Thursday, March 19, 2015

Half, Half & Half: How Mayor Bowser Can Reduce (and Eventually End) DC Homelessness

It's clear to anyone that's paying attention that DC mayor Muriel Bowser and her administration are Hell- (or shall I say “Heaven”???) bent on ending homelessness in the capital of the most poerful (though no longer the wealthiest) nation on Earth. I won't bother speculating (here and now, anyway) as to whether it's a “girl power” issue (which I'm not adverse to), a genuine concern for the homeless, a matter of bowing to public and media pressure or a matter of competing with the DC Council to deal with a clossal failure that has become the scourge of DC Government (with them having “tried” for over 10 years to end homelessness while it only increased). However, I will address my gravest concern and present a real solution.

“Homeless Czar(ina)” and ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt has gone on the record multiple times as realizing that there are systems that fall outside of the homeless services continuum and create homelessness. She realizes that her purview and those of some of her “sister” agencies are too narrow to end homelessness in and of themselves. She knows that we need affordable housing across the city – affordable housing that is not part of a government program. Yet she hasn't articulated just who is needed to make this happen – unless you consider that the mayor is the default person for this matter. Fact of the matter is that I personally have stood up in many Inter-agency Council on Homelessness meetings since June 2006 and said pretty much the same things that Kristy – who officially began her current post on April 28th, 2014 – is now saying.

Kristy is awesome and I have no beef with her. Nonetheless, It's appalling that anyone – a mayor, administrator or otherwise – would give greater credence to an idea when it comes from an administration official than they would when it comes from a directly-affected, homeless person. They should consider the idea on its own merits – not be so caught up on who it came from. In spite of me still loving her, I hold it against mayor Bowser that she seems to value the opinions of administration officials and non-profit personnel over the opinions of the unpaid homeless advocates – even when an advocate is intelligent and articulate and even though ending homelessness is her pet project.

On Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 there was a meeting about the mayor's five-year plan to end homelessness. Presenters of the plan and administration officials who fielded questions included Kristy Greenwalt, Ms Kelly Sweeney-McShane, Laura Zeilinger, Polly Donaldson and a woman from the DC Housing Authority. Girl Power. (Maybe the mayor is concerned that people will assume that she's focused on ending homelessness in order to appease my wrath and/or that she won't be seen as that “woman apart” that she so longs to be seen as if people think that she's being fed ideas by – of all people – a homeless man. Oh well.) Dozens of attendees were divided into eight groups with each having a facilitator. Due to the tight 90-minute schedule, only the presenters, administrators and facilitators addressed the entire room. Others spoke only within their small groups. Unfortunately, the facilitator at my table – a woman (which I believe all facilitators were, if memory serves) – failed to mention my “half, half & half idea. But before I explain it here, I'll mention what I think is the gravest concern when it comes to ending DC homelessness.

A failure to do conceptual planning that considers the reasons for past failures will be the downfall of my beloved Bowser administration. This is the only other thing that I hold against her. I recently spoke with a man I know who serves as a homeless advocate in San Jose, California. He told me of a public official in Cali who had a good heart and wanted to end homelessness in her jurisdiction but failed to look at why a previous plan failed. She failed again. As he gave this account, it sounded as though my alter ego were on the other end of the line talking to me. Here in DC it will be, “Same song, Different verse, A little bit louder, A little bit worse” if we aren't careful.

When I say that the plan must be conceptual, I mean that we can't decide what ideas to use based on what people are willing to do or feel good about. We must consider matters of principle such as the fact that past administrations have been willing to assist the most vulnerable due to them being helpless (Fenty) or ostracized able-bodied homeless parents by presenting them as lazy moochers (Gray) and we must tease out these thoughts instead of merely dancing around them. I also mean that we should categorize the types of things that need to be done to set able-bodied people back on their feet rather than blaming them for their condition, as the latter is a zero-sum statement that does nothing to solve the problem. We must recognize that our effort to do this will set up a major fight with employers, landlords and developers; but, we must start and win this fight.

We must also ensure that we aren't falsely defining the homeless problem as a disabled persons' issue in order to justify steering city contracts to the non-profits and funding relevant government agencies for yet another year. After all, many non-profits are funded to assist the disabled – regardless of how well or poorly they do this – and must draw a picture of continuous need in order to justify the continued existence and funding of the non-profit. We must also ensure that government reports such as the one that was issued in response to the disappearance and death of 8-year old Relisha Rudd from a homeless shelter are not written in defense of government agencies but are truly designed to solve and prevent systemic problems. Though Mayor Bowser inherited a terribly flawed system, she now needs to fix the aforementioned issues and incorporate these conceptual solutions.

That leads nicely into my half, half & half idea. Simply put, if the mayor wants to cut homelessness in half in one fell swoop, she needs to connect the approximate half of DC's 9,000 homeless people who are currently working to housing that they can currently afford by taking some or all of the $10,000 that the city spends annually sheltering each individual and using it to subsidize their rent. If a homeless person has been working for at least half a year on the same job and can pay at least half of the average $1,500/month rent, then the city should house them and subsidize their rent. This would cut the homeless population in half. Thus the name, “Half, Half & Half”.

When I mentioned the idea to Kristy after the March 18th meeting, she said that about 10,000 people use DC homeless services each year. This means that about 1,000 people pass through city shelters and move on. It also means that, a bed that's been vacated by a working homeless person who got housed may still be needed by someone else. Then again, if the mayor's recent conversation with Montgomery and Prince George County officials leads to these counties creating homeless services that are equally good to those of DC, that would reduce the influx from these other jurisdictions and might completely eliminate Kristy's argument.

Another variation of the idea is that homeless people who are working be encouraged to co-habitate. If each person has worked on the same job for at least half a year, can pay at least half of the rent and can get along with another homeless person of their choosing who meets the same requirements, then they can be placed in the same unit with continued city support for up to a year.

My fellow homeless advocates would not be happy about me offering an idea that might enable the city to justify the reduction of shelter space. So, let's be clear: I'm offering solutions to homelessness, irrespective of what happens to the vacated beds. Even so, I can support the elimination of one bed for every two people who move into housing, so long as the city has suitable methods in place for increasing shelter space on demand. That said, I'm glad the mayor wants to “do one thing and do it well”, as we used to say. (Of course she has to do a lot more than one thing; but, ending homelessness is her pet project, much to my elation.) FULL STOP.

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser's Career Academy Idea

     Once again the administration of DC Mayor Muriel Elizabeth Bowser has impressed me. My fear is that, if they continue along their current trajectory of doing what poor and homeless DC residents need done in order to rejoin the work force and obtain housing, I might lose my touch when it comes to being confrontational with government officials. For eight and a half years (June 2006 thru December 2014) I found myself knocking heads with city officials from three administrations and with two mayors (having never met Tony Williams when he was mayor -- January 1999 to January 2007).

     I'm left to wonder if "Mayor M.E." is somehow on the receiving end of a telepathic connection between her and myself, with me unwittingly feeding her my thoughts. Make no mistake: I've spoken and written to her on a few occasions. However, her administration is doing more of what I hoped for than I've even articulated to this latest turnover of government bureaucrats. Another possibility is that other advocates are coincidentally feeding "Mayor M.E."'s administration with ideas that I support. 

     I was recently told by Department Of Employment Services (DOES) Director Deborah Carroll that the mayor is conceiving a plan to create a DC Career Academy that will train DC residents for jobs in the different departments of DC Government -- everything from the Department of Public Works to the Department of General Services (maintaining government buildings) to the many city jobs that require a CDL license. 

     But I'll make no bones about the fact that Deborah Carroll wasn't always on the list of my 10 favorite DC Government employees or appointees. I've been appalled in the past by her inability and/or unwillingness to give straight answers to DC councilpersons while testifying at hearings about the functioning of the Department of Human Services (DHS) where she has twice served as interim director. That much about her seems to have changed, as has my opinion of her. but, as we say here in Washington, DC, "We have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies -- just permanent interests". It seems as though Deborah Carroll will serve my interests in the short term; so, we are developing a more cordial relationship now. It has also been said that those who remain friends for at least seven years will likely remain friends for life. I've reached that point with Dept. of Human Services Director Laura Zeilinger whom I've known since July 23rd 2007. There's hope for Deborah Carroll too, though things never got rocky between Laura and I. 

     Advocates and activists from various sectors of the social justice movement have demanded affordable housing and living-wage jobs for as long as I can remember. Then DC Government began in the fall of 2008 to use federal funds to house the disabled homeless, while allowing able-bodied homeless people with employment challenges to rot in shelter until they grow old and/or acquire a disability. Then the homeless advocates (who've traditionally done very little in tandem with those fighting to make or keep housing affordable for the not-yet-homeless) became even more splintered -- with some becoming gung-ho about funding for Permanent Supportive Housing for the disabled while others (like ME) maintain that we should split our attention and funding between the disabled and the A-bods. Then there was the December 2014 meeting of the DC Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (DC ICH) which was preceded by a discussion on homeless employment challenges. I got the sense that government giving us ear was no longer pro forma or a façade of caring, but rather a genuine interest in what the advocates in general and myself in particular have to say. When I found out around Christmas 2014 that Laura Zeilinger (who, unlike anyone else, used to make it a point to get back to the homeless with progress reports on comments they'd made at the previous ICH meeting) was appointed as director of DHS, I decided that I would make a comment at the February ICH meeting in which I ask her to revisit the comments made about homeless employment in December and to restart the practice of giving progress reports on what the homeless have asked for. Then the meeting got moved to March, as we went from bi-monthly meetings in 2014 to quarterly meetings in 2015. (ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt -- April 28th, 2014 to present -- places more faith and effort in the sub-committees than she does in the committee of the whole.) At any rate, things that my colleagues and I have said for approximately 10 years are finally being acted upon and even the things that we didn't think of or demand are now aligning in our favor. This is especially true about homeless employment, which brings me back to my friend Deborah Carroll.

     When I heard that she was appointed as DOES director, it immediately occurred to me that she could become a valuable asset insomuch as she is now a human services/ employment hybrid. I wondered which qualities of hers would carry over into her new post; but, in keeping with my long-time manner, decided that I would inundate this cabinet member with my demands. It paid off.

     With Ms. Carroll having been appointed several weeks after Mayor M.E. took office, I sent her the following e-mail on February 5th:
Deborah Carroll,
     I told you in December that we could discuss your vision if you were retained by Mayor Bowser. Though you are no longer with DHS, my promise still holds true. With you now leading DOES, our paths will still cross; as I'm pretty heavy on the homeless employment piece. I believe that the District doesn't really want to enable homeless or low-income people to remain in DC or to find affordable housing. The gov and biz structure is set up to push poor folk out of the city.
     I also believe that the homeless employment issue is a big can of worms and that anyone who devotes themselves to addressing it will suffer many headaches as they follow its many tentacles into areas like discrimination, workers' rights, job-training issues etc. Nonetheless, I'll keep pushing the ticket until someone in the administration takes on this headache. I'll BE the headache until you commit yourself to taking on the headache of homeless employment. Would you like to meet and discuss homeless employment?????
     She took up my offer to meet, though it wasn't the tense one-on-one that I initially thought it would be. As we arranged the meeting, we decided to bring other homelessness and employment stakeholders to the table. That meeting took place on Friday, March 13th, 2015.

     I arrived at 1:28 for a 1:30 meeting, found that there were about 15 people at the conference table conducting a meeting that I was given the wrong time for and began to wonder if the "bum" steer was intentional. The conversation was about employment issues faced by homeless parents
whose average age range is 18 to 24 years old. Then, at 1:45 Ms. Carroll said, "Let's transition". She told me that I indeed had not been given a bum steer but that I walked in on the tail end of a different meeting
that ran past the scheduled end time. Cynicism reversed.

     The 15-ish of us talked from 1:45 to approximately 2:20 about my concerns around homeless employment. The group gave me the lion's share of the time so that I could say what I had to say. In stark contrast to her council hearing mannerisms, Deborah Carroll interrupted me several times to say, "I can answer that". She then proceeded to give me straight, unambiguous and detailed answers. Surprise. Surprise.

     At one point I told this room full of DC Government employees, "I like to think backwards; so, I should apply for a job with DC Government". After we all got a really good laugh, I explained that we should start our thinking with the goal of connecting people to both housing and jobs and think backwards to what needs to happen to get us there. We discussed other ideas pertaining to homeless employment which I'll
address in another blog post, this one having already obtained quite the ungodly length. FULL STOP.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Fund Homeless Employment Strategies


The following was a testimony I prepared for DC Mayor Muriel Bowser's Budget “hearing” on February 23rd, 2015. It turns out that the event was actually a roundtable discussion with dozens of tables and hundreds of people brainstorming about what the mayor's budget priorities should be. That said, I never read my testimony to government personnel while being televised like I would at an actual hearing. No worries; as, you get to read it here and now.

At the risk of evoking thoughts about my notorious love of women and/or inspiring a lesser charge of infatuation with Muriel Bowser (infatuation usually being associated with females), I'll say that the mayor has made yet another brownie point with me. Let's be clear: I came to DC on July 31st, 2005; experienced the last 17 months of the Tony Williams administration; but, I never met the man. I met Adrian Fenty during the summer of 2006 while he was campaigning for mayor – having served as such from January 2007 to January 2011. He and I have gone nose-to-nose a couple of times. Then there was Mayor Vince Gray who avoided me like the plague. Fact of the matter is that, while having two people or items in a series gives you the space to compare or contrast them, it takes at least three people or items to establish a pattern or trend and to be able to predict what's coming next. With Ms. Bowser being the third sitting DC mayor that I've dealt with, I have now reached a place where I can discuss the patterns or trends that I see from one mayor to the next. So, you can table the aforementioned accusations unless and until I fail to crack down on Muriel Bowser for any missteps that she might take concerning the District's poor.

I noticed weeks ago that Muriel doesn't maintain a security detail in her immediate presence like her two male predecessors did. I guess that if you don't plan to piss people off, you don't need to prepare for their retaliation. (That's a good lesson for the president, Congress and the feds.) But that's not why she's made yet another brownie point with me. It is because of her early engagement with the public so as to gather their input on what her policies should be.

Adrian Fenty was infamously arrogant and wasn't big on public engagement. On April 6th, 2008 he sent several administration officials to the Franklin School Shelter to “TELL” its 300 men what would be done to them and their shelter. Vince Gray held his “One City Summit” on February 11th, 2012 to the tune of $600,000 (and hours before the death of Whitney Houston). He never followed through on what 2,000 DC residents said was most important to them. Had he done so, we'd have much more affordable housing, many more living-wage jobs and a much better educational system – just for starters.

In what I would have to assume is an attempt to avoid “analysis paralysis”, Mayor Muriel created four positions for the “housing navigators” mentioned in the previous blog post. They'll be actively connecting homeless people to housing while the administration puts together a more robust plan for addressing homelessness – triage then long-term treatment. In keeping with her avoidance of analysis paralysis and in direct contrast to the 13 months it took Gray to put together a “meaningful” public forum, Mayor Muriel has held at least two public forums hardly a month-and-a-half into her administration. (And I'm sure it didn't cost $600,000 or $300 per participant to organize.) Another point made in a previous blog post is that the council too is gathering input for a plan to address homelessness; though, in contrast, they are not implementing any form of “triage” in the meantime. The council is more like than the mayor to suffer (and cause others to suffer) from analysis paralysis.

I sometimes wonder if there is a telepathic connection between Mayor Muriel and myself; as, she is doing almost everything that I was hoping for. I'd told people that, if she didn't meet with the homeless and/or their advocates by April 1st, I would lay into her hard. She's more than satisfied that demand, with me having never articulated it to her. I'll now give her until July 1st to partially implement a plan for homeless families and until October 1st to begin planning around employment for able-bodied homeless people. If she meets both benchmarks, I'll know that either we do have such a connection or she simply reads my blog for advice. Either one is welcome news, though the former opens up more possibilities -- and creates more questions.
That said.....

Fund Homeless Employment Strategies

Hello. My name is Eric Jonathan Sheptock and I've advocated for the homeless since June 2006. While on the council, Ms. Bowser was a signatore on the resolution that declared December 31st, 2014 to be Eric Jonathan Sheptock Day in Washington, DC. That said, she's familiar with my work – pro bono “WORK”.

As a seasoned homeless advocate, I would say that “WORK” is the operative word here. Though some would argue that not enough has been done for the most vulnerable homeless who can't work, I firmly believe that a portion of the Human Services and Employment Services budgets should be devoted to connecting able-bodied homeless people to living-wage jobs and affordable housing.

I have said in my blog and to my fellow homeless advocates that I love what Mayor Bowser is doing in terms of homelessness. She's hit the ground running and made ending homelessness (which three male mayors before her ostensibly “tried” to do) her pet project. Even while on the council, she stated her support for Permanent Supportive Housing which assists the mentally and physically disabled homeless. However, no administration to-date has made a robust effort to connect homeless or low-income workers to living-wage jobs. I'd have to conclude that previous mayors going back as far as Tony Williams would much rather see those who can't make six figures leave DC. But cities don't function without janitors, cab drivers and stock boys. Low-wage workers of the world, ARISE!!!

If we get homeless A-bods working and weaned off of the system, that leaves more resources to assist the permanently disabled. But farbeit from me to suggest that we ignore our most vulnerable citizens. We should assist all sub-populations of the homeless community at acquiring housing simultaneously – families, single A-bods and the disabled. Maybe we should devote a third of all available “exit strategy” funds (as opposed to shelter and feeding funds) to getting each sub-population housed.

I know that I haven't given any concrete dollar amounts concerning “homeless employment and exit strategy” funds; however, I will soon be meeting with Bowser administration officials to discuss a detailed plan for connecting homeless people to employment. I am also a co-leader in a project that involves interviewing homeless people about their employment challenges. That said, additional plans, figures and information are forthcoming in the near future.

Thank you for your time.

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

I Love DC Mayor Muriel Bowser('s Plan for Ending Homelessness)

Quite frankly, I think that the Bowser administration is doing better than the council (headed by Phil Mendelson) when it comes to addressing homelessness. Muriel Bowser hit the ground running when she took office. She used Miriams's Kitchen as a backdrop when announcing her cabinet appointments for positions that are related to homelessness. (Oddly enough, “Homeless Czar(ina)” Kristy Greenwalt wasn't present.) Since taking office, the mayor has moved Deborah Carroll from being interim director of the Department of Human Services (DHS) to being director of the Department Of Employment Services (DOES). I'm holding out hope that Ms. Carroll, who has already responded well to my request for a meeting about homeless employment, will continue to please me by forcing a continuous and robust public conversation around this topic and will impress me with what she actually “DOES”.

While I won't completely rehash all of the compliments that I gave Mayor Bowser in the previous blog post, I'll say that she is incorporating concepts that I've talked about for several years now. She has given the public a general idea of how she plans to proceed when it comes to ending homelessness, with details to come later. I applaud her for that. The council, on the other hand, continues to hold hearings during which they gather input on how to proceed. The administration will get there “lickety split” while the council is still “packing its sh*t” (for those of you who know the joke). Though I plan to testify at a council hearing about homelessness (having been unable to do so at the first one), I am more enthused about working with the very accessible administration. After all, the mayor can move on her decisions without having to get buy-in from 12 other elected officials (minus the two currently vacant seats which could leave us with a majority female council once filled in April).

It seems to me that the mayor is incorporating a concept that I thought, spoke and wrote about long ago by making the end of homelessness in Washington, DC her “pet octopus” – a core issue with tentacles that extend into other areas and afford her an infinite and ever-metamorphosing agenda. One tentacle has already taken her fully into the affordable housing arena. Efforts are underway to stretch another tentacle into the living-wage job arena. Before all is said and done(?), she'll venture into the areas of domestic violence, medical bankruptcy and untreated mental illness – as all are causes of homelessness. (Heavy drinking and illicit drug use are the sixth and seventh biggest reasons for homelessness in this country, even if news reports make it seem like the majority of homeless people are substance abusers. Nothing could be further from the truth.) We've got a septapus so far. I'm sure we'll find an eighth tentacle soon.

During the January 30th, 2015 hearing on homelessness, Inter-agency Council on Homelessness Director/ Homeless Czarina Kristy Greenwalt told the council that there is a need to capture people living in poverty BEFORE they become homeless. The administration as a whole has gone on the record as wanting to implement preventive measures. I've told people over the years that ending homelessness is like fixing a leaking water supply line insomuch as you would turn the water off and stop the flow before you mop up the mess. I'm glad Bowser and her “Dream Team” get it.

The Department of Human Services, under the direction of my long-time friend Laura Zeilinger, is building a concept which they're temporarily calling “Flow Housing”. (They're taking suggestions for a better name.) Flow Housing will serve people who will always be poor and will need unending financial support while they live and work in DC. (Such programs for the working poor are corporate subsidies for employers who under-pay their workers, not hand-outs to lazy moochers. But we need them anyway.) This effort by DHS hearkens back to conversation that I had with Laura in her former life as deputy director of DHS under former mayor Fenty before going to the USICH. At that time, I told her that we need to focus on making homeless people completely self-sufficient such that they don't need any type of subsidy. I knew that my suggestion would be difficult, if not impossible, to fulfill. She took the bait and said what I expected as she told me that many people would always need some level of support. Now that she's back in DC government, she's acting on that understanding with her creation of “Flow housing”. Good job.

While past administrations have focused on providing deplorable shelters with poorly-trained staff and have moved as slowly as possible to create affordable housing, Mayor Bowser has articulated plans that include both suitable shelter in the immediate and affordable housing in the not-so-distant future. After all, someone with spaghetti for brains could figure out that any plan to end homelessness would have to include the creation of housing that can be afforded by the homeless. Mayor Muriel Bowser gets it.

Many people, including the media, want to know my opinion of Mayor Bowser's plan to end homelessness – especially her plans for homeless families. Well, here it is. I LOVE IT!!! Some people are calling into question Ms. Bowser's decision not to use $600,000 that the previous mayor set aside for new case managers at the family shelter for that purpose. They believe that, if she doesn't use it to hire additional case managers, she ought to use it to retrain the existing case managers. While it's true that the case managers can be quite unprofessional, I believe that Ms. Bowser made the right decision.

The mayor plans to hire four “housing navigators” who will assist homeless families and individuals at finding the most suitable housing. A few years ago, DHS admitted to having so many case managers and so few housing units that everyone – service providers and homeless people alike – was frustrated. People were being made to see case managers who told them that there was no housing available for them. Why bother?! That's what I call “case non-management” – bringing someone into your office just to tell them that you can't help them. The mayor is putting housing – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – ahead of improving or increasing case management. Hoorah.

Unbeknownst to her, I've often argued that we should focus on creating a large number of affordable units and living-wage jobs for the homeless; let the high-functioning homeless run for them; and then, offer case management and a taken-by-the-hand approach to those who are left, as they have deeper issues. I've said that, if we create and enforce rights that prevent high-functioning homeless people from being discriminated against in their searches for jobs and housing, then as many as 60% of the homeless would get THEMSELVES out of homelessness. (Many homeless service providers would become unnecessary and unemployed in one fell swoop – all the more reason to do it.) It makes no sense to ask each individual homeless person what they need or to require them to participate in case management before we have sufficient stock of what we know are the most widely-shared needs of the group – affordable housing and living-wage jobs. If we have these things in store first, then the case managers can actually help their clients who visit the office. Howbeit, her logical plan to focus on connecting homeless people to affordable housing doesn't preclude her from using the $600,000 to retrain case managers. It doesn't have to be “either-or”. It can be “both-and”.

In closing, I'll say what you've probably guessed by this point: I LOVE DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (so far). It's not due to her being a woman, though I am infamous for loving women as much as I do. She has gotten off to a really great start. I don't know if she's driven by her desire to out-do the last three male mayors who “tried” and failed to end homelessness, fear that I would be as hard on her as I was on mayors Fenty and Gray or a genuine desire to end homelessness and to enable people of all economic strata to live in DC. It could be two or all three. No matter the reason(s), I love what she's doing. Like I told Ms. Bowser at the Homeless Point-In-Time Count, “Let's keep it that way”. If DC Mayor Muriel Bowser is reading this, I'd have you to know: “WildThing, I [know] I love you”.

There are 20 years that don't make a day; then, there's that day that makes 20 years.

The news of her plans for the homeless is an awesome birthday gift for me. February 15th, 2015 (my 46th birthday) is also 46 days after Eric Jonathan Sheptock Day. I'll spend at least some of the day enjoying the fact that the city's poor and homeless will find some relief under this mayor.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser Might Actually End Homelessness!!!


In recent weeks many people have asked my thoughts on DC Mayor Muriel Bowser who took office on January 2nd, 2015. I tell them that, while I believe that she really wants to end homelessness, I worry that she doesn't have the right people informing the process. Like I told Mayor Bowser at the January 28th homeless point-in-time count (one of at least five homeless/affordable housing events that I know she's attended since December 29th, 2014), I like her appointment of Laura Zeilinger as director of the Dept. of Human Services (DHS) and a few other cabinet appointments – kristy Greenwalt as director of the Inter-agency Council on homelessness (ICH), Brenda Donald as deputy mayor of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Polly Donaldson as director of the Dept. of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).

I also told her that, after the results of the 2014 count indicated that there had been a 13% increase in DC homelessness in a single year (going from 6,859 in '13 to 7,748 in '14), we didn't have the usual report-out at the next bi-monthly ICH meeting; and, there's no sense in gathering the data if we aren't going to use it. (Mayor Bowser wants to use a data-driven approach.) I concluded by telling her that I'm on her side. And I am.

Unfortunately, folk in DC Government are often too professional to be practical, though I don't suspect the Bowser administration to suffer from “analysis paralysis”. I've gotten the sense that Ms. Bowser values "professional opinions” more than she values the opinions of those who are directly-affected by the social ill which is being addressed. Unless she changes this aspect of her nascent administration, it might just be her undoing. She has, on at least a couple of occasions, given homeless people short shrift when they told her about a problem. On the other hand, she's tapped people from the non-profit community to become part of her administration – with the lion's share of high-level positions going to women.

During the point-in-time count, Mayor Bowser said, “I know people are saying that you have to be a woman to work for me; but, I have some really great men working for me too”. She then acknowledged City Administrator Rashad Young. Period. (He's rather large; but, he still only qualifies as one man.) Howbeit, that was an awkward event in at least one other way: Various federal and city officials were introduced at least three times by the different speakers – Shaun Donovan, Sue Marshall and Muriel Bowser. I felt like shouting, “We know who the Hell they are! Will you quit introducing them already!”. I didn't.

That said, I got the feeling on December 29th that the mayor had a “girl power” thing going on; as, the event at Miriam's Kitchen which feeds 300 homeless people per day was a press conference about her cabinet appointments for positions that deal with homelessness. Though I saw it four days before she took office, I probably should've seen her "girl power" theme sooner. After all, the three previous mayors – all men – said that they'd end homelessness but didn't. So, if she succeeds, it will be to the chagrin of these men and will further validate women as a viable force in the world (or the city, anyway). Then again, who needs validation?! Just in case any woman reading this does, I am in full support of Mayor Muriel Bowser's “girl power” antics. I encourage her to do whatever gets the job done without deviating from good principle. The end justifies many (but not all) means.

As it turns out, Mayor Bowser is not the only one who feels that the city's failure to end homelessness has become the scourge of DC. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has made homelessness something that will be addressed by the COW (Committee Of the Whole). In the past it was the responsibility of the one councilperson who had oversight of the Dept. of Human Services. This developing dichotomy creates the potential for these “separate but equal” branches of government to come to logger heads over the approach. That has already begun to happen in a small way that I won't bother explaining here and now. But we can turn that negative into a positive by throwing much public support behind what we believe to be the better approach. (I would start by supporting the mayor insomuch as she's more capable of making unilateral decisions without any “congressional bickering” and I support and prefer the use of executive power over group decisions -- no matter who is in office or what their gender is.)

This would be a good place to mention the fact that I actually voted for former councilman David Catania as mayor because he has a mean streak which I believe is necessary to make government think and function better. While Mayor Bowser doesn't need to develop a mean streak in order to be effective, she DOES need to be able to force people to have the hard conversations – no matter how sweetly she commands them to do so. She needs to get her administration to admit when they are failing and to then rectify the situation. The failure to discuss the astronomical one-year increase in homelessness was due to certain people not wanting to discuss various grim realities related to homelessness and poverty or their own apparent weaknesses. They were kind to a fault. If they don't change swiftly, I'll need to change that diagnosis to “stuck on stupid”. Let's hope they change. Force the hard conversations.

With Ms. Bowser choosing to use a data-driven approach, we must remind ourselves that the same data can be interpreted differently by different people. However, when you consider that:

1 – DC had 5,757 homeless people in 2007
2 – Permanent Supportive Housing was launched in earnest in September 2008 and was federally-funded in Fiscal Years '09 and '10
3 – we had 6,546 homeless people in 2011 and
4 – we had 7,748 homeless people in 2014 (a 35% increase in seven years with 2015 results coming out in May).....

…..all you can irrefutably conclude is that nothing we've done to end homelessness has worked. All other conclusions must be derived from that one.

Mayor Bowser has repeatedly stated her support for Permanent Supportive housing. It's a good program in its own rite. It is worthy of increased funding. However, we need to do more than fund programs for the disabled if we're going to end homelessness. Data collected by a city contractor has indicated that at least half of the homeless are both able to work and under age 60. When you factor in the elders who choose to work, that may account for as much as 60% of DC's presumed 8,750 homeless people or 5,250 people.

Past administrations have avoided initiating any robust effort to connect homeless A-bods to living-wage jobs. I believe that it is part of a grand scheme to push all low-income people out of the city. But it also stands to reason that an effort to connect homeless A-bods to employment would expose unfair hiring and renting practices and put the city at odds with many developers, landlords and employers. I dare Mayor Muriel Bowser to rise to the challenge anyway. Force the hard conversations. Show that women have the power to challenge the status quo.

It's worth noting that many homeless advocates have been invigorated or reinvigorated by the mayor's resolve when it comes to ending homelessness. More than a few groups that work on homelessness and affordable housing have sprung into action and invited the mayor to speak at their events in the past five weeks. But, to my dismay, not much is being said about homeless employment. Even so, I am currently working with two professors and their two dozen students to gather data and do interviews that highlight the difficulties that many people (not just the homeless) have finding living-wage jobs. We'll present our findings to the DC Council and the mayor's administration by the end of May. Hopefully, this will cause the mayor to rise to the challenge of homeless employment and to force the hard conversations. Keep hope alive.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

DC Government's Attitude Toward the Working Poor

When I began advocating for the homeless in June 2006, my colleagues and I were fighting against the Williams administration's proposed closure of the Franklin School Shelter. Our arguments included the fact that the shelter was located in Downtown Washington, DC near multiple subway stations and several bus lines that made it easy for the working homeless to get to their jobs. We also argued that every shelter should make accommodations for the working homeless to reserve their beds and not have to choose between working and having a shelter bed – a tough choice indeed, especially during inclement weather.

Franklin School Shelter was eventually closed by the Fenty administration after Adrian Fenty made campaign promises to members of the Committee to Save Franklin Shelter in which he stated that, once elected, he would not close Franklin. CSFS began the process of becoming a non-profit under the name Until We're Home inc. but disbanded before that process was complete. Some of the former members went away, never to be heard from again. At least one has died. Others, like myself, have continued to advocate either with other groups or as individuals. But my advocacy has retained its emphasis on homeless employment.

I DID jump on the Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) bandwagon and advocate for housing for the disabled homeless. It was due, in part, to me having been told that after the most vulnerable homeless were helped that the least vulnerable who just had employment issues would be housed and connected to employment. PSH was first talked about at the local level (in earnest anyway) in April 2008. Hundreds of vulnerable people were hurriedly and haphazardly housed in the last week of September 2008. More than six years later, the program has not gotten around to assisting homeless a-bods (able-bodied people); the Department of Human Services (DHS) administration has gone through several turnovers during the last two mayoral administrations and the DHS administrators who've been involved for at least seven years seem to have forgotten that promise.

Fast forward to the summer of 2010. ONE DC, a non-profit that fights for affordable housing in DC's Shaw neighborhood, organized the creation of a tent city in response to Adrian Fenty's broken promise to build affordable housing on a city-owned plot of land known as “Parcel 42”. We occupied the land from July 10th until October 7th when the city tore it down. Then-Councilman Michael Brown visited our site and during our conversation he said, “Even if the city were to create affordable housing for those who make $35,000 per year of less [and can pay $900/month or less], everything else in DC is so expensive that they still wouldn't be able to live here”. We would have to assume that the current council and administration are thinking along similar lines; as this would explain why rents have been allowed to skyrocket and why the city has decreased its commitment to connecting hard-to-employ people to jobs.

The average rent now sits at around $1,500 per month, requiring that a full-time worker make almost $30 per hour. Dozens of affordability covenants that the city signed with landlords have been allowed to expire simultaneously, causing rents in those complexes to go from $1,000 to $1,600 all at once. Add to this the fact that DC Government's Department of Employment Services (DOES) under Muriel Bowser has been changed from a stand-alone department with a cabinet-level director to a division of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). DOES is more of a social service than anything else, primarily assisting poor and difficult-to-employ people. That begs the question, “Why put them under DCRA and not DHS?”. It also begs the bigger question, “Are demoting the director's position from the cabinet level to the division level and tucking DOES away within DCRA the mayor's way of showing that she has little or no interest in assisting those who'll probably never be high-income earners?”. Taken together, the city's failure to do everything (or even “ANYTHING”) within its power to keep rents down and the new administration's way of distancing itself from the working or willing-to-work poor create a message that city officials just want the poor to leave. Then again, the low-wage workers deliver some much-needed services to the local economy. Without hospitality workers in our hotels and restaurants, the capital's tourism industry would go belly-up.

Fast forward to February 2013 when a Washington Post article indicated that a pilot program in which 11 homeless parents were being trained in construction trades was shut down, in spite of 10 people succeeding with one having had a stroke and become disabled (evidently the swiftest way to acquire housing). Now slow forward a mere two months and the recently-departed administration is issuing statements wherein they strongly imply that homeless parents are lazy and shiftless. The latter would seem to be nothing more than a fabricated lie which is being used to justify draconian policies that force low-income workers out of the city.

In spite of the important contributions that low-wage workers make to the local economy, getting homeless service providers to make a robust effort to assist homeless a-bods with their employment issues has been – and continues to be -- an uphill battle. I've done several blog posts that address this issue. I've been featured in multiple articles that highlight this issue. I hear homeless people asking for employment assistance on a regular basis. I stood up at the October 2014 bi-monthly meeting of the DC ICH (Inter-agency Council on Homelessness) and told the group that we need to do something for the a-bods before they reach retirement age. Then there was the December ICH meeting which, to my elation, was preceded by a roundtable discussion on homeless employment. While this roundtable discussion says nothing about the mayor's or council's interest in homeless people's employment, it is a good starting point for building momentum – and build momentum we will.

In the past I've harped about how the U.S. Dept.of Labor and a 1,350-bed shelter are right across the road from each other and yet DOL has not attempted to connect any of these homeless people to employment. I actually DO understand how administrations work and that US DOL is a federal agency, not a local one. It's just an awkward geographical coincidence. As if that weren't enough, there are now plans to build a platform with several buildings over the I-395 underpass which is just north of the shelter. This puts the Dept.of Labor, a ginormous shelter and a super-ginormous construction project in consecutive blocks.

A couple of colleagues and I met with members of the development team of Property Group Partners (PGP) and Balfour Beatty Construction on December 15th, 2014 to discuss homeless employment. The developers were very accommodating. They promised to modify their website by posting instructions for obtaining employment there (a process which is not completely intuitive). They asked me for a list containing aggregate numbers of people who can perform various trades; but, shelter staff has not been accommodating in terms of allowing me to gather such information. More recently, PGP offered to purchase food and find meeting space for a meeting that my associates and I plan to hold with homeless job seekers. PGP/BB have become awesome partners and offered a ray of hope for the working poor. I look forward to continuing this relationship.

Hardly a day goes by anymore where I don't tell someone that, “Before you call a homeless person lazy, you should offer them a job and whatever other supports they need to make it to the first check”. This is a basic principle that our government needs to wrap its collective head around. It looks as though my colleagues and I will need to make this happen, in spite of the government. Not a problem. On Wednesday, January 21st, 2014 American University Professor Dan kerr, 17 of his students, other invited guests and myself will meet at Washington, DC's MLK, Jr. Library in Room A-3 from 9:30 to 11 AM to begin a process of documenting the struggles that homeless people have obtaining employment. Once videos are made and the website built, we'll present this information to policy makers for their consideration. Let's move things forward, in spite of the government. The beat goes on.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Eric Jonathan Sheptock Day & DC Mayor Muriel Bowser

On November 18th, 2014 the DC Council presented me with a resolution declaring December 31st, 2014 to be Eric Jonathan Sheptock Day in the District of Columbia. During the presentation, people were all smiles as we exchanged pleasantries. However, I used the occasion to address some serious business too by letting mayor-elect Muriel Bowser know that I'd like to work with her to address homelessness -- through the creation of affordable housing and living-wage jobs for the homeless. I also made it clear that we have at least time-and-a-half as many homeless people as we had when city officials "committed" themselves to decreasing homelessness and that we, therefore, have our work cut out for us.

I'm not sure what drove the DC Council to pick December 31st as Eric Jonathan Sheptock Day but that date is significant in several ways. It is 46 days before my 46th birthday which falls on 2/15 of 2(0)15. So there is a little numerical symmetry going on there. But more importantly, it is the date by which DC Government's 10-year plan to end homelessness was supposed to have ended homelessness in the city. In June of 2006 the DC Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH) held its first meeting. Five months prior we counted 6,157 homeless people. (I couldn't find info electronically for how many homeless people there were in DC in 2004.) The 10-year plan was scrapped in 2007 due to three years of not meeting benchmarks. (More recently the New Communities affordable housing group gave up on its mission. There's a lot of giving up on the poor going on in DC these days.) We're sure to count nearly 9,000 homeless people in January. The numbers won't be published until May. That said, December 31st, 2014 is symbolic of DC Government's failures toward the poor.

I seek to change that. So, let me say here as I said during the presentation that I DO work with others. I'm not alone in my efforts. However, without sufficient political will to decrease homelessness and poverty in DC, we advocates are just shouting our demands for naught. That's why I've already begun to make inroads into the Bowser administration by publicly declaring my desire to work with her. Hopefully she'll be willing to recognize and learn from the city's failed efforts to decrease homeless and poverty and she'll then invest all of the necessary resources in a successful effort.

In one sense, such a commitment would make it easy for her to develop her legacy early on; as, the effort to end homelessness has tentacles that would take her into areas like affordable housing,living-wage jobs, domestic violence, medical bankruptcy, mental illness, inadequate education, lack of job training, adolescent homosexuality, the shortcomings of foster care and other areas. She could start with a willingness to end homelessness and end up with a plan for the city as a whole.

in another sense, such a commitment would make her job extremely difficult. She'd have to bump heads with the free-market economy in order to demand that homeless people receive living wages and affordable housing -- forcing employers to pay more and landlords to charge less. Ms. Bowser would also need to combat employer discrimination against the homeless. These and other efforts related to decreasing and ending homelessness and poverty would put her at odds with many capitalists.

That said, I'm working on getting a meeting with her. Despite my having noticed patterns in local governance that make me skeptical that we'll ever get adequate supports for the poor of DC (many of whom work and contribute to the life of the city), I'm willing to lay aside any presuppositions and to give Ms. Bowser a chance based on her own merits -- to see her as the "woman apart" which she claims to be. I hope to have the meeting arranged by the end of next week. Let's see what happens.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Give 'er HADES: Innundate Muriel Bowser with the Demands of the Poor

Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser's Transition Team Contact Info:
(202) 434-0079

I contacted the Bowser transition team today and will reconnect with them tomorrow when the person who will work on homelessness is expected to do their first day on the job. I'll update via this blog and social media.

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As I look at the injustices that are perpetrated upon poor people in this country and around the world, I often ask myself, “Where is the outrage???”. Capitalism is a hurtful system that permeates the world and sears the consciences of politicians, businesspeople and the well-to-do. It makes them callous to the needs of those who beg at their feet and want only to consume their crumbs. Yet most people who hear or read the stories don't make it their business to confront the evil forces of capitalism.

Budapest, Hungary has outlawed homelessness (without offering the necessary supports). At an ever-increasing rate since 2006 (the year I began advocating), U.S. cities have been outlawing the feeding of homeless people in public spaces, arresting homeless people for sleeping on sidewalks or in parks (even when they lack a safe alternative) and stiffening penalties for relieving oneself in public. While that last item is a hard one to argue against, all of the aforementioned activities have to do with satisfying human needs. Other countries are looking at how the U.S. treats its poor.

A recent story about a 90-year old man and two ministers who were jailed in Ft.Lauderdale, FL for feeding homeless people is being read all over the world. You might remember that two dozen Food not Bombs workers were jailed in Orlando, FL a few years ago for feeding more than 25 homeless people in Lake Eola Park. The bankrupt city of Detroit has, in recent months, turned off the water of thousands of poor residents – many of them put out of work by the economic crisis of 2008 and the more recent loss of jobs to new technology.

Oddly enough, the republicans who will have majorities in both houses of the 114th Congress come January 2015 are known to pull the rug out from under people by cutting social service funding. I can appreciate the idea of them encouraging able-bodied people to get jobs. However, technology is replacing many middle- and high-income jobs while the jobs that are being created pay at or near minimum wage. A democratic congress will support social services unless and until they create enough jobs; while a republican congress will cut off people's sustenance without any regard for how they'll survive. We'll soon have the latter. I've long hoped that government would either ensure that people can find all of the sustenance that we need or take so much of it away that we'll be forced to realize their intent and to fight them – to have a revolution. (Maybe as a step in that direction poor people all over the country will organize events in which dozens of them steal items from a single store simultaneously.)

In September 2014 the office of DC Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan argued in the DC court of appeals that the local government had no obligation to provide heat or water to homeless families (with small children) who are using city shelters. It strikes me as counter-intuitive to offer life-saving shelter and then to withhold other life-saving amenities life heat and water. I'm almost afraid to raise that argument with DC Government insomuch as they're more likely to close the family shelter as a way of eliminating this counter-intuitiveness than they are to provide heat and water. I ask again, “Where is the outrage???”

I often preface my cynical, pessimistic views of DC Government with this short anecdote: During the summer of 2010 I was part of a tent city that was constructed in protest of former mayor Adrian Fenty due to him having broken his promise to build affordable housing on Parcel 42 at the intersection of 7th, R and Rhode Island in NW Washington, DC. Then-Councilman Michael Brown visited the site. He said, “It doesn't make sense for me to make housing affordable to those who make less than $35,000 per year. Even if they could afford the housing, everything else in DC is so expensive that they still couldn't afford to live here”. Michael Brown was straight-forward and honest. He's no longer on the council. Go figure. It stands to reason that the mayor, most of the council's 13 members and many of those who work for DC Government think the same way but don't say it lest they go the way of Michael Brown.

That story helps to illustrate what homeless and housing advocates are up against as we push for an end to homelessness. Add to this the fact that the DC Council has created weak rent control laws that have allowed the average rent to creep...err jump up to $1,500 per month. They allowed affordability covenants that the city signed with 45 apartment complexes to expire simultaneously, causing those rents to jump from $1,000 to $1,600 per month. This will greatly increase the cost to DC Government for maintaining the housing of its most vulnerable constituents and slow the rate at which others are assisted. Long story short, DC Government is not making a good-faith effort to ensure that poor residents – especially those who work in DC – can afford to remain.

I'm continually bothered by the complacency of DC's Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH), with many of its members making at or around $100,000 per year. They've ostensibly been trying to end homelessness since they first met in June 2006. It's increased by almost 50% since they started. They are not financially incentivized to actually succeed. Even so, I'll let Kristy Greenwalt who became the body's first director on April 28th, 2014 continue to do her thing and see what results she renders. I'll also recommend that mayor-elect Bowser retain Ms. Greenwalt. This could happen as soon as November 14th (the day after this post was written).

Given the attitudes of people in power on local, national and international fronts, it's easy to see why I feel the need to be mean or even to break the law. After all, not all laws are righteous – especially when they forbid life-sustaining activities or excuse an emergency shelter from providing basic human necessities to its residents. There's a level of stupidity or callousness that just makes various legislators and other public officials worthy of an all-out smack-fest in which they each get smacked around by dozens of the constituents whom they've denied basic necessities to.

But for now I'll just recommend that we lay into the incoming Bowser administration with our demands for addressing poverty and homelessness. We need to give those in government a fate worse than death – HADES. Government has mismanaged the funds and affairs of the general public. They've passed a complex amalgamation of laws that cater to other capitalists and codify mistreatment of the poor. They now state those very laws and the effects of the free market as the reasons for which they can't accommodate the needy. We need to apply ever-increasing pressure to government unless and until they find ways of reversing the damage that their institution has done down through the ages. We don't need to be nice or merciful. We need to be ever harder and meaner unless and until they succeed at meeting all of our demands.

It is with this idea of giving the incoming mayor HADES that I decided that I'll focus on getting DC Government to connect the able-bodied homeless to living-wage jobs and affordable housing. I expect everything about the effort to be extremely difficult. First and foremost is the notion that DC Government wants to attract middle- and high-income workers while allowing the poor to go to Hell in a hand-basket. (DC Government will be hard-pressed to disprove this assertion of mine.) Advocates for the homeless had a relatively difficult time getting Adrian Fenty to create Permanent Supportive Housing for disabled homeless singles. We had a longer and harder fight getting Vince Gray to commit to creating better shelter for homeless families. I expect to have to fight Muriel Bowser all the way through her first term and possibly into a second before she does anything to connect able-bodied singles to living-wage jobs and affordable housing. But we can't count on her doing a second term. We need to greatly intensify the pressure in order to have our demands met during her first (and most likely, ONLY) term.

Additional circumstances that make such an undertaking difficult include the minimum wage which will reach and remain at $11.50 per hour in July 2016 while the cost of living requires that a full-time worker make about $30 per hour in DC. Add to this the fact that DC is an education usurper insomuch as less than half of students have graduated from high school in recent years while 68% of jobs in this city require an education beyond high school. 90% of those in the local workforce (many from elsewhere) have diplomas, while only 64% of the workforce can read functionally. All things considered, DC jobs require more of an education than is offered to the locals, necessitating the influx of educated people from elsewhere. DC usurps the education that other jurisdictions offer their residents. I'd love to see Bowser wrangle with this issue.

I was involved with Fenty's transition team in December 2006. I saw a level of involvement by the homeless that I haven't seen since. (There was pizza.) his transition period overlapped with the four inugural meetings of the ICH. There was much energy around ending homelessness. Eight years later we have more homeless people. Even so, I would do it all over again; because, giving up amounts to forsaking the poor. I'd rather give the Bowser administration HADES and increase the pressure, thus forcing them to end homelessness.

NOTE: Danielle Greene and I made the round to all of the DC Council offices on Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 beginning at 2 PM. It was the first week of “Worker Wednesdays” in which I hope to have an ever-increasing number of people to apply pressure to DC Government to address the employment issues of low-income residents. While there, we ran into at least a couple of other lone advocates which included former at-large candidate Eugene Puryear. We'll return on Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 at 2 PM. ALL ARE WELCOME.

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Understanding Politics: The 2015-17 Republican lake of Fire

During the October 21st ICH (Inter-agency Council on Homeless) meeting Kristy Greenwalt, the first actual director the body has had in its eight and a half year history, mentioned how nobody owns the system and went on to say that we basically have to learn to build relationships and play nicely in the sandbox. While I love her and her approach, building relationships is not my strong suit. Articulating a strong sense of principle that aggressively compels people to something because it's moral and/or sensible is. Both sets of mannerisms are necessary. I've been type-cast as the “bad cop” or the “pit bull on a short leash” for much of my eight and a half years of advocacy. Being nice hasn't worked well for me in the past.

That said, I knew that there was potential for Kristy and I to build a strong relationship when, during her introductory meetings just prior to assuming her post, she said that she WILL make a decision in the absence of consensus. I'm still holding out hope that she'll centralize power and make the body that is charged with ending homelessness in DC effective. But first she needs to be asked to stay by mayor-elect Muriel Bowser.

This past Wednesday a close friend and ally in homeless advocacy told me that he didn't understand politics. Though I could've said a mouthful, I decided to keep it brief, knowing that I couldn't adequately address the topic in the few minutes we had until we reached our destination and delved into other business. However, I DID say that politics are built largely on ignorance insomuch as politicians make promises that they aren't sure they be able to keep and the voting public buys into the promises. Both groups should bear in mind that an elected politician must go through a legislature of 13 to 535 people in order to get a new law passed. The voting public has little or no idea as to how to make a principled choice and the candidates prey on that ignorance. And WHY do we have an electoral college???

I would submit that the general public – voting and non-voting – should use some basic rationale and apply everyday morals to how they vote or politic. One of the first things that I noticed about Barack Obama in January 2009 was that he had what I'll call a non-agenda. He was going to reverse various Bush-era policies. He eventually developed some semblance of a proactive agenda as he pushed for healthcare reform. But his has been a legacy of putting out fires. He's also got a bit of a personality cult thing going on – which will probably define his legacy unless he actually accomplishes something notable in his last two years. Basic rationale should've caused people to realize that simply being AGAINST what someone else has done or is doing – whether on the campaign trail or in office -- does NOT constitute a PLAN. They should've realized that by February 1st, 2009. I did. They should also realize that not voting doesn't mean that they won't be at the other end of the unfavorable policies which elected officials implement.

In the summer of 2010 I was one of many people who developed a tent city on a vacant lot in Washington, DC. It was in protest to former mayor Adrian Fenty having not made good on his promise to build affordable housing on Parcel 42. he broke a number of promises and lost his re-election bid that year. The vice of breaking promises no doubt played into his loss. He should have known that many elections – rightly or wrongly – are built on promises and that failing to keep campaign promises decreases a candidate's chances for re-election. The voting public showed him.

In 2011 the advocacy group SHARC (Shelter, Housing And Respectful Change) formed in order to inform poor people about impending cuts to the budgets for various social services and the negative impacts that these cuts would have on them. Some of the poor people whom we attempted to engage in self-advocacy thought that city officials were just “crying 'Wolf!'” again. Other felt that city officials wouldn't heed our cries. Some SHARC meetings had more emotion than reason. Most of the reasonable people left. But SHARC is one of several advocacy groups that had its heyday during a crisis and then fell apart once the crisis was averted and/or the demands were met. That said, political involvement by the general public only works if there is a sustained effort (as opposed to a campaign), if there is more rationale than emotion among those fighting for change and if people aren't discouraged from advocating or politicking due to politicians and other public officials being unresponsive.

Though I have indicated that I'm not particularly happy with Obama's performance and said that being AGAINST someone or their ideas does NOT constitute a PLAN, I joined the chorus of social justice advocates who came out AGAINST MITT ROMNEY in 2012. All of a sudden, Obama looked like the lesser of two evils. Due in part to a news report about Obama telling Putin that he'd be at greater liberty to discuss certain matters after his re-election, I held out hope that Obama would drop the hammer on Congress in his second term and drive them like the benevolent dictator that the lower/working class needs him to be. He has failed irreversibly. That said, we need a president who is proactive, aggressive and concerned about ALL Americans, not just the wealthy and well-to-do. We need to ensure that we don't vote for someone based on color, gender or personable manner again. Voters need to know what types of people can get the job done and what types can't. After all, we meet both types in our day-to-day activities anyway.

I spent 2013 watching and waiting for Obama to realize that he didn't need to be nice anymore since he can't be re-elected anymore. His kindness hasn't bid well for his party either. So, if party concerns kept him kind, then his rationale is falling short in more ways than I imagined possible for a U.S. president. (In the spirit of continuity, I often attend my church's Bible study and remind other attendees that God is quite the dictator; He squashes His opposition and he has a place where evil men when burn for eternity – THE LAKE OF FIRE.)

In January 2013 I took it upon myself to file a FOIA (Freedom Of Information Act) request with the feds so as to get information about the property rights for the 1,350-bed Federal City Shelter and begin the public conversation about its future. That process has progressed dramatically in the past 22 months. I bring that up to make the point that, when advocating and politicking, you can't always speak in terms of abstract concepts or principles. Sometimes you need to bring specific projects or present specific applications of those principles. Many local advocates speak about the need for affordable housing and living-wage jobs. Some of us bring concrete ideas for legislators to act on.

I've spent much of 2014 expressing my hope that David Catania would win his bid for mayor and become a benevolent dictator who would force DC Government to function well. He lost. Nonetheless, my continuity in the matter of (benevolent) dictatorship remains unabated. As for his democratic opponent, her having won the primary with less votes than Fenty (whose protege she is) lost with four years ago stands as a testament to the ineffectiveness of abstaining from politics and failing to vote. Such tactics just enable a candidate to win office with less votes – after promising to please or even fooling less people.

I knew some time ago that the last two years of all two-term U.S. presidents since the 1950's have always been marked by a majority of the congressional seats in both houses going to the other party – not that of the president – a phenomenon known as “the six-year itch”. With republicans lacking enough senate seats to make them veto-proof, one doesn't need to crystal ball to see that the next two years will be full of votes, vetoes and vindictiveness. However, you might need some spiritual discernment to foresee the political whining that Obama will do throughout 2015 and the revolution that will most likely occur in 2016. I look forward to the latter and pray that I live to see it through to its eventual end. (I'll be 46 in February with the average life expectancy for a homeless person being 52 years.)

That brings us to the “Republican Lake of Fire” that I've referenced a couple of times in recent blog posts. One would rightly assume that one of the ideas behind that phrase is the constant war-mongering of the “party of 'No'”. Many parts of the world have been set aflame by this party. Though I don't fully agree with their perceived sense of principle, I completely understand that one must have an aggressive edge in order to make obstinate people do what they should. Republicans have a fiery, do-or-die way about themselves. It can be a good thing when applied properly.

While they have limited ability to push matters of good principle on the nation and the world, republicans are terrible at process. Irrespective of their unfavorable capitalist flavor, it is hard to argue with the notion that anyone who CAN work SHOULD WORK. However, the repubs seem to think that just pulling the rug out from under people will make them get jobs and hold their own. The GOP fails to adequately address the challenges people have finding or keeping jobs -- like technology taking some jobs away PERMANENTLY.

Democrats are more likely to afford people the personal freedoms that they want such as the right to smoke marijuana. They tend not to hold such demands up to a moral measuring stick. Democrats are also better at adopting humane processes for weaning people off of social services. To the extent that they are unable to create jobs, democrats are less likely – though not completely unlikely – to decrease social service dollars.

All things considered, it would seem that the majority of those who voted in 2014 were hoping for some hardcore governance with a tinge of aggressively-enforced principle. We know that they are dissatisfied with Obama. But I'm guessing that most people didn't imagine that the GOP would be handed such a mandate or the Hell that Obama is bound to go through come January 2015. That brings me back to the “Lake of Fire”.

I'm a firm believer that the various spiritual occurrences mentioned in the Book of Revelation – the four horsemen, Hades, the seven seals etc. – are categories of phenomena, not singular events. I also believe that we have seen and will continue to see various precursors to the “main events” associated with each of these occurrences. Whereas the Lake of Fire mentioned in Revelation is a place of eternal torment for evil men, I'm convinced that God turneth the tide of an election cycle whithersoever He chooseth and that He has turned the tide of the 2014 election cycle against Barack Obama for being too damn sweet, among other things. Obama will be surrounded by a congressional Lake of Fire for his last two years in office. He deserves all the trouble he gets. Pull up a seat and watch him burn.


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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Obama the Failure: We Needed a Benevolent Dictator. You'll Burn in the "Republican lake of Fire"

So the republicans took the senate and kept the house, though they aren't veto-proof. President Obama is in for a lot of headaches during his final two years in office. But he brought in on himself with weak leadership and his non-agenda which consisted largely of reversing Bush-era policies: closing Guantanamo Prison, reversing middle- and upper-class tax cuts, ending war-mongering etc.

While the repubs are indeed "the party of 'No'", the latest president and vice president to come from their numbers had an agenda -- right, wrong or indifferent. Outside of reversing Bush-era policies, Obama dreamed that he might eliminate partisan bickering and congressional dysfunction. While I won't discuss what I think are the reasons for his failure in this blog post, it is clear that he failed.

I foresee Obama spending most or all of 2015 whining about the cards he's been dealt and most or all of 2016 putting down a literal American revolution. He'll feel like a devil in a republican Lake of Fire. (There's more truth to that simile than you might realize.) For his failure to be the benevolent dictator that this country needs, I'll love watching him suffer. He should've gone hard much sooner.

As for local DC politics,I've pasted a slightly edited e-mail below. I sent this to hundreds of my contacts yesterday.....

I hate to say it but life just got harder with the election win of Muriel (or shall I say "More o' Hell"?) Bowser. Though I'm with the Statehood Green Party, I would have preferred David Catania for mayor. I've told many people that he is famously mean and that we need the likes of Catania to force DC Government to think more and to function better. I'm very familiar with the ignorance of the Dept. of Human Services and would assume that the ignorance is system-wide. (I have anecdotal evidence of ignorance in other departments that touch Human Services in some way.) Given what I know about Fenty whose protege "More o' Hell" Bowser is, the ignorance and dysfunction will continue. And without Clarence Carter (who was somewhat capable of the necessary meanness that makes people think) as the DHS director, that mayoral, system-wide stupidity that MoH Bowser promises to bring can't be rectified at the cabinet level.

I had high hopes that Catania would use his mean streak to make the business community back the f**k up and let them know that he's here for everybody, not just the gentrifiers -- that he will ensure that economic growth doesn't squeeze out poor residents. Those hopes have been dashed for the next four years. My statement assumes that the stress of the job, much of which will be brought by yours truly, doesn't kill MoH Bowser and spur a special election. Maybe she'll get caught up in a scandal and be indicted. Let's hope. (Never before have I actually hoped for a scandal; but, I'm terrified by her win.) I'll make it my business to give her MY Hell from the very start (maybe as soon as Wednesday, November 12th, 2014). She and her council chief of staff Joy Holland received this message, BTW.

On the morning of November 5th as I entered a Starbucks, a homeless vendor of the Street Sense newspaper who was familiar with my views approached me to tell me the bad news about the MoH Bowser win. He also said that she is meeting with developers already. Pity. This is all the more reason to move forward with my "Worker Wednesdays" idea mentioned in my October 26th. 2014 blog post and hyperlinked into my e-mail signature.

I was disappointed that neither Graylan Hagler nor Eugene Puryear won the at-large council seats. Unlike with the mayoral race, it seems that DC voted for the candidate that they were most familiar with in most other races. (That was NOT the case in Ward 1.) I seems that DC is not ready to think outside of the "two screwed-up party" box.

David Catania is a formerly-repubican Independent who broke ranks with the party due to its dysfunction and lack of real moral fiber. He would not have been beholden to a party had he won. He is gay, which I'm indifferent to. Nonetheless, he could have been more of a champion for the LGBT community if he had won. He might have been the city's first White mayor, another matter that I'm indifferent to but which rounds out the list of characteristics that he has which no other DC mayor has ever had: not beholden to a party, non-Dumbocratic, gay and White. Damn, he lost!!!!!

Our advocacy just got harder. We'll need to redouble our efforts to assert the right of the poor to live in DC and of ALL the homeless to obtain housing here. Our only real hope lies within Kristy Greenwalt, the director of the ICH. She is responsive to the needs and requests (demands) of the poor. Let's collectively recommend her to Bowser. (If Bowser hires Kristy, I might change how I feel about Bowser and see her as that "woman apart" that she claims to be. If so, I'll publish that statement widely.)

Of lesser consequence but still important is that Bowser not retain Allen Lew as city addsinistrator. he lorded over the construction of the Nationals stadium and the Convention Center which displaced and priced out many poor people. Now he chairs the body that is charged with decreasing homelessness which went from 6,546 people in January 2011 when he took the position to almost 9,000 now in a city of 650,000. He also pissed me off at the June 17th, 2014 ICH meeting when he euphemised my statement about the ICH failing. He said, "We're not failing. We're facing bigger challenges". I thought at that moment about how he needed to be smacked -- for starters anyway.

In closing, I voted in flavor of Initiative 71 to legalize (Senorita) Marijuana in "El Distrito". After all, why lock folk up for smoking weed if and when they aren't harming or infringing upon the rights of others??? It passed. Yeah!!!!!

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Worker Wednesdays in 2015: MEANLY FORCE DC Mayor to Employ the homeless

Of late I've thought a lot about and said a lot about the need to be mean and forceful in order to get government and others to do what poor people need done in order to afford to live. And while I have talked for my full eight years of homeless advocacy about what able-bodied homeless people need in order to find meaningful employment (with the last five years being well-documented on-line), I recently decided that homeless employment is ALL that I'll focus on. At the October 21st meeting of DC's Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH) I announced that decision and explained that there are many people speaking up for other sub-populations of the homeless community.

I also said that we should get the homeless working before they reach retirement age. That statement actually drew a little laughter, speaking of which, there were several times during that meeting that well-paid people broke out into laughter. Some of the homeless and formerly homeless people were actually offended by the light-hearted spirit of those whom we sometimes refer to as “poverty pimps”. Just days earlier I was taken aback by a photo of a Mike Brown protest in which the Blacks looked worried or angry while the Caucasian sympathizers were all smiles. Thanks for the sympathy ; but, mourn with those who mourn. Don't be happy-go-lucky around the mournful. (Read Proverbs.)

This morning I went to my second breakfast of the day at Asbury United Methodist Church at the corner of 11th and K Streets in Northwest DC. They feed on the fourth Sunday of each month beginning around 9:30 AM and closing down between 10:30 and 11. The crowd was especially large today. All of the nearly 200 seats were filled with about 50 people (myself included) standing around the wall. I'd never seen it that full in the several years that I've attended fourth-Sunday breakfast there. I also noticed that, like I stated at my regular church a few blocks away just over a month ago, there were considerably more Hispanics in attendance. (Yo amo a los Hispanicos y puedo hablar poquito espanol.)

While there, I spoke to a couple of the women who volunteer there each month about both concerns. One was a good friend named Carlotta James whose youthful appearance belies her nearly 60 years of age and whose husband Jesse James also volunteers there. The other was a woman in her 70's named Sandra who does the introduction and instructs the often loud group on rules and procedures. Sandra commands a lot of respect and doesn't care if you think of her as a “mean old lady”. I like her style. When I mentioned the number of people in the room and the threat of a visit from the fire marshal, Sandra (who doesn't answer to “Sandy”) said, “That's what we need. I want them to come”. I guess she wants to bring attention to the burgeoning homeless population in any which way she can. I told her about the increased number of Hispanics and the need to instruct people in Spanish to which she said that she used to know some Spanish due to having been married to a Panamanian and that she had, of late, considered brushing up on it for the stated reason. My final point to her, with Carlotta having returned to work at this point, was that I am sometimes accused of being too mean to government officials as I press them for solutions to homelessness. Sandra said quite matter-of-factly that “Sometimes you need to be that way in order to get things done”. Needless to say – though I'll say it anyway – I love Sandra. (I also love Carlotta.) Sandra is wise enough to know that meanness is often necessary. That's probably the understatement of the millennium.

It's not hard to make the case for why advocates for the poor need to be mean. The late but still-renowned homeless advocate Mitch Snyder is on record as having said, in so many words, that advocates for the poor have to be mean and aggressive in order to force the powers that be to notice and address the issue of poverty; because, government would rather do the bidding of the wealthy and the well-to-do. After all, capitalism is a tyrannical system that permeates the world. But it's not as monolithic as one might think. We just need to be organized and have a lot of fight.

Former one-term mayor Adrian Fenty was in his second year when he implemented Permanent Supportive Housing in 2008. That program was initially funded with federal money and by the end of 2010 had housed about 2,000 mentally- and/or physically-disabled homeless people. It took 15 months of prodding him before he announced the effort on April 1st, 2008 with the first people being housed in early September of that year.

Current one-term mayor Vince Gray is in his fourth year, having lost the Democratic primary on April 1st, 2014. In March of this year, after 38 months of prodding and the abduction of an 8-year old girl from the family shelter, Mayor Gray announced a plan to house 500 families in 100 days beginning on April 1st. The plan was partially successful. On October 14th, 2014 he issued a plan to replace the 288-room DC General Family Shelter (of which 40 units are condemned) with six apartment buildings that would contain a total of 300 temporary units for homeless families. This plan is set to be fully implemented by November 2015, ten months after he leaves office, making it unenforceable and tenuous.

Adrian Fenty used what I refer to as “the facade of caring” to justify the closure of the DC Village Family Shelter in October 2007 and the Franklin School Shelter in September 2008 as he told the general public that either facility was “unfit for human habitation” and led them to believe that the housing programs which he implemented in connection with each shelter closure would provide ample housing. Both programs have had funding problems and the current mayor has not fully invested in either. Fenty also failed to tell the general public that, while there were 6,044 homeless people eight months before Franklin closed, there were 6,539 homeless people in January 2010. Even with so many people being housed, the government couldn't keep pace with the increase in homelessness. With Franklin being closed, we now have more homeless people than we had when it was open. We counted 7,748 this past January, up from 6,859 last year. (That's an increase of 889 or 12.9% in one year.)

Mayor Gray used starkly different tactics. He painted a picture for the general public of homeless parents whose average age range is 18 to 24 years old as being a bunch of lazy, shiftless moochers who just want to game the system. He got others in his administration to sing the same song. His deputy mayor of health and human services Beatriz “BB” Otero made the grave error of sending a memo with a message to that effect out to many homeless advocates. I still have it saved on the laptop from which I'm presently blogging and I periodically remind people of her words.

All of this brings to mind two patterns that should be of utter importance to all DC-based homeless advocates. It took about two and a half times as long to get Gray to make a robust effort to house homeless families as it took to get his predecessor to make a robust effort to house disabled homeless singles. At this rate, the next mayor can be expected to make a robust effort to help another sub-population of the homeless beginning in his (hopefully) or her 95th month, which puts us at November 2022 or later. With the last two mayors having done just one term, this means we might never get there.

The second pattern has to do with exactly what sub-populations we're talking about and what seemingly-humane reasons mayor can conjure up for ignoring or under-serving them. Local homeless service providers have a bit of a fixation on the “vulnerability index”. The “V.I.” affords service providers with a tool for determining which homeless people get housed first and which ones can be allowed to linger in shelter or on the streets. DC's last two mayors have applied the underlying principles of the V.I. In their own ways. Fenty knew that he couldn't, with a straight face, refuse to help the mentally- or physically-disabled homeless adults; as they are fully vulnerable. Gray knew that, while 20-ish homeless parents without mental or physical issues are not vulnerable, their small children are. Gray pushed harder and longer against the tide of advocacy on their behalf but eventually caved. Able-bodied homeless singles (those without dependent spouses or children) are clearly the least vulnerable – yea even totally invulnerable. The next mayor might go so far as to utterly refuse to help able-bodied homeless singles all the way through his or her first term and, if re-elected, well into the second term. Have I told you that the last two mayors each did only one term???
 
Rents have steadily risen in Washington, DC over the past 10 to 15 years. I moved here in 2005. Currently the average rent sits at $1,500 per month which requires that one make about $30 per hour if working full time. Some years ago, DC Government signed dozens of affordability covenants with landlords across the city. All of them are expiring simultaneously. Rents are jumping from $1,000 to $1,600 per month all at once. People who are halfway through their year-long leases are being given two-months' notice of the 60% increase. There is bound to be a wave of evictions in April, as landlords may not evict during inclement weather. Furthermore, the cost of DC Government maintaining the housing of the formerly-homeless people in their housing programs could soon increase by 60% or result in 38% of those people returning to homelessness. (With rents jumping to eight-fifths or 160% of what they used to be, the same pot of government money will house only five-eighths or 62.5% of what it used to house.) I predict that DC will have at least 11,000 homeless people by January 2016 and 15,000 by 2020 if nothing changes. DC Government should aim to house at least 3,000 homeless people total for each of the next five years with most of them being connected to living-wage jobs and eventually weaned off of the system.

I should add that the average life expectancy for a homeless person was recently raised from 50 to 52 years. In any instance, I have less than seven years of life left. (If I don't quit smoking AGAIN, my time might be considerably shorter than that.) But whenever I meet my maker, this particular blog post can be used to state my position on how the homeless advocates should proceed. Never let it be said that anyone attributed an idea to me that I didn't support during my life -- the way they do with MLK, Jr., Mitch Snyder and Jesus Christ. I don't support anyone being nice to a capitalistic government that primarily does the bidding of the wealthy at the expense of the poor. I support meanness and revolution that forces the wealthy and their governments to adequately and comprehensively assist and employ the poor. I also would like to return to work – but not without a major victory on the homeless advocacy front. Let's see what comes first: me obtaining a living-wage job and affordable housing or death. (I'll be 52 in 2021 if I see it.)

All things considered, we need to reverse the pattern whereby it has taken longer to procure a robust effort by the mayor to assist the homeless. We need to see if we can get a major announcement by April 1st, 2016 from the mayor-elect to employ at least 2,000 homeless singles and house at least 1,000 others each year and have the plan implemented within six months thereafter. We should have future prevention built into the plan. But that will require relentless prodding no matter who wins.

The famously mean David Catania seems to be better-suited for satisfying this goal than Muriel Bowser. I love his mean streak. A sweet mayor won't be able to combat the pervasive business interests that are gentrifying Washington, DC at an ever-increasing rate. It is with this in mind that I plan to type up a plan for connecting homeless singles to employment and presenting that plan to the 14 offices of the mayor and the DC Council beginning in early 2015 or even on Wednesday, November 5th. I'll try to do it at the same time on “Worker Wednesday” each week. I'll announce it on-line. Hopefully many will join me. Though none go with me, I still will prod the mayor.

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