismaying the poor and the homeless of the city is an assurance that a DC mayor won't get re-elected. People used to tell me that they thought I was the reason that Fenty didn't get re-elected. I've always thought that assertion was just a little over the top. Who knows??? There might be at least some truth to that, given my many contacts, major on-line presence and my use of (anti-) social media. My guess is that Bowser herself has thought through the contents of this paragraph -- if not the contents of this blog post in its entirety -- without having read it, of course. If either is true, then it stands to reason that these and related matters are weighing heavily on her mind. If she doesn't want to "look like a man", then she should do what no DC mayor in recent history has done -- keep her friends close and her enemies closer -- an idea that even a nasty MSNBC reporter was able to apply. If she perceives me to be an enemy, she ought not avoid me like she tried to do on 12/29/14; but rather, she should hire me to work with her administration to bring an end to homelessness in the city. That's it. That's all. THE END.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

American Politics Are The Greatest of Evils

What was a field of 22 presidential candidates (five Democrats and 17 Republicans) has now been narrowed down to just two finalists with one of them in the midst of his party's convention today on July 19th, 2016. (I'm sure he was pleased to see the welcome committee.) However, I'm firmly convinced that the world is going to Hell in a hand basket when I consider how a psychopath like Donald Trump has knocked off 16 other GOP contenders and out-maneuvered scores of other people in his party who sought to stop his advance. He is now set to become his party's official nominee.

Let's face it: Donald Trump is a man who is just chock full of contradictions and conflicts. Two of his three wives including his current wife were born in Communist nations and his own grandparents immigrated to this country from Germany; but, Donald has spoken against Muslim and Mexican immigrants. He lies constantly; but, wants to sue media outlets that tell the ugly truths about him. He knows nothing about making policies; but, is applying for a job that involves much policy-making. He has praised various dictators; but, he wants to become the president of a democracy. He has said that he would instruct the military to use torture methods worse than waterboarding, in spite of the Geneva Convention. He wants to do "the head-chopping thing" that Hercules was told to quit after it didn't work against the Hydra; because, that's what ISIS does. He wants to kill the families of terrorists, though the military brass has said they would disobey such orders. What's more i that they might even stage a successful coup. Evidently, he likes to exact cruel and unusual punishments upon people -- even those who had nothing to do with the wrongs committed by their kin. Maybe his logic is that, if enough people do something often enough, then it's no longer unusual -- though it might still be cruel.

One of the less dramatic contradictions within the Trump camp is the fact that the wife of the official 2016 GOP nominee borrowed heavily from a speech made by First Lady Michelle Obama in 2008. Evidently, Melania Trump couldn't find a well-written speech that was done by a Republican first lady; so, she didn't mind reaching across the political aisle like so many politicians said they would do. Maybe Melania should be his chief adviser instead of his adult sons and daughters. She's a neat mixture of European Communism and of American, bipartisan plagiarism. She might even brief her husband on recent events in Turkey while assuring the idiot-in-chief that the attempted coup will not have a negative bearing on this Thanksgiving's feast. (Then again, the bird flu DID hit Turkey first. God's got a sense of humor.)

During her conversation with him, she should point out that Recep Tayyip Erdogan was democratically elected as president of Turkey and that he seems to promote the use of harsh tactics by government only when there is enough public support -- as was the case following the coup attempt. Similar things can be said about Vladimir Putin -- if to a lesser degree. That said, maybe she can convince him to be a bit more tactful by waiting until he's in office -- God forbid -- before unleashing his full fury. At least that would have been a smart move for a presidential candidate if he hadn't already let the cat out of the bag. All of this brings us to yet another seeming contradiction in that Donald Trump knows a lot about and even lauds various dictators; but, doesn't have time to read up on past U.S. presidents. But I must give credit where the credit is due. I have to give it to Donald for realizing that Bush 43 taking us into Iraq was indeed a mistake and that Saddam Hussein was keeping the lid on the pressure cooker -- a lid that has since been blown off and has yet to be replaced. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

In spite of his occasional foray into the realm of the sensible, any reasonable person would have to conclude that Donald Trump should not have gotten as far as he has. This says something terrible about Americans -- voting Americans for checking Trump's name at the ballot box and non-voting people for not voting. Then again, maybe America is willing to give up its freedoms in the name of security -- to reconstitute itself.

Now for the other finalist. In the eyes of many Americans, Hillary Clinton is not a much better choice insomuch as she was sending sensitive information from a personal e-mail account using a private server -- with just over 100 messages having contained classified information. That information might have gotten into the hands of America's enemies -- a group that's growing by the day. Secretary Clinton's failings might have contributed to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya in 2012. Her recklessness pales in comparison to the fact that the Bush administration illegally deleted 5,000,000 e-mails and saw 13 American embassy attacks resulting in 60 deaths. While I, like Bernie Sanders, wish people would "shut up about the e-mails already", I can't give Ms. Clinton a pass on having voted to go to war in Iraq. Even a person who didn't foresee us igniting a powder keg should have known that it doesn't make sense to go to war with a country because you don't like the fact that they have nuclear weapons. War is when those weapons get used (the most anyway). In hindsight we can see that the Iraq War destroyed more lives than it improved and that, as Trump would tell you, it led to the creation of ISIS which gave us another reason for war.

Where does all of this leave us??? Well, if we assume that most people -- even most U.S. presidential candidates -- are good people and we complain that the two worst candidates are left out of 22, that means that one evil person eliminated four and another eliminated 16. I guess that makes evil a more powerful force than good. Maybe it just means that our political system is designed in such a way that evil prevails within it. Either way, this country's got much bigger problems than the fact that Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will end up becoming president. We've got a broken system. Even so, if I had to choose from just these two, I'd take Hillary over Trump any day. But, after her inauguration, I'd continue to push for systemic change. In the grand scheme of things, a Republican first lady plagiarizing the words of a Democratic first lady might be the best thing that has happened this campaign season.

(Note: I just learned that an unknown named Lawrence Lessig also ran as a Democratic, making for six Democratic candidates.)

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Speech To Be made in Philadelphia During the Democratic National Convention

(At events organized by activists and advocates)

I, Eric Sheptock, will be in Philadelphia, PA during the week of the Democratic national Convention. I've been asked to speak about homelessness. Though I tend to speak off the cuff, here are some thoughts that I'll convey at organized events and elsewhere while in our nation's first capital:

The Black Panther Party which celebrates its 50th anniversary this October was begun in response to police brutality in Oakland, CA in 1966. They created armed resistance to a corrupt police force; but, like Hamas, Hezbollah and Fatah, they transitioned into affording social services to the poor – namely school breakfast to Black children. They also began to teach people about the negative effects of capitalism and racial inequality. In short, they were stopped dead in their tracks by J. Edgar Hoover whose most effective tactic was having the feds to offer school meals without the ideology. The effects of discouraging the poor from doing any critical thinking still linger a half century later. That's why some of us make it a point to participate in social theory study groups and/or to encourage those who are angered by the current state of America and its treatment of the non-wealthy to do so themselves (or at least to think critically – not just emotionally – about various atrocities being perpetrated upon the poor in 2016).

Politicians who control the big guns, candidates who want to control the big guns and those who choose to ignore the fact that unarmed people who were marching across a bridge or complying with police orders were still hurt and killed by police are now telling us to remain calm and peaceful. Let's add in the fact that slavery was ended with a war. Then those who could no longer enslave Blacks resorted to Jim Crow Law. Immediately after that, Nixon began mass incarceration in 1972 only to resign a few years later in an effort not to end up in prison alongside the Blacks who were there thanks to his policies. While I'm not suggesting that Blacks today resort to violence, I AM juxtaposing what I believe are some of the most pertinent facts when discussing the plight of the nation's poor (most of whom are actually White).

1 – One of the worst and most overt forms of systemic oppression that has been perpetrated by the wealthy and influential in this country was only ended with violence – the Civil War (an oxymoron like “jumbo shrimp”, I might add).

2 – Remaining non-violent in the face of police brutality, though it might have prevented further casualties, has neither guaranteed that an encounter with police would not lead to death nor guaranteed that the issues being raised by the poor would be fully and adequately addressed.

3 – What powerful people fear the most is a well-educated base of poor and oppressed people who have a viable social theory, suitable critical thinking skills and an ability to put forth their demands with a concerted effort.

Now, as a preacher might say, “Let us prey.....on that fear”.

Here we are today confronting the same issues that the BPP was confronting in 1966 -- more than two years before my birth, two years after the death of Medgar Evers and a year and a half before the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther king, Jr. We're gathered in the shadow of the Democratic National Convention which was held in Charleston, SC in 2012 where homeless people were pushed out of extended-stay hotels in order to accommodate the convention crowd and so that hoteliers could gouge prices. However, it stands to reason that most or all of those gathered here today – including Yours Truly – are from a third party, of which there are many. Go figure. We're not here because we figure that the Democrats will do any more for the poor than the Republicans will do. After all, both major parties are part of the capitalist system. Being the movement people that we are, we all know these two things quite intuitively:

1 – Our purpose and goal is to effect positive social change irrespective of party affiliation – ours or that of the next occupant of the White House.

2 – We own whoever wins on November 8th.

You might come to this space as a homeless advocate. You might advocate for access to nutritious food. You might be fighting to preserve public housing. You might work to end one or more of our wars so that, As MLK, Jr. suggested, the money our government spends decimating other countries can be put to better use caring for the needy here at home. No matter what brings you here, we are all united in common cause against the atrocities of capitalism and to promote the creation of a system that ensures that all able-bodied people can afford the necessities of life with the pay they earn while the elderly and disabled are cared for.

I'm a homeless advocate who lives in Washington, DC where there were at least 8,350 homeless people as of January 2016. That's up 1,052 or 14.4% from 7,298 homeless people in January 2015. I might add that there was also a significant jump from 2013 when we counted 6,859 homeless people to 2014 when there were at least 7,748 homeless people in the capital of the most powerful nation on Earth.

I was bothered in June 2014 when, at the quarterly meeting of DC's Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH), there was no discussion by committee members of the substantial one-year increase in homeless people – the numbers having been published in May. I became suspicious that local officials were trying to sweep their failures under the rug. The non-profit that normally does the report-out told me that they weren't asked to do their usual presentation. Go figure. To be fair, the ICH was going through a transition at the time. With all that's happened since June 2014, that matter is water under the bridge and we have bigger fish to fry – if we can ever catch them and kill them.

In 2016 a reason was given for the increase. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser who took office in 2015 changed the draconian policies of her predecessor by granting families greater access to shelter. This, in turn, led to homeless families who needed shelter before 2015 coming out of the woodwork. While I don't doubt that possibility, whether the newly homeless are entering shelter immediately after being evicted from their most recent rental or by way of Mom's couch is of less consequence than the fact that they now need shelter in the short term and affordable housing in the long term. That said, it hurts the poor any time that any government focuses on blaming the previous administration, saving face and making excuses rather than charting a path forward and figuring out how to solve a social ill. To put it another way, the government shouldn't focus too much on asking when those who present at shelter became homeless – in 2014 or 2015. They should be trying to assess the total current need – of those in shelter, those on the streets and those who are couch surfing. Government should then consider how to ensure that ALL such people are housed and that everyone has access to affordable housing – no matter what year they became homeless.

That brings me to the good news and to some ideas as to what we as a movement can do to effect the positive change that we so strongly desire and so urgently need. The first bit of good news is that DC Government, the local advocates, the non-profits and the council have begun to move in a direction that might actually end homelessness in DC by the end of 2020 – assuming that a number of things work out as predicted for the next four years. The locals there were able to develop a somewhat comprehensive plan only because of federal laws and programs such as Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), the Workforce Innovations and Opportunities Act (WIOA), Veterans' Administration Supportive Housing (VASH) and the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act. With the HEARTH Act of 2009 mandating that municipalities find ways to reduce homelessness and WIOA (which was signed by Obama on July 22nd, 2014) mandating that municipalities serve those who have barriers to employment by connecting them to living-wage jobs, this means that the Obama administration has given us something to build our demands on. The movement can find ways to leverage existing laws before demanding that our officials create better laws. Let's not reinvent the wheel.

At the same time, let's not operate under any illusion that the powers that be will readily bend to the will of the electorate. As Frederick Douglass told us, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will”. Let's use the “gunboat diplomacy” of Teddy Roosevelt who said, “Speak softly; but, carry a big stick”. The movement needs to have a threat to hold over the heads of those in power. I can think of a number of such threats. Some of them actually fall within the constraints of the law. We can start by developing a shared vision for society; but, government won't feel all that threatened by a room full of people reading and discussing Plato's Republic. We can organize; but, we may find ourselves going up against the likes of J. Edgar Hoover or Congressman Joseph McCarthy. We can show ourselves to have some staying power; but, should always be cognizant of the fact that the fire hoses and dogs of the 1960's have been replaced with militarized police forces. In any instance, I strongly believe that, no matter who wins on November 8th, those who supported the loser will partake in a rebellion which could turn into a full-on revolution. We who are already socially and politically conscience need to make sure that, when that energy is created, that it is geared toward realizing our goals and that it doesn't fizzle out until those goals have been reached. As an old man recently told me, “You've got to be ready to stand up for what you believe in; and, once you've won, you have to be prepared to hold on to what you've got”.

Are you ready???

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

BRUTAL HONESTY: Blacks Are Victims of J. Edgar Hoover and Capitalism

 Republished from 7/12/16:

Let's be BRUTALLY HONEST; lay aside any emotions and take a good, hard, rational look at what led up to the Dallas massacre. I've been thinking about it a lot and this is my second blog post on the matter in the five days since Private First Class (E3) Micah Xavier Johnson shot 12 Dallas law enforcement officers, killing five. In the minds of some -- but not all -- people he went from being a military hero to being a criminal zero when he transitioned from shooting at foreigners in Afghanistan to shooting at cops in America. Now some people are wondering why Private Johnson chose to shoot cops in a city that has not been in the national media for its police brutality and killing of unarmed Black men. I assure you that there are many in Afghanistan who still don't know why we decimated THEIR country when we didn't find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, when Osama Bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan and when most people in that country neither know nor care what the World Trade Center IS or that it was attacked. So, why is it that we glorify violence when it's perpetrated upon other countries by the U.S. military but we ostracize our soldiers when they return to stateside and kill the pillars of capitalism -- an oppressive and exploitative system that permeates the world??? (BTW, militarism is one aspect of Fascism.)

We ask "Why?" when Americans are killed; but, we blindly accept it when our military is given orders to destroy another nation in the name of American security. We call it "patriotism". Many soldiers have come back to America and spoken of the atrocities they were made to perpetrate upon innocent people (or to witness) and about how they found out that the war was not for the reasons stated by our American politicians. Private Micah Johnson's mother told media that her son had indeed made the latter claim.

Now the media is inclined to try and prove that Private Johnson was mentally ill in order to discredit his claim in an attempt to hide the ugly truth about our government's motives for going to war. While I can't speak to the issue of his mental state, it stands to reason that any mental illness that he might have suffered from began to manifest while he was deployed and possibly even as a direct result of that deployment. After all, there is documented proof that military service drives many people crazy -- making the U.S. Government something in the way of a "Frankenstein Factory" that is mass-producing monsters -- some of whom get "treatment" by way of a cop's service revolver or heavy artillery afforded to police by the military. (Hey, we can't let a perfectly good tank go to waste!!! The silver lining here is that they aren't using these tanks on FOREIGN civilians.)

If Private Johnson was indeed the military-manufactured "monster" that the media is portraying him to be, I'd have to say that he was a monster with a mind and a good point. He spoke to police negotiators for several hours. The public doesn't know the majority of what he said, though we have the DPD's biased, slanted summation. We DO know that Private Johnson was angry about the unjustified deaths by police of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and others -- MANY OTHERS. We DO know that, even if he didn't actually read THIS BLOG POST of mine, he used the sensibilities mentioned therein. After all, he spent several months preparing for July 7th. We DO know that racial tensions that have been building up for centuries and were never adequately dealt with after Jim Crow have come back to haunt us. We DO know that, even in death, Private Johnson is forcing the conversation that should have been taking place decades ago -- forcing the much-needed, difficult and long overdue conversation about racial inequality and the negative effects of Capitalism (particularly on Black Americans).

I've spoken to a number of people since the shooting and have been ever so slightly surprised at some of what I've heard. As indicated in my previous post, some people (including at least one preacher) have said, "I don't condone it; but, I understand it". People have expressed how angry they are that the media is doing so much coverage of the police officers that were killed while seeming to have forgotten about the unarmed Black men whose deaths by crooked cops were, in fact, the reasons for the Dallas Shooting. I've even heard a Caucasian man say that he had absolutely no sympathy for the police officers who died; insomuch as, they're part of a corrupt system (sometimes, I might add, falling victim to THEIR OWN carelessness and stupidity.). And, finally, I've heard folk say that a person who becomes a police officer should know that the possibility of dying in the line of duty goes with the territory -- as Ofcr. Ashley Guindon learned when she was killed by Army Staff Sergeant Ron Hamilton on her first day on the job. I'm not surprised that people are thinking this way; but rather, that they're throwing off the constraints put on our freedoms by the Patriot Act (and other incremental policy changes that somewhat underhandedly remove our freedoms) by  voicing their BRUTALLY HONEST opinions.

While I agree with all of the people whom I quoted above, I'd like to notice what those whom I don't agree with have said too. Let's bear in mind that the "Right" can be wrong and most often is, as indicated by the 2016 presidential campaign. Our most learned right-wing politicians and pundits are the ones saying that Obama instigated the Dallas massacre, that members of the Black Lives Matter Movement are like the KKK and that BLM is putting targets on the backs of police. If this is the best that the right has to offer, I'd hate to see their worst, as the Dallas massacre probably would pale by comparison.

I won't belabor the topic any longer of how hyperbolic and irrational American capitalists are; as, one needs only to watch Donald Trump or Fox News in order to get a feel for that. However, I'd like to remind people of a capitalist tactic that was used against Blacks 50 years ago and is still reaping results. The Black Panthers formed in response to police brutality in Oakland, California in 1966. Again, there was police brutality in Oakland in 1966. Then, much like Hezbollah, Fatah and other groups that have been labeled "radical" by the U.S. Government, the Black Panthers transitioned from defending an oppressed people to offering social services and programs of social uplift -- namely the "Free Breakfast for School Children" program. The Black Panthers realized that Black children weren't doing well in their studies because they weren't eating well. However, in addition to feeding the children, the Panthers were also teaching about the science of society and the negative impact of U.S. capitalism on Black Americans. J. Edgar Hoover didn't like that Black children were being taught to think critically about our society and how it holds poor people and Blacks in low regard. So, he did various things to stop the Black Panthers. J. Edgar Hoover didn't want the children to eat up the truth and the views of the BPP along with their breakfast. So, the head of a law enforcement agency began pushing for the creation of a federal school meal program. I often put forth J. Edgar Hoover's promotion of school meals sans the ideology as the worst thing to ever be done to Black Americans. Sadly, some of us continue to accept sustenance without the critical thinking -- even refusing to join a rally or protest that is meant to make known the plight of Black Americans, foster understanding and move us toward society-wide solutions. It's because people might lose their HUD housing voucher or food stamps which are being diminished anyway. They're like frogs in a pot of water that's being brought to a boil very slowly. Sad. (Exploitation evidently yields a high ROI.)

So while Dallas indeed has NOT been the scene of any high-profile killings by police in recent history, the city IS still a part of the capitalist scheme of things, not to speak of the fact that it is in proximity to Private Johnson's home. It's also safe to assume that Micah Johnson understood that all U.S. police -- even the ones who haven't murdered Black men -- are part of the corrupt system of capitalism.

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Friday, July 8, 2016

Blacks, Blues, Blasts and Blame: Shootings of Unarmed Suspects Creates Armed Resistance

 "I don't condone it; but, I understand it." 

-- Various people responding to the 7/7/16 Dallas Massacre

No sooner had I written about how "It's a madder, madder, madder, madder world" when we had a week of murders by White police of Black men who either did not have guns drawn or were even complying with orders from ofcrs. JERONIMO YANEZ and JOSEPH KAUSER. Then, fed up by White police shooting and killing unarmed Black men, MICAH JOHNSON (and possibly others) used the sniper skills afforded him by the U.S. military to kill A DOMESTIC ENEMY. Apparently, unlike American active-duty soldiers, he and any accomplices he might have had were good marksmen who didn't kill any civilians. Taken together with what we know about the DC Sniper and how he was possibly upset that he was flunked in sniper school (having only been designated an "expert shooter") or may have had a host of reasons for being upset, I suppose the military will develop a more stringent psychiatric evaluation for its sniper school candidates -- in much the same way that it developed more stringent combat readiness tests for both sexes around the same time that it opened all combat positions to women.

Military policies and practices aside, the mass shooting of 12 Dallas police officers resulting in the deaths of five on July 7th, 2016 may very well be the official start of the revolution that Gil Scott Heron told us would not be televised. It's definitely "The Big Payback". Then again, maybe the revolution began in March 2015 when dozens of Black Panthers marched through Austin, Texas with their guns drawn calling for the killing of pigs. No matter what incident or point in time you choose to put forth as the start of the revolution, the fact remains that racial tensions are extremely high and a tempest is brewing -- a tempest that government should have seen coming -- even if President Obama won't say it in no uncertain terms or clearly acknowledge that it's "Blacks" (as opposed to "a certain segment of our fellow citizenry") who are not being treated as equals.

In the two years since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri (though he might not have been completely innocent of any wrongdoing), there have been numerous executions by White police of clearly unarmed Black men. A telling video exists showing Walter Scott being shot in the back as he ran and then showing the guilty officer planting a weapon on his corpse. But these unjustified shootings by police didn't start in 2014 -- not by any means. Let's think back to 1999 when NYC cops shot at Amadou Diallo 41 times from close range -- only hitting him 19 times -- as Mr. Diallo retrieved his wallet in an act of compliance toward the police. As Bruce "the Boss" Springsteen might say, "Same song, different verse".  What's more is that, after mortally wounding a "suspect", police often deny medical attention to their victims. This raises serious questions as to whether or not many cops even see their Black victims as humans.

All things considered, we're now beginning to see a tit-for-tat take place. Blacks see that we are being treated unfairly and killed indiscriminately by trigger-happy cops. In response, the Black Panthers have encouraged violence against cops and Micah Johnson pulled it off. Now police are on high alert and Capitol Hill was put on lock-down just hours after the Dallas massacre, though for a different and relatively insignificant reason. It's worth noting that U.S. Capitol Police have gotten and acted on word of false security threats from DC's fictional and satirical newspaper, The Onion, on multiple occasions -- much to the humor of the intelligent life forms in the city. That said, what they perceive to be a threat is not necessarily anything that would scare a rational human. Even so, police nationwide DO have logical reasons to be afraid - to be very afraid. There's no telling where the next sniper bullet will come from. That, in turn, gives Black Americans more of a reason to fear the police insomuch as those who used to kill us for the color of our skin now have a more legitimate reason for killing us -- our retaliatory violence. That leaves one to wonder when and how the madness will end. Some would say we all should take a long deep breath, calm down and talk diplomatically. I'll take things a bit further.

WE MUST HAVE THE HARD CONVERSATIONS. We must talk about the implicit bias that drives the life-altering decisions made by police, judges, employers and others in our society. The racists have become less straightforward in how they speak of Blacks. They're politically correct these days, which makes it harder to detect their racist behavior. However, the outcomes of their racist decisions are the same -- and often the outcome is an unjustified death. We need to realize that Micah Johnson was considered a hero by many Americans when he served in the military and was willing to kill non-Americans; but, quickly lost that standing with some people when he killed five officers. That said, it's not just those with badges who are determining which lives are valuable. I'll dare say that the majority of Americans value some lives more than others. It's the American way.

If we fail to have the hard conversations, we can't expect to have peace. After the 1968 riots, people calmed down. Forty-eight years later the Black race is not much better off. When Baltimore erupted into riots in 2015 following the police murder of Freddie Gray, public officials began to talk about offering economic opportunity to poor and long-neglected communities. Where did that conversation go??? As Frederick Douglass said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will." If poor and oppressed people don't stand up for themselves and hold their ground at any cost, then the powers that be will figure that they don't have to keep their word. We must organize for power, be in it for the long haul and find ways to hurt those in power. That hurt can be as simple as hitting them in the pocket as was done with the Boycotts and sit-ins of the Civil Rights Movement. But there must be some form of pain and discomfort that is imparted to the vanguards of the capitalist system who treat poor, Black people as though we were sub-human. What's more is that, if Blacks, Whites and others who have resources and privilege don't come together in an organized way that enables us to get the types of reparations that are most sensible for this day and age, then we'll just see more of these massacres of police and the tit-for-tat described above.

But let's be clear: Blacks are getting the message that White Capitalists are going to screw us one way or the other. First there was slavery. Then there was Jim Crow Law. Then there was mass incarceration and racial profiling which led to jail time. Now we aren't even making it to booking. We're being executed on the streets of America. Then, given the jurisprudence of court cases wherein the vast majority of police officers who shoot unarmed suspects are not taken to trial and fewer are convicted, it all just seems so unfair. Right??? However, this perception of unfairness can be turned into a teachable moment in that it doesn't make sense for us to apply to a system for redress of grievances when that system has never regarded our lives very highly in the first place. As we seek resolution of any matter from the oppressor, we give that oppressor another opportunity to mistreat us. So, Blacks along with our non-Black sympathizers and supporters need to put our heads together so as to devise a set of demands that causes the powers that be to feel forced to comply and we need to give them the strong impression that we won't let up -- that we'll do whatever we see fit to do in order to improve the state of the American Negro for once and for all. Let's also address the socioeconomic issues that tend to boil over into these explosive situations. Just having people calm down is not enough. It's a good first step. Let's not stop there.

Let us ensure that BLACKS are not killed unjustifiably by the boys in BLUE and vice versa. If we stop BLASTing each other, then there won't be any BLAME to go around. 

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