Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What Good Is Our Advocacy for the Poor and Homeless Doing???

I was asked on April 20th, 2016 by someone in DC Government [PARAPHRASED]:

"Eric, why do you think it is that some recent hearings that pertain to issues being fought for by the Fairbudget Coalition and related groups around poverty and homelessness are not well-attended???"

I posed this question to a staff member of the Fairbudget Coalition along with some of my thoughts on the matter and got a rather interesting reply. Then the Fairbudget Coalition had its monthly meeting on May 4th and different attendees mentioned ways in which they believe that our advocacy is either weakening or has never been strong to begin with.

It's worth noting that the government employee didn't refer to the Fairbudget Coalition by name. However, since FBC is the biggest and strongest advocacy group fighting for the poor of Washington, DC, I decided to address the aforementioned question to them and to use them as a reference point for this topic.

Before I get into the more volatile discussions that were raised at the May 4th meeting, I'll list the reasons for low hearing attendance that I set forth in my initial e-mail on the topic, followed by the list of reasons that were sent to me in response:

From me (Eric Sheptock):

1 -- People aren't getting the word (reading e-mails about advocacy events in time).

2 -- Folk just have really busy schedules and can't make it to DC Council hearings.

3 -- There's a reason for which they don't figure it to be worth their time to attend hearings.

4 -- An FBC meeting attendee said during the March meeting that any mayor's first budget is usually pretty progressive; but, all budgets thereafter are often quite unfavorable. That might explain a sharp drop in hearing attendance; as, folk may feel that they've accomplished all of the progressive goals that they can accomplish with this mayor who took office in 2015.

5 -- Being the old hand that I am at advocacy (hell-ebrating 10 long, hard years in mid-June), I know that the advocates used to remind each other of the victories we'd won through direct action and that would serve to boost morale for the next go-'round. I don't see much of that happening anymore.

6 -- I've heard different people say that they thought the budget engagement sessions [during which Mayor Muriel Bowser allowed the general public to weigh in through guided discussions on the budget she was drafting] were one big farce. As a matter of fact, they said it at the March FBC meeting. This might offer some insight into how people are relating to the Bowser administration, with the mayor's honeymoon being over now. They felt that the forums created a facade of public input which only served as a cover for a system of "inverted totalitarianism" wherein a matter is put to a vote in a way that guarantees that the will of the chief executive or a small cadre will prevail under the guise of democracy. It's not to be confused with its kissin' cousin "Bourgeois Democracy" which promotes the will of the wealthy minority and of those who control large sums of money over the will of the masses.


7 -- I'll mention an idea that I know I've mentioned in the past which is: We shouldn't end our budget season engagement after money is handed off to the various departments; but, we at FBC should have committees that correspond with the DC Council committees and/or DC Government departments and should further engage at the next level so as to help guide policy and how money and resources move within a deputy mayor's cluster or within a department.

8 -- Something that I've thought about often for many years now is the need to have and to advocate from a concrete social theory such as Marxism, Socialism or even Communism. After all, the GOP-revered Ronald Reagan used Keynesianism (Trickle-down Theory) as the basis for his Reaganomics and his legacy is not completely unraveled. That said, multiple people have told me since mid-April 2016 that they see the need for advocates and service providers to stop just "putting out fires" and to work proactively from a broad but well-defined vision of what society should be like. Maybe we just need to begin a Marxist study group and develop our social theory as a way of reinvigorating people.


9 -- I tell people in my many speeches and conversations that getting mad at government and storming out of the Wilson Building (City Hall) with a supposed "threat" not to return doesn't bring us any closer to the system we want. It makes it easier for crooked politicians and their cronies to do what they do and get away with it. Staying involved in some way, shape, form or fashion is the only thing that MIGHT get what we want which is for everyone to have what they need. When we walk away, people in power cover their mouths as they laugh us to scorn.

10 -- In closing, I maintain that a benevolent dictatorship such as the one that Hugo Chavez once considered creating is the only form of governance that works well for the poor; and, capitalism is an oppressive, though not monolithic, system.

A certain person responded with:

Hey Eric, 

1 -- I, myself, have been feeling (and I think this feeling may be shared by others), that hearing's haven't been feeling like a productive use of time or all that effective. I've still been testifying and attending, but it's incredibly time consuming for only getting 3 minutes to actually speak, and it's getting more and more difficult to get community members to feel like it's a productive use of their time.

2 -- Often, we hear that they have really negative experiences, especially when Councilmembers ask them questions, and in the end, it's really not clear if their input made any meaningful difference. 

3 -- I do think we need to reassess our strategy to figure out the most strategic and effective use of our time and resources (and I agree that we need to do a much better job at tracking and following the money).

*****End of edited/abbreviated e-mail thread*****
*****Beginning of comments from May 4th meeting*****

On May 4th a certain Aaron who often attends meetings (and asked that I DO use his name in this post) spoke passionately about the fact that there were approximately 25 White non-profit personnel in the room and only three Black people including himself. He mentioned how that, in spite of the fact that most or all of the homeless families at the DC General Family Shelter are Black, most of those speaking up about the issue are White. Aaron asked, "If Black people were to fill the meeting room, would they be heard???".

(I responded by telling him that we have to FORCE people to hear us.) Aaron made other relevant points about how there is more than just an income disparity between Blacks and Whites -- that there is a disparity in terms of how often the opinions of either race are heard and taken seriously. (I would add that, while Blacks are the poorest race in this country percentage-wise, there are actually more poor Whites.)

A female attendee mentioned how "risk-averse" many of the advocates seem to be. She pointed out that the non-profit for which she works has often taken the lead on matters that others might find risky for personal reasons and/or in terms of their non-profit's funding sources -- the latter of which is often government. With her sitting right next to me, I pointed out that I am not risk averse. I don't work for a government-funded non-profit and I have nothing to lose.

I sometimes question the motives of certain non-profits. In addition to the fact that many non-profits stand to lose funding if they were to oppose the government, there is the fact that non-profits can use the disabled homeless population as cash cows in ways that they can't use the able-bodied homeless. The disabled will go from using shelters and other programs for the homeless to being placed in Permanent Supportive Housing complete with case management from a non-profit. The able-bodied homeless, if connected to living-wage jobs and affordable housing, will no longer be under the auspices of any non-profit. I'd have to assume that the non-profits have known this for a long time. It begins to explain why there is more energy in the advocacy community around housing for the disabled than there is for affordable housing and living-wage jobs to assist the able-bodied. It is also the reason that I have begun to focus my energy on the issues of A-bods -- especially those at the CCNV Shelter.
So much for the non-profits. The topic of stupid questions from council was also raised on May 4th. DC Councilmembers have been known to ask directors of different departments of DC Government if these directors agree with the mayor's budget. in lieu of the fact that these directors stand to lose their six-figure jobs, it would be counter-intuitive for them to state their disagreement -- making the question from a councilmember a stupid one. Councilmembers have also asked single mothers who were testifying about their need for social services where the father of the children was -- thus showing no regard for how the mother might not choose to divulge that part of her story to the public during a televised hearing. While I'm doubtful that such stupid questions are the reason for a decrease in hearing attendance, the stupidity and dysfunction of government should be documented and dealt with.

Yours Truly said that we should hold the mayor to her word concerning the creation of a path to middle class for the city's poor and concerning her administration's 5-year plan to end all current homelessness in the city -- making homelessness "rare, brief and non-recurring". Many meeting attendees are highly doubtful that the mayor will succeed in either respect. The city's poor have more obstacles to obtaining living-wage employment than the administration has admitted to or planned to overcome thus far. That's not to speak of the fact that the DC Council would need to fund the creation of 2,000 units of housing for the homeless annually (minus those who self-resolve); but, are only funding one-fourth to one-third of that. The administration has devised a plan that the council has agreed to but fails to fully fund. Go figure.

It is with this in mind that I asked FBC if they think we should shame the government into doing better by getting an article in the Washington Post about how the council should put its money where its mouth is. I told people that I really don't mind being mean and went so far as to promise to use my mean streak to help FBC begin this difficult conversation in earnest: the conversation about how we the advocates can do better at making government do better by the poor who want to do better for themselves.

Since I've planned for a couple of weeks now to convene a May 15th meeting of DC homeless advocates so that we can get on the same page about a number of issues, we now have just a little bit more to talk about. But I'll domy best to ensure that we do much more than just talk. We'll discuss the aforementioned issues and many more and chart a path forward that forces government to do better by its poor constituents. STAY TUNED.

Eric Sheptock's Cell: 240-305-5255

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, April 25, 2016

Mayor Muriel Bowser, Fight NIMBY-ites with a Jobs Plan

I said late last year and earlier this year that, with 2016 being a seventh year, it would be a "Year of JOB-ilee" for the homeless; and, this is just what it is turning out to be. DC Government is hard at work implementing the piece of federal legislation known as the "Workforce Innovations and Opportunities Act" or "WIOA" which basically mandates that municipalities connect hard-to-employ people to jobs. That group, of course, includes the homeless. The website that bears my name and another website that my colleagues and I worked on with American University both speak to issues surrounding homeless employment. With the CCNV Shelter's future in limbo, much is being said about the need to connect its residents to employment -- a need that can be met even now and does not need to be connected to a shelter closure. But, while much is being said and done about homeless employment issues, there is at least one very important thing that is NOT being done:
As DC Mayor Muriel Bowser promotes her plan to replace the decrepit DC General Family Shelter with seven smaller shelters in all but one of the city's wards, she is promoting it as a better shelter system while failing to highlight the parts of her plan that would assist homeless parents in their efforts to find living-wage jobs.
While it's true that there are many forces opposing her plan, it stands to reason that presenting the plan as one that will "grow people beyond homelessness" (as former DHS director Clance Carter would say) is much more attreactive to the general public. I've even taken to using this metaphor:
If Satan and the administration of Hell were to decide that Hell (like Don King's hairdo) is too large and unmanageable, they might divide it into eight smaller sections. Even so, folk would still be in Hell.
A wise man once said, "If you're going through Hell, don't stop! Keep moving!" That thinking applies here. Homelessness is Hell. Homeless people don't need smaller, more manageable Hells. They need a way out. I'm guessing that some of the NIMBY-ites (the vocal minority) would become more accepting of the mayor's plan if its employment component was the leading edge -- if it were presented as a plan to connect people to jobs rather than a plan to improve shelter conditions. Some NIMBY-ites would simply be less inclined to oppose a plan that highlights employment efforts because it would expose them for the NIMBY-ites that they are. Let's face it: the bourgeoisie has had much practice at glossing over their hatred of the poor; but, presenting an idea that addresses their concerns and/or aligns with their stated principles forces them to either be satisfied or to be more direct about their true intentions. promoting a robust employment plan for homeless parents gets us there.

I should remind people that I have critiqued the city's efforts toward homeless employment insomuch as most of its efforts are focused on parents ages 18 to 24. The Bowser administration is also focused on connecting young criminals ages 18 to 24 to employment. What I know of the plan looks good to me. It's just that neither I nor any of the people I know who are at least 25 years old can ever fit into that group again. That said, when the Bowser administration talks to the public about the plan to replace DC General Family Shelter, they should put the employment piece front and center and even develop a title that includes something about employment (like Bill Clinton did with his "Welfare to Work" program -- despite any of its flaws).

Having belabored that point sufficiently, let me move on. I said that there are many forces opposing Mayor Bowser's plan. in addition to the NIMBY-ites/Bourgeoisie of Ward 3, there are the Ward 5 residents who impressed me as they presented better alternatives to the proposed shelter site for their ward. I really have to speak of them separately from the NIMBY-ites. Their reasons for opposing the mayor's plan are legitimate.

Then there is the cost. Even Dan Tangherlini -- who served as DC city administrator in which capacity he had to lead ICH meetings but now heads GSA -- has weighed in. A recent article that features him indicates that DC Government can cut the cost of replacing the family shelter in half by purchasing the proposed sites rather than leasing the five sites as the current plan calls for. (Two sites are already city-owned.) This will prove to be a major sticking point with the DC Council. I actually like Councilman David Grosso's idea of using Eminent Domain to just TAKE these properties from the developers (except in Ward 5), throw an envelope full of cash amounting to the fair market value for these properties at the developers and then create shelter at a much lower cost than the current plan calls for. Maybe David Grosso is that benevolent dictator that we need.

At this point, I've listed a few of the forces coming against DC Mayor Muriel Bowser as she aims to replace the family shelter. In short they are:

1 -- NIMBY-ites/Bourgeoisie (mainly in Ward 3)
2 -- DC Residents with legitimate reasons to oppose the plan (like in Ward 5)
3 --Cost (when compared to suitable alternatives)
4 -- The commendable frugality of the DC Council

However, I'm thinking that I should add at least one more item:

5 -- Public stupidity.

In my many speeches and in an occasional boisterous conversation on public transit, I like to talk about how stupid the general public can be. (That's probably the one point on which Ben Carson and I agree. He's a brain surgeon. He should know.) Without belaboring this topic, as it could fill a book, I'll say this much:

On the one hand, people say "NIMBY: Not in my back yard" when the government elects to place a shelter in their neighborhood.

On the other hand, people say "NITNA(U): Not in the next apartment (unit)" when the government is housing the homeless.

STUPID PEOPLE don't want homeless people living in a shelter near them. Neither do they want homeless people living in the next apartment. However, these housed people are too stupid to realize that the latter problem will never exist insomuch as, once the homeless are housed, they're not homeless anymore. These same housed people (the ones who were never homeless) are also too stupid to realize that being opposed to the homeless person obtaining shelter OR housing in that neighborhood exposes them as bourgeois haters of the poor -- as someone who just hates anyone who doesn't make six figures.

STUPID PEOPLE fail to realize that saying "NIMBY" is the same as saying "YISEBY: Yes in somebody else's back yard". They seem to want to do with the homeless what the U.S. Military-Congress does with POW's from the War Of.....err On Terror. The big difference is that we KNOW whose back yard the POW's are going to: Cuba's. NIMBY-ites make no attempt to figure out whose back yard the homeless will end up in.

I'll venture to guess that, after the city concentrates enough homeless shelters in one small area, it will be some of the same NIMBY-ites who complain that city officials have created SKID ROW -- which is pretty much what the area around DC General has become.

Let's not forget about the STUPID COPS in various municipalities who tell the homeless "You can't sleep here.....You can't sleep there in that park either.....You can't sleep on that sidewalk either....." Let's not forget that it was considered torture when U.S. soldiers deprived Iraqi POW's of sleep.

Long story short, any member of the public who chooses to weigh in on the matter of homelessness should be prepared to answer both of these questions:

1 -- How would you ensure that homeless people are able to have all of their immediate needs met (including shelter, food, clothing etc)???

2 -- How would you end homelessness???


Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, April 8, 2016

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser Promote Homeless Employment B4 Family Shelters

I maintain my assertion that BENEVOLENT DICTATORSHIP is the only form of governance that effectively helps the working poor. (Maybe after Bernie Sanders becomes Hillary Clinton's vice president, he'll spend his last two years on the planet creating Wall Street regulations and social reforms that eliminate the need for the working poor to obtain food stamps and rental assistance.) The extreme NIMBY-ism that is reaching a boiling point in reaction to DC Mayor Muriel Bowser's plan to replace the DC General Family Shelter stands as a testament to my first point. The NIMBY-ists have gotten downright ugly, going so far as to do a mass walk-out on the mayor's administration as the admin held one of its many meetings since 2/11 about he mayor's plan. (These people went so far as to attend a March 17th hearing about the family shelter plan which was held at City Hall and complained while there about having not been given the opportunity to voice their concerns. Go figure.) The more suave -- and less rude -- residents of DC were able to formulate NIMBY-ish reasons that sounded somewhat legit, though any seasoned advocate could see right through the BS (and didn't need to have a BS to do it).

The poor don't need for their issues to be put to a public vote just so that an unsympathetic, ill-informed and oft irrational public can demand that government officials implement draconian policies. I believe the phrase for such a practice is "inverted totalitarianism". While some might ask why it is that the mayor is attempting to create emergency legislation that would allow her to move forward on her plan to replace an emergency shelter which came under extreme scrutiny after an 8-year old girl went missing from it, I say that the real question is, "Why do we put this or any matter concerning a public emergency to a public vote and a prolonged public input process??? Doesn't that contradict the nature of an emergency???". If I ever see a Ward 3 resident choking, I'm going to take a vote on who should perform the Heimlich maneuver before anyone is allowed to help them. We'll be able to house another homeless family soon thereafter. long story short, the homeless need a BENEVOLENT DICTATOR to work on their behalf.

I'm still holding out hope that Muriel Bowser (or a cabinet member who deals with homelessness) will become that BENEVOLENT DICTATOR that we need. Some of the mayor's behaviors which DC residents including Yours Truly have presented as negatives have begun to take on a positive air -- for me, anyway. Not giving ample notice about meetings concerning the proposed family shelter sites has probably reduced the number of NIMBY-ists who inundate the administration with their solution-free complaints down to a third or less of what it would have otherwise been. A perceived lack of transparency concerning how she chose the sites has, no doubt, impeded the ability of the more suave NIMBY-ists to formulate arguments that sound legit but which only serve as a front for an all-out hatred of the poor. Though I've suspected that the Bowser administration was waiting until six months or less before the planned closure of the CCNV Shelter to inform its residents (an idea which would have made it impossible to adequately address the employment challenges of able-bodied homeless people), I've now begun to tell the many homeless people who ask about the 1,350-bed shelter's future that the crises surrounding homeless families and a single males' shelter outside of which several murders have occurred since 2012 are forcing the mayor to put CCNV's future on the back burner. That said, I'll suspend judgment on Mayor Bowser's style and manner for now. I might need to make like a funny little presidential candidate and completely back-pedal on my comments about my perception of underhandedness on her part.

I recently highlighted what the mayor said about homeless during her 2016 State of the District Address (SODA) as having been a sensationalistic attempt to extort people into complying with her plan. She said:

"So we’re going to close DC General by opening up small, short-term family housing across the District. Beautiful and dignified places where families can thrive, and where little children can be little children.

But we cannot do it alone. The Council paved the way with a vote last fall, and we need your next vote to move us forward again.

I urge us not to be distracted by arguments based on fear…..or convenience….or apples and oranges comparisons that falsely represent the cost of lifting families out of homelessness.

Because make no mistake. If we fail to act – or if we do not move forward with one of the sites – we will not be able to close DC General. Not now, not any time soon, and maybe never.
While I'm not reversing that judgment, the more recent reactions to her plan by Wards 3 and 5 necessitate a revisiting of the reality of a plan that includes new construction being brought to fruition in less than 2.5 years. While the Ward 3 Bourgeoisie was just being downright nasty, Ward 5 residents brought forth some very legit reasons as to why the chosen site for that ward will not work -- and they presented alternatives. Even so, the mayor DID say that "If we do not move forward with [even] ONE of the sites – we will not be able to close DC General. Not now, not any time soon, and maybe never". and we now have at least TWO sites to which there might be enough opposition to put the plan for that site -- and for the closing of DC General Shelter AND for the construction of an Olympic village in the Hill East neighborhood by 2028 -- on hold. In lieu of this intensifying opposition, MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER needs to be reminded of HER OWN WORDS, take a good hard look at the probability of implementing her plan before her 2018 re-election bid -- and possibly change her plan significantly.

SOLUTION: Unlike the snobbish, NIMBY-ist Ward 3 Bourgeoisie, I like to present solutions. For the solution to this matter, we can pull from the words of people who (like me, a Ward 6 resident) attended the Ward 3 Family Shelter meeting on February 11th, some of whom asked LAURA ZEILINGER how homeless families were going to exit any of these yet-to-be-built shelters when some of the families had already been in the current shelter for over a year and some employment challenges take more than 90 days to address. (Though said in a hateful spirit, some of their arguments actually DO hold water.) The BOWSER ADMINISTRATION might do well to place greater emphasis on employment for homeless parents and singles even now. Then, even as they softened and euphemized the term "shelter" by calling it "temporary housing", they could eliminate the narrative of "moving homeless families into better shelters" and replace it with one that promotes "connecting the working poor to living-wage jobs and affordable housing". After all, it stands to reason that, if families that have been residing in the current shelter and in hotels for 90 days or more thus far haven't found living-wage employment already, then relocating to better shelters won't change that -- for the better, anyway. The general public might be more amenable to having the "working poor" move into their neighborhoods than they are to having people whom the Gray administration presented as "lazy and shiftless" moving into their neighborhoods. If the wealthy of Ward 3 were to reject even the working poor, then their hatred of the Proletariat and Broletariat would be further exposed -- and quite unquestionably and irreversibly, at that.

What's more is that, at the end of the [work]day, living-wage jobs would help the homeless (the majority of whom are able to work) to exit homelessness. I've suspected that public officials in all administrations since January 1999 (Williams: 1999 to 2007; Fenty: 2007 to 2011; Gray: 2011 to 2015; Bowser 2015 to present) were afraid that, if they addressed the employment and wage issues of the city's homeless, then that would begin a ripple effect wherein the housed poor might join the homeless in common cause and the low-income workers from nearby states whom the gentrifiers seek to keep out would flock to the District. Ironically, it is a renewed emphasis on living-wage jobs for the homeless and poor which may very well be what saves the mayor's plan for homeless families -- and her 2018 re-election bid. So, Mayor Muriel Bowser Promote Homeless Employment B4 Family Shelters

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Let's Work with Mayor Bowser to Decrease homelessness

It's wonderful that DC now has a mayor who is fully committed to making homelessness “rare, brief and non-recurring”. In 2003 and 2004 Tony Williams oversaw the creation of a 10-year plan to end homelessness – a plan that was discarded after three years. Adrian Fenty oversaw the creation of Permanent Supportive Housing for the elderly and disabled homeless. Vince Gray committed to addressing homelessness in the waning months of his administration, following the abduction of 8-year old Relisha Rudd from the family Shelter in March of 2014. In the meantime, the city has gone from having 5,757 homeless people in January of 2007 to having approximately 8,000 homeless people in DC proper now -- which shouldn't be confused with the 12,000 in DC Metro. (The foot count of DC's homeless wasn't done this year due to Snowstorm Jonas “Snowzilla”.) Howbeit, Mayor Muriel Bowser might just be the one to reverse the trend – though not without the help of the DC Council.

Mayor Bowser has retained Kristy Greenwalt as the director of the Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH). Kristy, who assumed her current post on April 28th, 2014, is the first director of an agency that has been meeting since June 2006. Kristy has overseen the creation of a 5-year plan which is slated to connect all of the city's current homeless to housing by the end of 2020 and which will lead to all newly-homeless people being connected to housing within 90 days. These represent awesome,though ambitious, goals.

Mayor Bowser has also brought back Laura Zeilinger who served as assistant director of the Dept. of Human Services under Fenty and has made her director of DHS. Evidenced by a recently-released audit that was done on DHS in 2014, Laura is working hard to rebuild the department and fix its many flaws. If the several women whom the mayor has appointed to direct departments that serve the poor, homeless and socioeconomically deprived are the mayor's “Poverty Dream Team”, then Laura Zeilinger is definitely the quarterback – and she often gets sacked by the media and mounting public pressure. She's a real champ.

The fact remains that Mayor Bowser has made significantly decreasing homelessness in DC – an effort that three men before didn't succeed at – into something of a pet project. Since it may come to define her first term, she's highly motivated to succeed – a truth which has its pros and cons. What's more is that the general public is becoming more politicized as the nuances of dealing with DC homelessness get played out in the public sphere – from the Amber alert posters of Relisha Rudd on buses and bus shelters to the media coverage of tent-city closures to the council and ward meetings about the mayor's plan to replace the DC General Family Shelter which, for the most part, replaced the DC Village Family Shelter – the former having increased its capacity from 115 units to 288 units in 2012 after the latter was closed in 2007.

It was a man who passed homeless people under a bridge each day on his way to work who decided to buy a few tents out of pocket. He then began a crowd-funding site through which he raised $24,000 and bought many more for the homeless in other locations around the city. This led to residents of the Foggy Bottom community taking notice of dozens of homeless people who'd been camped out near the Watergate hotel for years – but without tents until late 2015. Some of these residents contacted city officials in order to have the tent city dismantled. Since then, DC Government has begun a campaign to dismantle tent cities all over the city. The man who began it all, though he's not happy about the tent cities being dismantled, is glad that he was able to play a role in bringing attention to the issue of homelessness.

Members of the public have voiced their concerns at meetings which the Bowser administration held in various wards on February 11th, 2016 to promote her family shelter plan. They can also be seen testifying at the March 17thcouncil hearing on this matter. They can be heard raising many technical and logistical questions from the proposed shelter sites' cost to their proximity to bus lines and transit stations. (This post won't due justice to the many things people said. View the hearing.) But it was the residents of Ward 5 who really set the bar for the public's engagement in this process of remaking the family shelter system. Residents thought that the proposed site for the Ward 5 family shelter was not suitable for many reasons. However, they didn't stop there. They scouted around and found alternative sites, loaded them onto a website and sent the link along with a letter to city officials. This is a prime example of how we can avoid merely complaining about the doings of public officials and we can actually work together to make DC a better place.

It's worth noting that many homeless people have barriers to employment that won't be resolved within 90 days. This doesn't preclude the administration from housing them first and addressing their employment challenges later. After all, the designers of the city's Permanent Supportive Housing program said during the series of meetings between April and September of 2008 that the plan was to start out housing the most vulnerable homeless who have mental and physical disabilities and to eventually transition into also housing those who are able to work (A-bods). In either instance the city would use a “housing first” approach that places the person in housing and then addresses the issues that led to that person becoming homeless. With city officials scrambling to implement the federal law called the Workforce Innovations and opportunities Act (WIOA), this might be a good time to complete the transition to also housing the able-bodied homeless – a transition that began with the crisis response to the DC General Family Shelter situation but has yet to spill over into the singles' shelters.

It's imperative that we take note of the fact that DC homelessness is the result of a toxic mix of social ills – low wages, increasing rents, gentrification, a problem-ridden educational system etc. Some of the residents who experience these and other social ills never actually become homeless. Others take years after losing a job to finally enter shelter. But all DC residents should want cures to these ills and to the homelessness that often results from them. As many homeless advocates often say, “We're all just a paycheck away from becoming homeless”.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser MUST Make Homelessness "Rare, Brief and Non-Recurring"

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser has made dealing with homelessness her pet project. She and her administration have said thousands of times collectively both verbally and in print that she will make homelessness "rare, brief and non-recurring". To be clear, I really, really, really want her to succeed. Only the high-five and the six-figure earning homeless service providers gain anything from the mayor failing in this respect. Neither homeless people nor government officials who can be held accountable for such failures stand to gain from another failed plan. So, I'm putting it on the public record even now that I will do everything within my power to help her succeed -- everything from publicizing and attending meetings where homeless people can give input as to how city officials can assist us at exiting homelessness to pointing out any and all perceived holes in the mayor's five-year plan to end homelessness.

Mayor Bowser, whether she knows it or not, has created conditions whereby her progress -- or lack thereof -- on getting all current homeless people housed and creating a system whereby new shelter arrivals will be rehoused within 90 days is quickly becoming the issue that will define her re-election bid in 2018. Being as the replacement shelters for homeless families who are currently residing at the decrepit DC General Family Shelter are slated for completion by September 2018, I'm inclined to believe that Ms. Bowser is keenly aware of the fact that her political future is riding on this issue. That would also begin to explain why she aims to limit public input on a plan that she wants carried out within two-and-a-half years and which involves both new construction and renovations.

Unfortunately, timing the unveiling of these several new and smaller "temporary housing facilities" to prop her up during her re-election bid has caused her and at least some of her administration to view ongoing public input as a major obstacle and has created a perceived lack of transparency -- with her having run for office on a promise of transparency. Then again, she can claim to have been "transparent" insomuch as she's made it "clear" that her mind is made up and she's moving forward with her plan -- regardless of who doesn't like it. (A bad pun, to be sure.) In lieu of congressional bickering around the funding of the H.E.A.R.T.H. Act; NIMBY-ism around the proposed locations of different shelters and my many calls for centralized power as a solution to homelessness, I can appreciate MURIEL BOWSER being a dictator -- as long as she's a BENEVOLENT DICTATOR like Hugo Chavez sought to become.

After all, worldwide capitalism has created an environment in which a person's value is determined by how much money they own or control. Additionally, various national, state, local and intra-agency democratic processes often lead to both politicians and the general public voting against plans that would assist the homeless. This begins to describe the  toxic mix of conditions that people who are working hard to end homelessness have to contend with. Democracy is not all that it's cracked up to be. I get it. Completely.

Oddly enough, Mayor Bowser's resolve to decrease DC homelessness has led to government dysfunction and NIMBY-ism becoming strange bedfellows. As far as government dysfunction (a phenomenon that Bowser inherited from the previous administration, as indicated by A RECENTLY-PUBLISHED AUDIT) is concerned, the public has touted problems with the Requests For proposals that were put forth by the Gray administration and were not updated before being re-issued by Bowser. They've also complained about having only been given two-day's notice about the meetings held in various wards on February 11th, 2016 to inform the public about the mayor's family shelter plan. They've complained that the city issued letters of intent that were both untimely and nondescript. With me having attended the Ward 3 meeting on February 11th and having testified [beginning at 2h, 50m] alongside Ward 3 residents on March 17th, I've heard residents of that ward (the wealthiest in the city) articulate other technical concerns such as the homeless families' access to public transit (not a major issue for the chosen Ward 3 site, IMHO), possible school overcrowding, issues with zoning variances, the fact that the city won't own most of the proposed shelter sites, access to stores for these homeless families and the likelihood that homeless parents will overcome their employment challenges within the 90-day period that Mayor Bowser has said it will take to cycle new homeless families out of shelter beginning in 2020. While all of the aforementioned concerns are indeed legitimate, I can't help but wonder if it's just another form of NIMBY-ism. I suspect that it is; but, I'll take it for what it's worth. The NIMBY-ers and the homeless advocates can ourselves become strange bedfellows and move together toward creating a more efficient government that serves both its monied people and its poor people well -- thus cushioning the effects of an emerging class war.

While there is little chance that public opposition will force any change in the mayor's plans for family shelter in most of the city's eight wards, it seems highly likely that the planned Ward 5 site will be replaced with another. What's more is that Ward 5 has become a beacon for how best to work with local government -- by thinking things through for the government and presenting possible solutions and alternatives to our public officials. With homeless families containing small children, the Ward 5 residents have pointed out that the proposed shelter site is near a strip club and that used condoms are often found on the ground in that area. They've also pointed out the site's proximity to train tracks and a bus depot where buses are fixed and which produces much soot that settles on window sills and elsewhere. They've also pointed out that there is one bus route within a couple blocks of the proposed site with the next nearest city bus route ending two miles away. Add to that the fact that the nearest school is a mile away and the nearest grocery is two miles away. When you factor in a developer who owns much of Washington, DC including the old warehouse that might be turned into the Ward 5 Family Shelter (city officials having spoken repeatedly against "warehousing the homeless"), suspicions arise of government officials steering contracts to their corporate/development cronies. (That's not to speak of a suspicion I heard on 3/22/16 of Bowser, 43 being involved with this 70-something developer. I can hardly see it, though there IS precedent in the man whose protege she is and documented proof of the fascistic marriage of DC Government and development.)

However, Ward 5 residents have found alternative sites, compiled them electronically and sent the list to city officials for consideration. This leaves the municipal government with very little wiggle room for making excuses around not being able to come up with alternatives. The threats to the health and well-being of the homeless children makes it imperative for city officials to push for an alternative site. The well-founded suspicions of cronyism make it political suicide for the Bowser administration to fail to find an alternative Ward 5 site. Ward 5 got it right. What's more is that I don't suspect them of exercising glorified NIMBY-ism like I do with Ward 3. Other wards should emulate Ward 5. Seriously.

In keeping with my preference for solutions over mere complaints and with my tendency to promote best practices, it seems fitting for me to mention someone whom I've known since July 23rd, 2007 and whom I've grown quite fond of. That would be DHS Director Laura Zeilinger who, unbeknownst to me until my arrival, was the one who spoke at the Ward 3 meeting on 2/11. Despite her stint as deputy director of DHS under former mayor Adrian Fenty (2007-2011), I firmly believe that Laura would make the best possible director of the DC ICH -- a position that was only created in later 2013 for an agency that has existed since June 2006. Laura has always proven to be accessible and responsive. She listens intently to all that the homeless have to say. She gives complete responses. She's not condescending. She takes immediate action to address a problem whenever possible, working on longer-term solutions soon thereafter. She doesn't suffer from the paralysis of analysis. When she knows she's right, she doesn't back down -- not even from a council person who is pummeling her with criticisms. Since being appointed by Bowser, Ms. Zeilinger has worked diligently to fix (if not altogether remake) DHS. She's got her hands full; but, she's pulling it off. Despite Laura's value in her current position, it stands to reason that Mayor Bowser needs to make Laura the director of the ICH in order to save her political future.

It's worth noting that my recommendation that Bowser make Laura her knew ICH director is based on Laura's ability and not meant to insinuate that current ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt is somehow incapable. Kristy should direct DHS, IMHO. My sense of Kristy is that she is developing a better understanding of how to communicate effectively with homeless people. She's becoming more receptive to the concerns articulated by the homeless and their advocates. She's becoming more keenly aware of the challenges she faces when it comes to making Homeward DC a reality. She is beginning to see the holes in the plan. She might even have taken notice of how quickly the general public is learning about the nuances of addressing homelessness -- a truth that will drive Bowser's re-election bid. The onus for bringing the mayor's primary campaign promise and pet project to fruition falls squarely on the shoulders of Kristy Greenwalt. Despite past disagreements, I actually feel for Kristy, come 2018 -- or for Laura if the two should trade places. Will they be able to make the mayor look good.....politically, of course??? DC Mayor Muriel Bowser MUST Make Homelessness "Rare, Brief and Non-Recurring"!!!!!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, January 29, 2016

M.U.W.W.A. F.O.C.K.A.: Meet Us Where We're At. Fostering Open Communication Kills Anger” -- KRISTY GREENWALT

Last updated on 2/5/16

Since I originally wrote the following blog post, DC Government has promised to meet with the homeless residents of the CCNV Shelter so as to discuss both its and their futures. See THIS ANNOUNCEMENT which I've begun to circulate at the shelter.
Some time ago a certain DAVID who works for The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (TCP) which oversees some of the city's shelters and homeless services gave a presentation about Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH). I Noticed that David only spoke of the money that the city would save and said nothing about caring for his homeless clients and I politely confronted David during public comments. Some time later I spoke to Inter-agency Council on Homelessness director KRISTY GREENWALT about it.

“Ya gotta meet people where they're at.....whatever brings them to the table”.

Let's hold her to HER STATED PRINCIPLE as it pertains to involving homeless people in discussions about issues that affect them. Many of the homeless have an aggressive or defensive street manner which they've acquired as a means of surviving on the streets. After all, even DC had an innocent homeless man to get his head bashed in as he slept outdoors -- sadly, being one of many homeless people who fall victim to unprovoked attacks (often at the hands of youth ages 15 to 23 yrs old).

She's the same one who, in October 2015, called my cell phone to ask me not to predict that MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER was going to close CCNV. I edited my blog post in accordance with her request. Changing phrases like “I know” to “I believe” or “I'm guessing”. She didn't refute the facts that informed my guess and she's failed thus far to give an update on the future of CCNV – only telling me what not to say as she tries to make the mayor look good. I'll continue to press her for answers.

On January 23rd and 24th, 2016 -- during Winter Storm Jonas -- I spent much time at Union Station and walking the streets as far as 14th and I nw – zig-zagging into the places where I know homeless people to bed down. Beginning around 10 AM on the 23rd, I called LAURA ZEILINGER who is the director of the Dept. of Human Services to inform her that there were about 50 people in different parts of Union Station – many of whom hadn't eaten since the previous day. Being as Laura is quite accessible and responsive, she probably passed the word about these homeless people onto Kristy in hopes that Kristy would help get them fed. Kristy then took it upon herself to call me and let me know that I was getting in the way with my phone calls. (I'd spoken with Laura twice for a total of about 8 min.) Kristy and I spoke for at least 5 min. Go figure. She's was so busy but had time to call and tell me that BS. (On the 23rd I also mentioned the tent city near the station; but, was told by these homeless people on the 24th that no one had gone by that particular spot to offer any food.)

On the night of the 23rd in a text (to which she didn't respond) and in an e-mail since then, I informed Kristy that I found two homeless men that night who had not been found by the well-paid government employees who were out there looking. Upon listening to all of 20 seconds of a 9-minute video I'd made about homeless people in the station during the storm, Kristy jumped to the conclusion that I was disparaging her staff who “risked life and limb” to go into a snowstorm [which rendered 5 mph winds and had no lightning or thunder] – the same storm I walked in to get from Union Station to 14th and I (about 1.5 miles, as the crow flies). Hmmm. When I informed her that I was actually walking in the storm (not riding a humvee) and found two people that her staff missed, all she could do was send me a condescending e-mail telling me that I shouldn't have been out there because the mayor had given orders to shelter in place. Not so much as a “Thank you for risking YOUR life and I'm glad you found people we missed”. That's when I was firmly convinced that she's problem. That's not to speak of how many people think she takes to long to get anything done and suffers (or actually causes the homeless to suffer) from the paralysis of ANALysis.

I was dead serious when I suggested holding her to her stated principle of "meeting people where they're at" and of doing "whatever brings them to the table" (which, in the case of the homeless, means providing food). On March 8th there will be an ICH meeting at the 801 East Shelter. I'll do what I can to get at least 50 homeless people to there. I have a month to make it happen and will make a speech to 200 homeless people on February 28th, during which I'll circulate info about it. She hasn't heard the last of me. I hope she hears you too.

To contact Kristy Greenwalt:

Call: 202-304-8318 or 202-957-6878 or her office at 202-727-2823 (ICH Info line: 202-724-1338)

Next full council meeting: 3/8/16 at 2 PM at 801 Men's East Shelter (St Elizabeth Hospital grounds)
I hope to see at least 50 homeless people there. I'll post another flier in addition to THIS 2-SIDED FLIER about my M.U.W.W.A.  F.O.C.K.A. initiative when we're closer to the date. Will print and post this one soon.

In an effort to better document various homeless advocacy efforts that I've been a part of, I am hyperlinking THIS SET OF PDF's into a number of blog posts.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, January 25, 2016

Homeless in Washington, DC During Blizzard of 2016 – Winter Storm Jonas


It's Monday, January 25th, 2016 and the nation's capital is digging out from Winter Storm Jonas. I'm writing from Starbucks and was elated to find them open today. That brings me to what I knew would be one of the biggest problems for the homeless during the blizzard: lack of access to food. Though I don't have very much money, I have enough to buy a little bit of food if and when I can't make it to a place where free food is served or when such places are closed due to inclement weather. That said, I was able to purchase a cup of coffee, charge my phone and use the wi-fi this morning. Things are getting back to "normal" for Yours Truly, being as I don't ride the transit on most days. (Things still aren't back to normal for those who use the transit system daily.)

In past years I've attended DC Government's winter plan meetings. As far as I know, it is only the homeless service providers in DC Government and those contracted under the government to deliver homeless services that devise a winter plan. Given the storm of negative media coverage and public outrage that DC Mayor Muriel Bowser is being pummeled by right now, it might be a good idea for her to expand such meetings to include discussion of how the city as a whole – not just the homeless – will be assisted during a winter storm. It should be a function of her full administration – not just homeless service providers in the Dept. of Human Services and the Inter-agency Council on Homelessness. If that's already the case (which is highly doubtful), she'd best not tell anyone.

At these winter plan meetings, I've mentioned the fact that homeless people are fed dinner at the shelters but must venture out to soup kitchens for breakfast and lunch. Fred Swan (who is no longer with DHS) explained to me that, while the homeless DO need to venture out for breakfast and lunch during COLD weather, there will be additional meals brought to them when there is SNOW on the ground. I wondered even then as to how food would be brought to the homeless if the roads were impassible. I got my answer a couple of days ago: It won't, in many cases.

With me having had that sneaky suspicion days before the storm, I shared a Washington Post article about giving to the homeless before the blizzard. It focused on their need for blankets and warm clothing. It listed emergency shelter contacts. As I shared it with my 15,000 friends, fans and followers, I mentioned the need for food. However, the need to get to a warm place (or to simply cover up sufficiently) dwarfs the need for food. I get that. Completely. As it turns out, lack of nutrition was not the only problem experienced by the homeless during Winter Storm Jonas.

I work. So, on the morning of Friday, January 22nd, I caught the Green Line Subway to the Suitland station. From there I needed to catch the K 12 bus. I exited the metro station at 8:30 AM. I asked a woman near the K 12 bus shelter if the bus was running. She said that, according to the schedule, one had come at 8:20 and another was due at 8:50. I went to the convenience store and returned at 8:42. At 8:52 she and I spoke again and wondered if the bus was running. I approached the station manager who was standing at the station exit and asked if the K 12 was running. He said, “No”. It turns out that several of the buses that serve that station were not running. There were dozens of people waiting for buses that weren't coming and a station manager who didn't have the decency to walk over and tell them. I visited the metro website to see if there was a list of buses that weren't running on the morning of Friday, January 22nd even before the storm hit. There was; but, it didn't list the K 12. Furthermore, the site and the news said that buses would run until 5 PM and trains would run until 11 PM. Here it was about 9 AM and many buses were not running. I got off from work just after 2 PM and was dropped off at a bus stop around 2:30. Though it is near several bus routes, the metro website would indicate that there were no buses running within a mile of me. I met an elderly woman who'd been waiting for over 45 minutes and ended up walking her to the Suitland station (over 3 miles away). Her phone was dead and she didn't know directions to the station. For her, I was a God-send.

Around 9 AM on January 23rd I walked about three blocks to Union Station to check on the homeless and thus began what would turn into a 15-hour workday for me. There were about 50 homeless people in different parts of the station – the atrium (right inside of the driving circle), in the Au Bon Pain bakery (which was open), in the Amtrak waiting area and downstairs in the food court (where only Johnny Rockets was open). Around 10 AM I contacted DC Government to inform them that there were about 50 homeless people in the station who didn't have access to food. I was told that DC government was in contact with the National Guard and the Red Cross in an effort to get food and other assistance to the needy. Around 7 PM a humvee pulled up to Union Station to give out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, trail mix and granola bars to the homeless who got word quickly enough and were able to get outside before the humvee pulled off.

I actually called and texted DC Government several times that day. I informed them that there was a homeless encampment on First Street NE about two blocks north of the station and that there might be 25 or 30 people in the approximately 15 tents – some containing couples and most being elderly. Though the director of the Dept. of Human Services (the only one I called) was as accommodating as possible, a different government functionary (who was probably acting of her own accord) called me and made it clear that I was getting in the way with my phone calls. After a couple of minutes of conversation, she said that getting folk out of the elements was her priority – not getting them fed. I immediately understood her logic there. Even so, I suspect that the DHS director mentioned me in an off-hand remark and that the other woman took it upon herself to “put me in check” -- not a good idea.

I left Union Station just before 9 PM, returned to the CCNV Shelter for a few minutes (namely to get some money I had stashed there) and headed back out – this time to walk the streets and see what homeless people might not have been found and told that the temperature was expected to drop to about 15 degrees that night. I would end up finding two men. The one I found near 14th Street and NY Ave NW chose not to heed my warning. I later flagged down an FBI officerette who promised to check on him. The other man was at the bottom of the metro escalator near F and 12 NW. He seemed new to the homeless scene and was elated when I asked him if he wanted to enter shelter. I called the hypothermia van for him and left. My phone died immediately thereafter. I returned to CCNV around 11:50 PM – passing a plow that was stuck in the snow at 3rd and D NW.

I returned to Union Station on the morning of January 24th. A homeless woman flagged me down to tell me that, after I left the previous night, station security became very disrespectful toward the homeless. They made those who were sitting in the Amtrak waiting area in cushioned seats that had backs move to the atrium and sit on wooden benches that don't have backs. They made the homeless sit up all night and wouldn't allow them to go to sleep. This is reminiscent of how U.S.soldiers “tortured” their Iraqi POW's. She also told me that security told the homeless at 5:30 AM that they had to leave the station; but, then she heard a radio call come in telling security to let them stay. She also told me that her boyfriend has video of the incident which includes a security guard telling a homeless man to suck his [“Richard” Peter Johnson]. I would later find out that no one had approached the encampment with food and that there were people there who hadn't eaten in a day or two. As it turns out, the Salvation Army food truck that normally stops near Union Station didn't show up on either day.

On the 24th I would also find out that So Others Might eat (S.O.M.E.) had actually been open every day for breakfast and lunch, though the walk there from Union Station (which takes me 20 minutes on a good day) would have been quite treacherous for most people – especially the elderly homeless and those who are pulling wheeled suitcases. I can't speak to whether or not the usual dinner arrived at CCNV (with DC Central Kitchen being in the basement of the same building); because I was out and about at 5 PM on the 23rd and 24th. However, I found it somewhat challenging to buy a decent meal for a decent price, even though I had money. (My only options were at Union Station in Johnny Rocket's and Au Bon Pain, though I walked for miles.) Another woman stopped me this morning to tell me that the women at the Open Door Shelter (in the CCNV/DC Central Kitchen Bldg) were unable to get a “hot” meal. I'm a bit more concerned with whether or not they got “enough” food. I'll see what else I can find out.

In past years I've seen homeless people who'd exited shelter during a snow emergency and were sitting at the McPherson Subway Station. When I asked them why, they said that they were given additional “meals” in the morning; but, these meals were watery soup (flavored water) and that they'd come out to see what solid food they could get their hands on. At any rate, I find myself having to raise the same concerns year after year with DC Government. So, here's an idea that will benefit, not only the homeless, but also the entire DC community: 

The winter storm motorcade:

When DC has its next winter storm, the mayor should put together several motorcades – at least one per ward. Each motorcade should be led by two (2) plow trucks which are followed by a fire truck,an ambulance, a small gas truck, a humvee and a van that contains both hot food and MRE's (meals ready to eat). That would allow the roads to be plowed even as emergency personnel move through the city delivering food and attending to any emergencies that arise. Should one emergency vehicle need to break away from the motorcade temporarily, it could be led by a plow to its destination. Additionally, all kitchens that cook for the homeless and other needy populations could stay open 24 hours and keep the meals coming. Homeless shelters could double as places where housed people within walking distance who lack food could find a meal.

Though the mayor wants to be a “woman apart” who doesn't follow in the footsteps of former mayor Mr. Adrian Fenty or ANY man (much less a homeless man), let's hope that she doesn't reject this idea on account of my gender – or find some other crazy reason for rejecting it.

It's just an idea.

INTERESTING NOTE: I stopped writing this blog post and stepped out to get some food a while ago. I saw a female reporter being filmed by a man. When I asked what station they were from, I got the sense they didn't want to tell me. I persisted and found out it was Cox. I asked the woman if they had covered anything about how the homeless fared during the storm. She told me quite unabashedly that they cover issues that affect taxpayers. I said that the homeless shelters are run with tax dollars. She said she had to go and catch up with the camera man. I just wished i'd had my phone's voice recorder running throughout that exchange.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Muriel Bowser: How Does Her Admin. Think and What Moves Them??? (Creating Real Accountability)

Last edited on 1/20/16

Martin Luther King, Jr. whose work we celebrated on January 18th fought for the rights of Blacks and poor people from 1955 to 1968. Mitch Snyder (1943-1990) fought for the homeless (the poorest of the poor) from 1974 to 1990. I've been fighting for the homeless since mid-June 2006. Were you to compare our lives, you wouldn't find that we have a lot in common – probably nothing more than the fact that we all have fought for the poor – MLK, Jr and Mitch having died doing so. Though I make no effort to emulate either man, I see yet another thing that we all seem to have in common. In all three cases we seem to have a moment of clarity after about 10 years of advocacy and/or activism.

Between 1963 and his assassination MLK, Jr. made multiple speeches in which he talked about the lack of progress in terms of how Black Americans are treated. During this same time he was at odds with Malcolm X and other movement leaders about the way forward – namely concerning whether to keep begging those in power for equality with Whites or to take it by force. Mitch Snyder began advocating in 1974. However, all videos I've seen of him are from 1984 onward. It seems that about 10 years into their work each man realized that he was butting heads with an intransigent system and had thoughts about regrouping and/or going hard(er). I am only guessing that it was Mitch Snyder's stepped-up methods that made his story “sexy” to the media after he'd been at it for 10 years. In any instance, I'm approaching the 10-year mark in my advocacy.

When I began advocating in mid-June 2006, we were in the waning months of then-DC mayor Anthony Williams' administration. Since then we've had two full mayoral administrations and are now just over a year into another. During that same time frame the nation has had two presidents. I have concluded, due to a mixture of federal and local government initiatives over the past 10 years, that the best ideas for reducing homelessness come from the federal government and that the city government is little more than a conduit for the proponents of gentrification -- that the advocates are fighting a proxy war with landlords, developers and employers by way of city hall (though we ought to take out that "middle man").

President Obama signed the HEARTH Act into law on May 20th, 2009. With it being the renewal of the McKinney-Vento Act of 1987, it requires cities and states to actually meet various benchmarks in terms of ending homelessness. On July 22nd, 2014 President Obama Signed WIOA into law, requiring that cities and states actually meet certain benchmarks in terms of connecting hard-to-employ populations to jobs. This can also be viewed as a remedy for the failure of the Dept. of Labor to effectively connect a majority of able-bodied homeless people to employment as part of a social experiment they did in 1988. Let's not forget about the Permanent Supportive Housing program for which DC received federal funds in FY 2009-10 (10/1/08 thru 9/30/10).

I see these two federal laws running their courses in DC Government. Kristy Greenwalt was appointed as the first ever director of the DC ICH on April 28th, 2014, though she will temporarily run DHS' Family Services Administration following the departure of Michele Williams. In her role as ICH director, Kristy satisfies the provision of the HEARTH Act that requires that there be a point person in the local government who can make HUD-related decisions – a homeless czar(ina). As for WIOA, DC Government's Dept. of Employment Services is now collaborating with the Dept. of Human Services in ways that they never have before. (Former DOES directors sat quietly at dozens of ICH meetings – a point that I've made during public comments at these meetings.)

Washington, DC has adopted laws and policies over the past 40 years that have led to poor communities losing whatever opportunities they had for social uplift. The late Marion Barry did things to slow the roll of the gentrifiers; but, he couldn't completely stop the process. The process of gentrification sped up in the late nineties and reached lightning speed in 1999 during the first term of Anthony Williams. Mayor Muriel Bowser inherited the results of 16 years of rapid gentrification which she has limited ability to reverse. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised to find admissions of the problems caused by rising rents and stagnant wages mentioned in the 5-year plan to end homelessness in DC – making it "rare, brief and non-recurring". As Muriel Bowser sets out to reach this ambitious goal and her DHS director makes promises of progress in 2016, it's worth noting that her administration is caught snugly between two federal acts that demand they get results on the one hand and local business leaders (especially landlords) who might be reluctant to get with the program on the other hand.

With me seeing that the good graces of DC Government and local businesses have not substantially decreased homelessness in the past 10 years, I'm betting that it will be the federal legislation (which carries the threat of sanctions and/or loss of future funding for non-compliance) that does the most to decrease DC homelessness.

That leads nicely into the issue of how government ought to think. I won't belabor the issue of government responding to public pressure and crises, having addressed such matters in other recent blog posts. I've already built the case for DC government responding to federal legislation in the previous paragraphs of this blog post. I've written about the “Facade of Caring” in the past; but, I'll briefly explain it here. About 15 years ago the city closed the DC General Hospital, knowing then that the building was dilapidated. About 10 years ago they made it into a family shelter. For the past six years there have been complaints of poor living conditions at the family shelter with this building falling apart at an ever-accelerating pace. Now the city cares toomuch to let families remain in a building that sits where the Olympicvillage might be built for 2028, if the mayor has her way (assuming she'll try again). Then there is the issue of public housing. The DC Housing Authority cares too much to let poor people remain in dilapidated housing that they and the government failed to renovate. Long story short, the local government (across multiple administrations) neglects a shelter or housing project and allows it to fall apart and then “cares” enough to move everybody out.

So far we have public pressure, crises and federal legislation which are proven to get results from DC Government in terms of addressing homelessness. We also have the facade of caring and its beneficiaries -- the local business community – pulling city government in the other direction. Add to this the fact that there was no conversation about the 13% increase in homeless people from 2013 to 2014, though the results of the Homeless Point-in-Time Count are usually discussed at the June ICH meeting. This led me to believe that government only wants to make itself look and feel good – a suspicion that was supported by a presentation that was given at a January 12th, 2016 meeting. Truth be told, I don't expect anyone to intentionally make themselves look bad. That brings us back to the issue of public pressure.

DC Government has been talking about greater accountability and transparency for at least as long as I've been advocating for the homeless. They report out about what they are doing; but, if the reporting on homelessness is any indication, it is only since Muriel Bowser took office in 2015 that we are seeing any admission that we're not doing such a hot job. I'll chalk that up as victory. Maybe it's time for us to step back from the demands for accountability and transparency for a brief moment and ask ourselves what logical assumptions we should consider before reasserting these demands – like the fact that government, like anyone, will present their doings in a positive light. It is therefore up to the citizens to formulate and ask the hard questions. We need to tease out the negative patterns that run across administrations and demand that the sitting mayor stop the madness. We need to find the gaps in reporting (such as when we are told that 700 or so homeless people were served by employment programs with half getting jobs but are not reminded that the city has over 7,000 homeless people). We need to press city officials to tell us what they decided concerning the future of the CCNV Shelter for which they held a nine-month long task force and created legislation that allows the mayor to close it. We need to take notice of the fact that the 5-year plan to end homelessness doesn't expressly state that the city will connect homeless singles who are ages 25 to 60 and don't have addiction problems or jail records to living-wage employment. Accountability and transparency only exist when the citizens ask the hard questions.

That said, mayor Muriel Bowser gets high marks from me thus far for being better than the three male mayors that preceded her; however, there is plenty of room for improvement. (I'll put what else I have to say about how government should think into my next blog post, as this one has already reached an ungodly length.)

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Muriel Bowser & Deborah Carroll: Recent Progress on Homeless Employment – Join the Effort!!!

This blog post will go to DC Government's Dept. of Employment Services (DOES). I will try and schedule a meeting with them so that I can adequately represent their newest efforts when I speak to the homeless and as my colleagues and I gather information from them about their employment challenges. The following represents a somewhat coincidental coming together of the advocacy efforts of myself and my colleagues on the one hand and DC Government on the other hand – a closing of the gap. 

FAIR WARNING: Some of the initiatives are occasion for gut-wrenching laughter.....

On January 12th, 2016 I attended an ICH (Inter-agency Council on Homelessness) Executive Committee meeting where a presentation was given by Candace Nelson of DOES about what the department is doing to assist homeless people. She started out by indicating that in 2015 there were 191 people who identified as homeless who were served by DOES' American Jobs Center (AJC) and that 585 homeless people were served by DOES' Project Empowerment program with 355 obtaining employment and 281(?) remaining employed for at least six months. While I laud such progress and commend her presentation, I can't help but notice that government often fails to indicate the size and scope of a social ill when talking about what they're doing to address it. DC counted 7,298 homeless people in January 2015 – down 450 people from a year prior. If no new people were to become homeless, DC Government would need to assist about 1,500 people per year at exiting homelessness in order to end it by December 2020. Since we know that more people WILL fall from the frying pan of the DC Housing Authority wait list (which has had as many as 70,000 people on it) and into the fire of homelessness, it's imperative that we house AT LEAST 2,000 people per year or eight people per work day. Assuming that just under half of the homeless are able-bodied job seekers (with others currently working for less than a housing wage), at least three of those eight people would need to be DOES clients who are transitioning into housing.

The stats given at the beginning of Candace's presentation caused me to immediately think about the reasons for which more homeless people aren't taking advantage of DOES programs. I'm guessing that the homeless persons' annual point-in-time count which will take place on the night of January 27th, 2016 and whose results will be published by the end of May will indicate that the city has about 7,700 homeless people -- a very conservative figure (with DC having a population of 670,000). Of the 7,000+ homeless people in DC, there might be 2,500 to 3,000 who would take advantage of an employment program which they felt was geared toward meeting their needs -- a big "IF". This brings us back to the question:

Why are there not more homeless people taking advantage of DOES programs???

I would guess that:

1 – Many able-bodied homeless people don't know about these and other programs at DOES, in part because of insufficient outreach on the part of DOES hereto now -- something DOES is working on.

2 – People would need to forgo eating at the kitchens that serve homeless people in order to attend these programs, though they MIGHT be able to get enough food stamps to cover meals during program attendance.

3 – People might have difficulty acquiring sufficient transportation assistance.

4 – I know that many, like yours truly, are turned off by soft-skills training. At least some of the soft-skills training is, no doubt, onerous insomuch as it includes training a person to maintain a "professional attitude" for something like a construction job where you can curse like a sailor as long as you show up on time and get the job done. Save it. I'll pass.

5 – Many of the homeless have at least 10 years of work experience and just want to be immediately connected to living-wage employment that makes use of their already-acquired skills. A brief refresher course might be in order if they've not worked in their field of expertise for several years. They might just need assistance getting recertified for their trade, as opposed to just getting recertified for food stamps -- a hand up, not a hand-out.

I'm sure there are more reasons than I care to or could hope to enumerate here and now. Those are just a few quick answers off the top of my head. Reasons 1-3 might not be that difficult to address, especially since DHS (Dept. of Human Services) Director Zeilinger said at this meeting that DOES is gathering input on how it might change its hereto now rigid structure so as to better serve the homeless community. This willingness to change plays right into the hands of the advocates. After all, that's what advocates do – pressure government into changing (or adding to) what it does so as to better serve that government's constituency. It also lends itself to the notion that the poking and prodding of the advocacy community is finally paying off in a big way, thereby encouraging us to poke and prod all the more. Hooray!

I've always been baffled by the fact that DC Government – across multiple administrations – tends to respond best when the advocates are most aggressive and apply the most pressure. It seems to me to be more logical to respond as soon as they realize that an idea makes plenty of sense – to show us that we need not throw a temper tantrum in order to get an adequate response to a reasonable request. Be that as it may, if the temper tantrum gets the best response from government, then it's both logical and imperative that we the advocates throw more than a few of them. I definitely will.

Following former DC mayor Anthony William's failed 2006 attempt at giving the Franklin School Shelter building to developer Herb Miller, the successive mayor Adrian Fenty closed Franklin in conjunction with DC's implementation of the Permanent Supportive Housing program. WIN (the Washington inter-faith Network) which is a group of about 50 churches that do grassroots advocacy was instrumental in getting the city to buy into this federal program. That hardly amounts to a temper tantrum. However, there was negative media coverage (especially by the Washington Post) of the deplorable conditions at the DC General Family Shelter beginning in March 2010. This wasn't enough to convince former mayor Vince Gray (2011 to 2015) to address the matter. Then an 8-year old girl named Relisha Rudd was abducted from the shelter in early 2014 and the public pressure to address the matter went through the roof. (The roof of DC General was so dilapidated that it wasn't hard to get through.) This WAS indeed something of a temper tantrum – backing DC Government into a corner and forcing them to respond to the crisis.

In November 2015 the community of Foggy Bottom (a DC neighborhood) complained about a homeless tent city near the Watergate. That homeless contingent had been there for over 10 years with no one complaining. In recent months, a kind person began purchasing tents for many of the “street homeless”. That's when the Foggy Bottom community began to complain to city officials. Make what you will of that. In any instance, the city took action to shut the tent city down and promised to house this subset of the homeless community. (The latter remains to be seen.) Here we have housed people pitchin' a *itch about homeless people pitching tents and the city jumping to accommodate the housed by removing the homeless. A friend told me she plans to send homeless people to that location with tents so that they can get housing more quickly – bypassing the 10-year wait list for housing. So, the neighborhood's temper tantrum has inspired those who support the homeless to throw one of their own. Hmmm.

Back to the matter at hand. Being as a temper tantrum usually involves a little “leaping”, that reminds me that the Bowser administration has implemented the LEAP program which is designed to connect DC residents to city jobs. Those jobs can be in DC Government offices, with the transit system or with Water and Sewage (WASA) among other agencies and will, at some point, be expanded beyond just city jobs. Though LEAP is not just for homeless people, DOES is making a targeted effort to enroll homeless parents (average age 18 to 24) in this program. DOES also has a new mobile unit that is “jumping around” and doing outreach to certain distressed communities – especially the family shelter and “police service areas” (neighborhoods with high levels of juvenile/young adult crime – all BS aside). This is a part of the response to the family shelter crisis (and the fact that the number of homeless families is skyrocketing); but, it is also a response to a temper tantrum insomuch as the young people who are getting caught up in the “justice” system are being moved toward the front of the line for employment services. I'm glad they're being served, not at what's moving them toward the front of the line though. Break a window. Get a job. Sounds like a plan.

I pointed out at this meeting that what was being said there as well as what Mayor Muriel Bowser has recently said on the news point toward homeless people who are 25 to 60 years old being ignored by DC Government when it comes to employment. I was told that DC Gov is working on creating programs that are geared toward connecting homeless A-bods in this age group to employment,albeit AFTER the young people who are committing oft-violent crimes have been served. Temper tantrum. Let's hope the older, non-violent homeless live long enough to see that day. Shoot a dog (or a person, so long as it's below the waist). Get a job. Sounds like a plan.

This begins to explain DC's rise in crime. The criminals aren't bad people. They're just trying to increase their eligibility for a job program. It also represents progress. As I stated at this meeting, I was one of two people who several years ago organized a meeting to which a representative of the Public Defender's office was invited to speak to the homeless. About 50 homeless people who hoped to get their crimes expunged and land jobs attended. The PD rep stated right off the bat that 90% of crimes can not be expunged in DC. Half the room walked out, their hopes for employment having been shot down. Now, committing a crime before the age of 25 and having a child increase your chances of getting a job. That's progress. It makes me wish I were a 23-year old criminal/job seeker with a baby on the way. Temper tantrum.

As it turns out, a DOES client who proves to have at least three "debilitating factors" such as being homeless, having been incarcerated or having been a substance abuser increase one's eligibility for DOES programs and move them up the wait list for its employment programs. The first thing that jumps out at me when I consider this policy is the fact that a "debilitating factor" moves a person ahead of "fully able-bodied" people. However, I understand that special efforts to connect (partially) disabled people to jobs have been made for decades -- an idea which I fully support, so long as we aren't bypassing the best person for the job just because someone else is disabled.

Having been incarcerated or addicted come off to me as being "behavioral issues" more so than "debilitating factors". I fully support the arguments around mass incarceration and the underlying social injustice. I get that any returning citizen deserves a second chance. I also understand that many years of drug use can create a "debilitating factor" by frying the person's brain. I just find it peculiar that these behaviors make a person more of a priority for employment. I'm not sure that I'd want a person with a fried brain working beside me on some of the dangerous jobs I've done. It would seem to me that DOES took the vulnerability index which has been used by DHS to determine who needs to be housed first lest they die on the streets and has begun to use it to determine who gets job assistance first. If correct, this means that the same conditions that got someone who supposedly can't work place into housing quickly is now being used to determine who gets connected to work first. There's a certain irony to that.

 Following the meeting I asked Candy and Chloe of DOES if what they said about criminal and drug histories increasing your eligibility for these employment programs applied only to such activities if they were committed in DC and if the substance abuse or incarceration had to be recent. I was told that they probably didn't have to be recent – that the questionnaire asks if you “ever” were incarcerated (in jail OR prison) and if you were “ever” a substance abuser. However, they weren't certain if such activities committed outside of DC qualified. If you don't have a criminal record in DC and you need a job, smoke crack. Get caught by the cops. Apply at DOES upon your release. Sounds like a plan.

What's next, DOES picking a person up from the crack house and driving them to the employment program while the person hits their pipe??? Just sayin'... It was said that a person goes through a 30-day training period before being placed on a job site. Even so, someone who's 30 days clean could theoretically get the job before someone who is 10 years clean or who never used. That's not to speak of the fact that many drug users do day labor in order to support their habits. Obtaining a job after 30 days clean might end up "feeding the monster".

Reasons 4 and 5 on my list of why homeless people don't use the services of DOES pertain to the older homeless people (25 to 60) and are considerably harder to address than reasons 1-3. Those of us who've held jobs for multiple years don't need soft-skills training as to how to get up on time for work or how to conduct an interview. We just want jobs that use the skills we already have. I would guess that many of the homeless people in this age group don't care to get put into a DOES data base through which they'll start receiving dozens of e-mails about job openings only to find that they must now use funds they don't have in order to travel to 25-50 jobs that they won't get before finally landing a job for which they don't have financial resources to tide them over to the first check. (Try saying THAT 10 times quickly.)

I laud the administration of Mayor Muriel Bowser (2015 to 2019) for undertaking this ambitious effort wherein DC Government, after many years and multiple failed plans to end homelessness, is finally starting to connect homeless people to employment – emphasis on “starting” insomuch as only about 10% of the city's homeless saw fit to enroll in DOES programs. Ya gotta “start” somewhere. I get that.

In past meetings my colleagues and I have raised the issue of connecting the issues of employment, living wage and affordable housing. That is to say that, when trying to connect homeless people to employment, we must be able to guarantee that the job will pay enough for the person to maintain a rental and will lead to them actually acquiring housing. After all, about half of the homeless actually work already. Go figure. The ICH's 5-year plan admits that a “housing wage” is$28.25 per hour in DC. This begs the question:

When does the duty of DOES to a homeless person end, when that person is employed at $11.50 per hour or when they make enough to maintain adequate housing?????

That's a good question for Deborah Carroll (who went from directing DHS to now directing DOES). Maybe this is the point at which her experience in both departments will be adjoined and manifested in all of its glory. Let's hope.

To be fair, I'll point out that President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) into law on July 22nd, 2014. This law authorizes, among other things, programs that will connect specific vulnerable populations (including drug users willing to work for a fix) with employers, providing the latter with the skilled laborers they seek. It was said at the ICH Executive Committee meeting that failure to comply with WIOA (which mandates collaboration across agencies and throughout the region), could lead to federal sanctions and/or a loss of future federal funding. The threat of losing federal dollars tends to get DC Government moving quickly -- a side effect of capitalism, no doubt. This begins to explain why DOES is suddenly ready to change its structure. It's also reminiscent of how DC Government has discussed either doing away with its "low-barrier shelter" designation (wherein a homeless resident is not required to engage in self-help programs) or merely changing the status of some such shelters to "high-" or "medium-barrier shelters" so as to comply with the HEARTH Act and continue to get the HUD money associated with compliance. Kristy Greenwalt was appointed by Vince Gray and retained by Mayor Muriel Bowser in order to bring DC into compliance with the HEARTH Act.

That said, a colleague and I will meet with 200 homeless people right before they are fed on the fourth Sunday of February and March at 9 AM at Asbury united Methodist Church. We'll present data we gathered from homeless people in 2015 concerning their employment challenges. We'll give attendees opportunities to add their input. We'll then bring this info to DC Government (hopefully with dozens of job-seeking homeless people accompanying us). While I'm not yet at liberty to invite government employees to address the crowd (and have no plans to do that anyway), I AM at liberty to mention what DOES is doing during my intro (and DO have plans to do so). It is with this in mind that I am reaching out to DOES and have already alerted two of its employees during the January 12th, 2016 meeting so that they might attend as quiet audience members. At any rate, the effort to connect 25 to 60-year old homeless people who don't have any recent crimes to jobs making at least $25.000 per hour has begun.

LATER ON JANUARY 12TH Obama gave his final State of the Union (SOTU) Address. As with past SOTU's, he acknowledged that technology is taking many jobs. However, he neither suggested that Americans work less hours per week so that more people could have jobs nor that we find a new method of expropriation and fair exchange that allows the abundance which is manufactured by robots to be distributed to the people those robots laid off. He stated "a fact without an act". Not my cup of tea. Even so, this fact figures largely into the difficulties that many people have finding work.

FINALLY, I should point out that I suffered a massive skull fracture at eight months old due to child abuse. I went on to finish high school with a 96.3% grade for my senior year, though I never attended college. Furthermore, I spent seven years smoking crack cocaine -- quitting cold-turkey in the early morning hours of August 1st, 2005 after arriving in DC on the previous night. When you consider that I can out-think six-figure-earning government administrators, it seems quite amazing. Maybe they should smoke some crack. They might think better. Just sayin'......

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,