Wednesday, November 16, 2016

President Donald Trump & Why We MUST Destroy the Political Narrative

In the we(e) hours of 11/9 a country that has been advised by public figures to remember 9/11 found out that Donald Trump had won the election of the previous day. People began to see a new terror at play -- a man who would do everything he could to reverse the political gains of the left and who, through a sloppy mix of intent and ignorance, would create many enemies around the world. But it's not just the enemies he'll create which is of concern. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said that Trump, along with the presidents of Russia and Iran, is a "natural ally" -- a statement that can be seen as an indication that the next U.S. president will become part of a more organized terror network of national governments -- with the full blessing of the GOP.

Fact of the matter is that Trump is just a political figurehead whose election is symptomatic of everything that's wrong with the American system of governance as well as the political and electoral systems that determine who gains a seat in the Oval Office. So, while people are sure to use Trump's election as a point of reference, let's put and keep everything in perspective by recollecting the political environment that allowed for his ascent to the throne as well as the various steps of his folly-filled foray into politics -- a path that culminated in him winning by way of the electoral votes and in spite of Hillary Clinton having won the popular vote (which has brought some people to the realization that their votes don't count for anything).

Donald Trump and his campaign set forth a narrative that played to the feeble minds of those who seek a demagogue that will tell them what they want to hear -- even if those campaign promises can never be fulfilled in reality. Segments of the population that don't routinely come out to vote and who rarely watch or read any political news decided that it was worth their while to make that trek to their respective polling places to vote for someone who promised to bring back jobs that are actually gone forever, to build a wall that requires both the consent of Congress and billions of dollars that would be better spent assisting these same poor voters and to step up the "War [of] Terror (BY the U.S.)" that has already usurped well over a trillion dollars. These Trump-ites are only a half step above the Dixie-crats who voted against the social services that they themselves needed because such services would help Blacks.

The Trump-ites came out in droves to vote for someone who, if he has his way, will divert federal funds away from domestic concerns (like poverty in Appalachia) and toward blowing up the world which we'll then spend money rebuilding. Both groups voted against their own self interests. In the latter instance, it was due, largely if not solely, to disenfranchised people casting their angry votes for a demagogue who made promises that the average American knows can't be guaranteed or underwritten. The government's disinvestment in education has come back to bite us in the [be-donkey] by enabling stupidity in low places to vote dangerous stupidity into high places.

Now let's steer away from disparaging Appalachia or complaining about the phenomenon which some pundits are referring to as "White-Lash" -- if only for a short while. After all, the potential exists for Blacks, Appalachians and the homeless to coalesce around a demand that the federal government alleviate domestic poverty and dispossession with the funds that they are set to use for starting and stepping up wars around the world. Let's instead turn our attention toward the fact that, though most Americans voted for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump was "selected" (not "elected") by the (s)electoral college. He was right in his assertion that the system is rigged. (A broken clock is right twice a day.) Ironically, the rigged system is what handed him the victory -- which makes him even less inclined to fix the rigged system than he was on November 7th. (Does anyone remember how Obama in 2012 wanted to rewrite the rules around drone use but backed off of that effort after beating Romney???) That's not to speak of the fact that Trump has begun to work within the same establishment that he railed against for a year and a half. (Candidates might soon begin campaigning for the next election the day after an election.)

Let's take this thing a step further: Barack Obama has backed off of his assertion that Donald Trump is unfit to serve as president, going so far as to say that "campaigning for the presidency is not the same as being president" and that "this office [of the president] changes you". The president who played into the narrative that "America is ALREADY great" has unwittingly made a statement that lends itself to the notion that a presidential campaign is a bait-and-switch by its very nature. Maybe Obama is counting on the government-induced political ignorance and all-out stupidity of both Trump's "basket of deplorables" and of other poorly-educated subsets of Americans to keep people from realizing that a candidate changing once they become president (-elect) does in fact amount to being a bait-and-switch.

Consistent with his unwitting support for a blatant act of dishonesty, Obama has begun to work with Trump -- as anyone would expect him to do. We expect a sitting president from one major party to denigrate the candidate from the other major party and then to forgo all of his vehemently disparaging remarks once that candidate wins. This is democracy at work -- or "dumb-ocracy", if you ask me. (My statements here should not be seen as being anti-Obama, but rather as being anti-establishment in a much more sincere way than the president-elect was ever anti-establishment.)

I could go on for what would seem to be an eternity rambling about everything that's wrong with the American system. But, rather than continue my "diatribe of our democracy" in what would become an extremely unabridged post, let me make my primary point. 'We the people" can and should change the narrative of American politics. There are many ways in which we can change it. I won't attempt to enumerate them here and now. However, this much is clear: The common citizen can understand that a bait-and-switch is an act of dishonesty. The common citizen can understand that there is something fundamentally wrong with complaining about the rigged system and the establishment only to be voted in by way of that same rigged system and then to begin working with that very establishment. These few matters, in and of themselves, should be enough to give anyone who's paying attention pause -- and a cause. It should cause all Americans to reconsider the principles on which our systems of election and governance are founded and to ask if it might be necessary for us to reconstitute ourselves. It may come as a surprise to some; but, we the people can and should use the sense of principle that our parents gave us to critique the system and the various candidates who attempt to become or remain part of it.

I'll even go so far as to suggest a starting point for what will prove to be a very long and difficult thought process -- one that might exercise the minds of Americans much more than the supposed educational system ever could. Imagine, if you will, a land that has 300 million or so people and no government. That shouldn't be difficult if you live in the "Untied" States of America. Now imagine that all of these people begin to imagine the concept of governance in much the same way that the Israelites  did right before Saul was installed as their first king. (This is essentially what you are doing when you vote.) Now imagine what you would want this government that has yet to exist to do for its people. Your answers to this final question should guide your decisions about who you vote for. Unfortunately, too many of us allow the Constitution, lower laws and politicians' reactions to current problems to define our sense of morality and our ideas as to what the rights and duties of government should be. (Our government has given itself the right to put down any meaningful dissent while telling other national governments to allow it.) Let's begin to destroy the current political narrative and to develop a shared vision for America.

After all, at the end of the day we all want to be able to ensure that the basic human needs of all humans are met. The establishment of financial, political, governmental, employment and other systems springs from this most basic desire. Well-intentioned people often get lost in the sauce of bureaucracy and the minutiae of budget considerations and political division as they forget the basic good that initially drove them to take on their trade of profession of choice or to develop a movement. This truth has led to the anti-Trump protesters taking the same track as the "Occupy Wall Street Movement". In either instance these movements have butted heads with a system that is so plagued with problems that it leaves the sanest and smartest of us asking the salient question: "Where do we start fixing things??". Hopefully this blog post has helped to START answering that question.

Even if you don't find it helpful in that respect, don't worry. I'll write future posts that take us further down the path of reconstitution. It's worth noting that I initially thought about writing a post that begins to "change" the political narrative. I then determined that we need to altogether "destroy" the political narrative -- an idea I'll further explain in a future post. As yet another indication of my commitment to this purpose, I'm seriously considering using some of my meager means to fund a website that builds this conversation into something that the entire nation can coalesce around. I'll begin gathering input for that website very soon. VERY SOON.


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Thursday, October 20, 2016

DC Dept. Of Employment Services: Working to End Homelessness

A Howard University Sociology professor whose Marxist study group I was part of (though I'v never been a university student) used to say:

"There are 20 years that don't make a day; then, there's that day that makes 20 years
 [worth of effort]".

When about a dozen men -- including myself -- began advocating against the closure of the Franklin School Shelter in June 2006, one of our arguments was that Franklin's location in downtown and near many public transportation options made it a perfect location for the working homeless to get to and from work. Additionally, my personal efforts to get city officials to address the employment challenges of homeless people are well-documented on-line as far back as mid-2009 -- with similarly documented efforts by my advocacy colleagues going back about that far as well. I now have some great news: DC Government has heard our cries and is beginning to take action!!!

As you may well know by now, Obama signed the Workforce Innovations and Opportunities Act into law on July 22nd, 2014. Though it requires cities to do better at connecting all people who have employment challenges to living-wage jobs, it may lack the teeth to effectively force municipalities to get results. Even so, its passage has served as the impetus for efforts by DC Government to assist the employable portion of its 8,350 or so homeless people (out of 670,000 or so residents) to jobs. It's worth noting that, to some degree, it's the good hearts of homeless service providers and the aggressiveness of advocates which gets results -- in this case, homeless employment results which I'm happy to say are on the horizon.

Over 10 years of advocating, combined with a healthy mixture of analysis, cynicism and pessimism, have led me to conclude that the sloppy mixture of local politicians and business people that the city has seen since 1999 has been reluctant to make DC affordable to low-income workers who contribute to the life of the city. However, the administration of Mayor Muriel Bowser may very well begin to reverse this negative trend. Let's hope it's not too little, too late. But let's also push for the furtherance of good ideas that have been put into play and for the implementation of those that have only been talked about. Otherwise, a good idea turns into a token effort and dies on the vine. We must work at putting able-bodied homeless people to work.

I attended the executive committee meeting of the DC Inter-agency Council on Homelessness on October 11th, 2016. During this meeting the Director of DC Government's Department Of Employment Services (DOES), Deborah Carroll, gave a presentation about her department's new and modified programs for effectively assisting homeless people at overcoming their employment challenges. (These efforts don't yet include addressing employers' bias against the homeless; but, I trust that they soon will.) As Ms. Carroll spoke, it became apparent to me that she'd either attained perfection or come extremely close. Everything she said was music to my ears insomuch as it spoke to the various issues that many homeless advocates had been raising for about 10 years. Her transition from directing Human Services where she served the city's poor and homeless people to directing Employment Services is beginning to bear fruit.

Director Carroll's statements included the following:

1 -- She noticed that the homeless adults who use the Adams Day Shelter were being afforded tables at which to sleep or watch TV, but not much else. They weren't being actively engaged by service providers so as to enroll in programs that would grow them beyond homelessness. (Her statements aside, I noticed the same thing when I visited this past summer to check out this program that opened in October 2015.) DOES now places a more aggressive representative on-site every Thursday -- the only day that the department visits that site.

2 -- Director Carroll understands that shelter check-in times don't work well for homeless workers and job seekers. Shelter check-in can begin as early as 4 PM and end as late as 8 PM. By the time that a person returns from their job that ends at 5:30 PM, all beds might be full. With most shelters being closed from 7 AM to 7 PM, second and third shift workers might have difficulty getting adequate sleep and might even need to sleep on the street until they save enough money for first, last and security. This makes it difficult to show up to work well-rested and clean.

3 -- She understands that storage of one's belongings can be a problem. Shelters don't always allow residents to store their belongings during the day. Homeless job seekers might need to carry everything they own with them as they search for employment, though the employed homeless can usually afford storage units. (I think it would be a good idea for the city to pay a $35.00 or so fee per month for storage of a serious, program-compliant job seeker's meager belongings.)

4 -- Deborah Carroll is floating the idea of assisting homeless job seekers with transit fare and ensuring that they can have their transit debit cards reloaded without having to make the time-consuming trek to the DOES office. All of that makes a lot of sense.

5 -- She is discussing bringing DOES programs like Project Empowerment into the homeless community -- holding sessions at the MLK, Jr. Library and at other locations where many homeless people can be found during the day. After all, the DOES office and the Adams Day Shelter are both quite far from downtown Washington, DC and the homeless people of the nation's capital might be reluctant or unable to make it to either site -- most likely the former.

6 -- A big winner with Yours Truly is Director Carroll's idea to allow homeless job seekers to skip the soft-skills training for low-skill jobs like working at the Department of Public Works (DPW) as a garbage man. I've always been adverse to the idea of spending an inordinate amount of time teaching someone how to present in a professional manner just so that they can throw garbage or swing a sledge hammer on a job where they're allowed to curse like a sailor all day long.

I also prefer that my initial engagement with an employer be at the moment when I'm demonstrating my abilities as a worker rather than during the interview. I'm one of those people who, though not the most personable, can and will work hard and well. The requirement to be personable during an interview is something I hate with a passion. I hate putting on a facade. People like myself who've worked out of labor halls can attest to the fact that employers who order workers just for the day get to know our work first -- without any prerequisite background checks or consideration of work history. Everything is just for the moment and just for the day. Employers who like the performance of the day laborers sometimes ask that they come on as permanent employees. (It's happened to me thrice.) The application and interview are then relegated to secondary, pro forma events -- with the job having already been promised on account of the good work that the employer has already witnessed. Such a process makes the worker's past a thing of the past.

This concludes my list of ideas that DOES Director Deborah Carroll mentioned on October 11th. However, it DOES NOT conclude the list of great things her department is doing. Read on.....

On October 19th I attended Project Homeless Connect which was held at the Central Union Mission (C.U.M.). Various service providers were on-site to connect the homeless to housing, employment, medical care, hair cuts and other necessities. DOES was present with its Workforce on Wheels RV. As I entered, I was greeted by cordial employees of whom one introduced me to an awesome career assessment website which effectively determined a whole slew of jobs that I'm suited for -- though many of them don't pay the $60,000 per year that I need to make to afford DC rents. I was quite impressed with the site, though technical problems prevented me from printing or e-mailing the results of the assessment. Even so, I'd recommend this site for others.

All things considered, I have high hopes for the homeless employment efforts of DOES. This is just the beginning. It's worth reiterating that we need to push for the furtherance of good ideas that are in play and for the implementation of good ideas that have only been talked about. That said, I'm all-in and will do all I can to keep a good thing going -- and getting better. Will you???

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Friday, September 30, 2016

Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump: Whetted Wit vs Wanton Ways

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have now held the first of three presidential debates. This means that those suffering from "election stress disorder" will soon find relief after hearing Mr. Trump's senseless rants for over 15 months as he eliminated 16 other GOP candidates (most of whom were more qualified than he is to become president). Then again, they might jump from the frying pan into the fire by having even more.....MUCH more to worry about if Trump were to win. Sadly, a Trump victory is not completely unrealistic given the fact that the candidates are in a virtual tie less than six weeks before election day. Though Mr. Trump gave his best performance to-date on September 26th (which isn't saying much),  he still got "Trumped" by Secretary Clinton. However, political scientists don't think that the debates will move the needle of public opinion -- no matter how well Hillary Clinton does or how poorly Donald Trump does. (Let's hope they're wrong.)

All of this begs the question: What can we do to keep what may be our first severely mentally ill candidate (since the 1960's maybe???) from getting his hands on the nuclear football??? Should Blacks and other groups who fear that Donald Trump will trample on and/or try to revoke their rights join forces with those who fear that his foreign policies will further destabilize the Middle East and the world??? Should we then march together as people did in 1964 to prevent civil rights opponent Barry Goldwater from becoming president???

Truth be told, while Mr. Goldwater passed for crazy in 1964, he'd only be considered slightly controversial by today's standard -- especially when compared to Trump. Senator Goldwater, in spite of his decades of political experience, didn't become president, though I'm not sure whether to attribute that to him having been an establishment politician like Hillary Clinton or him having seemed as crazy to the people of his day as Trump seems to current generations. Even so, his platform has made its way into present-day politics, laws and policies in one way or another. It may have also been the marches against Mitt Romney (who, like Barry Goldwater, was less dangerous than Trump) which effectively stopped his advance toward the oval office. (Marches may prove to be useful tactics after all.)

As we consider the "terror" of a Trump presidency, it's important to remember what got us here in the first place. That is, what got us to a place where the GOP candidate is a loose cannon and the Democratic candidate can't seem to develop a measurable lead on him. As Mr. Trump blames his microphone for making him seem to have had a cold; blames Ms. Clinton for the less-than-strategic military failures of the Iraq War under Bush 43; and (CORRECTLY!!!) blames Republicans for economic problems (but hopes to be able to blame Democrats soon), we who have our heads screwed on straight need to blame the GOP for not doing more to stop a crazed maniac from running away with the party ticket and causing the party as a whole to lose credibility with the American public and the entire world population. (But let's not get caught up in a blame game sans solutions; as, that's not what we need from our elected officials.....or each other.)

Republicans are probably regretting having gotten Donald Trump to sign a loyalty pledge in September 2015 and wishing they'd just let him go on his merry way back then. They, no doubt, lament their inability to rein him in during a meeting with party leaders. The party's threat to cut off its cash flow to the billionaire fell flat, as any sensible person would have expected it to. Through it all, the party that took both houses in the November 2014 mid-term elections has proven itself unable to stop one basket case. Go figure. Now it's up to the same voting public that handed Mr. Trump the nomination (which the party couldn't prevent at its convention) to wax fickle and turn the tables by shifting, within a relatively short time span, from "waving their palm branches" to "calling for his crucifixion" -- in a manner of speaking.

Further complicating any attempt to alter public opinion before November 8th is the apparent "dumbing down of America". There's little hope that Americans who bought into George W. Bush's fear-mongering after the 9/11 attacks and who choose to ignore the fact that his response to the same actually made the world less safe will suddenly have a moment of clarity; realize that Hitler was considered a hero before he became a horror; and, take steps to prevent such history from repeating itself. Americans (like the other 96% of the world population) want to feel safe; but, seem to give little or no thought to how many innocent civilians are killed in other countries in order for us to achieve that security. Let's not forget that fearful Americans were quite eager to see the Japanese, Italians and Germans who were living in this country during World War II get arrested and interned on account of their nationalities as per orders of our longest-serving president.

How soon we forget!!! Unfortunately and somewhat irreversibly, a sizable portion of Americans will buy into Trump's demagoguery in the hopes that he'll make America as "great as it was during slavery and Jim Crow [sic].

Ignorance breeds fear. The fearful give the leader absolute power to protect them. This absolute power corrupts absolutely. The people fear the leader whom they once looked to for protection.

Now I'm not so sure that "men are from Mars and women are from Venus" (the planets having been named for the mythological god of war and goddess of love, respectively); but, this I know: If Elon Musk or a future owner of SpaceX successfully establishes a Mars colony, I want Donald Trump and his fateful followers to be its first inhabitants. But that's not reality -- not even for Trump. A bit closer to reality is the possibility that Americans will heed the statements of dozens of national security experts and Republican politicians who've come out against Trump. Then again, it might be his extreme misogyny that makes him "the biggest loser" this fall. That hope assumes that most or all American voters -- especially women -- who dislike his wanton ways will vote on or before November 8th.

In all fairness, I must say that Trump isn't all bad -- just 99%. He denounced the way in which American corporations offshore and outsource their jobs to other countries some of which allow child labor, sweat shops, unsafe working conditions and other cost-reducing crimes; but, he couldn't explain to debate moderator Lester Holt how he would bring those corporations back to the U.S. While I laud Mr. Trump for recognizing the problems created by exporting jobs, his lack of a plan for combating or reversing such corporate practices coupled with his very real and actually feasible promise to repatriate undocumented people adds up to him sending people back to their countries of origin where the jobs have gone to anyway. In any instance, he'd be decreasing the unemployment rate of other countries by ensuring that everyone in these households is able to get a job -- as long as they're at least five years old.

Meanwhile back on the home front, the U.S. unemployment rate would likely rise while wages remain stagnant. The only silver lining in all of this is that Americans' buying power might rise slightly.  Unfortunately, it's because we'd be purchasing even more of our products from countries that promote cheap labor and allow mistreatment of workers.

A Trump administration would likely be unable to get Congress to adopt the 16% import tariff that he said should be imposed on goods that are produced in other countries and subsequently sold in the U.S. by these American-based corporations. That money could then be used to provide social services to long-term unemployed Americans like the 3.5 million who experience homelessness annually. This will provide a safety net to the Americans whom Trump deliberately pushes off of the cliff as he causes the next economic downturn or housing crisis -- the one he's probably rooting for even now.

Given how unlikely it is that this tariff would ever materialize, it's all but certain that American poverty would deepen and crimes of survival would increase. No worries; Trump to the rescue. He'd make Stop-and-Frisk (which is NOT unconstitutional) a national policing policy. So long as police don't racially profile people and they only use the practice when they have reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed, this practice is indeed allowable. The Devil is in the details. However, it stands to reason that, taken together with the disproportionate number of Blacks in prison, the well-publicized and frequently protested shootings by police of unarmed Black men and the fact that Blacks experience poverty at a higher percentage than other races in the country, adding the practice of randomly frisking Blacks nationwide would become the straw that breaks the camel's back and spurs the revolution that's brewing.

On September 26th the candidates discussed racial tensions. But they did so in the context of how police treat Blacks. Neither articulated a plan that would improve the lives of low-wage Black workers -- many of whom must go to prison to get a trade because they can't afford college.

Come to think of it, the first Clinton-Trump debate did more to put Trump's faults on display than it did to convey the plans of either candidate. This fact was accentuated in the debate's final moments as Ms. Clinton and moderator Lester Holt took Trump's assertion that she doesn't have a "presidential look" and turned it on him. Holt insisted that Trump DID in fact reference Ms. Clinton's looks -- not her stamina -- in a recent statement, but to no avail. Trump flip-flopped, as usual, inserting the word "stamina" instead. Ms. Clinton used Trump's statements to segway into a diatribe on his well-known misogyny and she capitalized on his disparaging statements about former Miss Universe Alicia Machado. This move by the secretary in the final moments of the debate may have been the most awesome display of whetted wit ever -- especially since the final moments are likely to be the most memorable.

Now to revisit the question of how we can stop Trump. He has already given us a preview of the second debate by letting us know that he -- being thrice married himself and keeping company with other public figures who've famously had extramarital affairs -- will capitalize on the affairs of Bill Clinton who is not running for office. In so doing the usually unpredictable candidate has given the woman whom he criticized for "staying home" as she was "preparing to become president" a sneak peak at his playbook. She's sure to use that to her advantage -- and the world's, for that matter. At the end of the day, it might not be necessary to mobilize and march. It might not be necessary for Clinton to respond to everything Donald says. It might not be necessary to worry about an imminent Trump presidency or even to have a Plan B (like what his mother should've had one fateful morning in 1945). It might only be necessary to push the Donald's buttons and then let him talk himself into a(nother) hole. I think Ms. Clinton understands this. That said, it DOES remain necessary to vote on or before November 8th. I hope you do.

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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 immediately following the first time that a request was made. They then 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 DC's 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. The affected women and I began to wonder why he didn't mention the impending closure to THEM hours after he'd mentioned it in a government meeting earlier that same day.

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 of why Mr. Williams held out on them. 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 exit people both quickly and efficiently 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 (numerically in DC 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 will have been made by the Bowser administration.

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 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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