Friday, January 29, 2016

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

Last updated on 2/5/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To contact Kristy Greenwalt:

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

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

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

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Monday, January 25, 2016

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

(See SOLUTION below: SNOW STORM MOTORCADE)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The winter storm motorcade:

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

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


It's just an idea.

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

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

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

Last edited on 1/20/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would guess that:

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

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

3 – People might have difficulty acquiring sufficient transportation assistance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, January 11, 2016

Muriel Bowser , Kristy Greenwalt & DC Homelessness (Employment)

Washington, DC's Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH) which is headed by Kristy Greenwalt issued its five-year plan (2015-2020) around June 2015 – 11 months after legislation was passed that gives Mayor Muriel Bowser carte blanche to do as she chooses with the CCNV (Community for Creative Non-Violence) Shelter and its 1,350 residents. The plan, as it turns out, says a lot of what my fellow advocates and I have been saying for many years now. This 100-page report has a number of elements that I really like; however, it's missing some very important elements – in my opinion anyway. For what it's worth to you, what IS there is good. It stands to reason that this highly redundant report would only be 30 pages or so if everything were mentioned once, though it might grow again to 40 or 50 pages if we were to add what else I believe belongs in it.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll say that I had a particular focus when applying for my current position on the ICH. As stated in my televised nomination testimony (which can be viewed on the DC Council website) I clearly stated that I am intent on learning the city's plans for the future of the CCNV Shelter which the city will soon have the legal rights to close and that I am intent on pressuring city officials into doing more to connect ALL able-bodied homeless people to living-wage jobs. It would seem that these are two of the most difficult things for city officials to accomplish and that they are very reluctant to top-load their agenda (as I advised Kristy to do in 2014) – all the more reason for me to continue to focus on these issues. In any instance, it is with this focus that I reviewed the five-year plan.

I admittedly only read the plan in early January 2016 – some seven months after it was published. There is the fact that administrative reads are usually quite boring. However, my primary reason was that I wasn't hearing anything in the meetings that I attended that convinced me that the ICH was working from a social theory or sense of principle that I could appreciate. What I heard verbally left me with the impression that reading this document would be a colossal waste of time. I was pleasantly surprised, even if not pleasantly enough.

The questions which I would hope and expect for the ICH to address include the following:

1 – Are we asking the hardest questions up front, doing a deep critical analysis of our plan and beginning to take action on what will probably prove to be the most difficult tasks immediately (top-loading our agenda)???

2 – Have we taken all necessary steps to avoid the mistakes of the past???

3 – As a body that seeks to end homelessness, are we doing the most intuitive things first – like putting in place an on-going process that will continually create affordable housing at a faster rate than people enter into the homeless services system???

4 – Being as people enter the homeless services system after having often held jobs and proven to be well-functioning adults, are the plans we're devising geared toward re assimilating ALL able-bodied persons into society???

5 – Does the plan account for all homeless people in the city??? That is to say, “Does each homeless person fall into at least one sub-category for which plans are being made?”.

6 – Do we need resources that we don't currently have or does anything that the ICH might need to do fall outside of its purview??? (If so, have we begun a process to acquire such resources and/or to get those with broader purviews to assist us in all necessary manners???)

As you can well imagine, the answer to the first five questions is, “No”.
The answers to the three parts of question six are: “Yes”, “Yes” and (I'm almost certain) “No”.

The plan starts out on what I'll call a positive note insomuch as it contains a letter from Mayor Muriel Bowser in which she acknowledges that there are high levels of economic inequality, that family homelessness has increased at an alarming rate and that the city has been doing more to manage homelessness than they do to end it. Later on the plan states that a housing wage in DC is $28.25/hour (presumably for a 1-bedroom with one person working 40 hours/week). It even points out that the minimum wage is a little more than one-third of the housing wage. A mere two years ago I would not have expected to get such an unambiguous statement from a DC mayor about the difficulty low-income workers have living in the city where they work. The “plan” which comes off to me as more of a “report” definitely makes some ambitious admissions, though one would have to attend a lot of meetings in order to gain a clear picture of how the plan will play out. (I had a hard time deducing the various steps and phases, even though I've done this work since June 2006.)

On yet another positive note, this document promises that it will not just sit on a shelf collecting dust, claims to be a living document that will be updated from time to time and acknowledges that the plans that many cities have devised for ending homelessness have fail – two such plans having existed in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, it doesn't elaborate on why those plans failed, much less address lessons learned. “S/he who fails to learn from the mistakes of the past is doomed to repeat them.” To be fair, I'll say that someone who has advocated for some thirty years told me that she wasn't sure if anyone knew why the 10-year plan of 2004 called “Homeless No More” was scrapped. She doesn't think there was a formal decision to do away with it – that it just fell from people's radar. The only information I could find on-line about why the plan was (passively) scrapped was on the website of the Western Regional Advocacy Project or WRAP and said that the plan was done away with due to “not meeting benchmarks”. At any rate, let's hope that this current document “lives” long enough to finish the job of ending homelessness in DC.

It's also worth noting that the admissions that grave social ills exist in the capital of the most powerful nation on Earth, when taken together with the targeted social programs which the plan lays out, play right into a major argument raised by my fellow Marxists and I: Governments would rather give a “programmatic reason” which delivers minimal services to the poorest of the poor than to create a system-wide response that cures these social ills for all of said government's constituents. That is to say that DC Government would rather have programs that assist extremely poor and disabled citizens than to push for legislation that forces rents down to a reasonable level and pay up to a reasonable level for everyone – an idea that would greatly decrease the need for social services and enable more of those in shelters to resolve their own crises.

While I didn't expect the “report” to lay out what (if any) social theory Muriel Bowser or Kristy Greenwalt might be working from (Marxism, Social Democracy, Keynesian-ism etc.), I have known DC Government's Dept. of Human Services (DHS) and the ICH to adopt mantras. In 2008, while developing plans for DC's version of Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), DHS said repeatedly that they “didn't want anyone to die on the streets”. (If they don't LIVE on the streets, they won't DIE on the streets.) They then proceeded to assist the “most vulnerable” homeless, with many people in the service community either having forgotten or not been in their current jobs when it was said that PSH would eventually assist the “least vulnerable” homeless who only have trouble getting connected to jobs. Now Mayor Bowser wants to make homelessness “rare, brief and non-recurring” – a mantra that is repeated many times throughout the document. With the Marxist thinking that guides all of my advocacy work being firmly established, I have a guiding principle that encapsulates all of my efforts for the foreseeable future: Anyone who works in this city and thereby contributes to the life of this city should be able to afford housing and live in this city.

As for how well DHS has done at ensuring that no one dies homeless on the mean streets of DC, I have to give them high marks. Before 2009 (the first full year for PSH) there were 100 or more people per year dying homeless in DC. In 2015 there were about 40 – this in spite of having had 6,228 homeless people in January 2009 and 7,298 in January 2015 (1,070 more). Whether or not Mayor Bowser and Kristy Greenwalt make homelessness “rare, brief and non-recurring”, that remains to be seen. I probably won't see that day myself – especially if it takes multiple terms (December 2020 being almost two years into the next mayoral term). As for my part, I have a number of irons in the fire even now and continue to work on getting city officials to make their decision about CCNV public and to develop a meaningful plan around homeless employment. In these matters I'll succeed or I'll die trying. (I've found what hurts DC Gov the most and I'll keeping bringing it up until I break them in.)

That segways us nicely into what the report was missing. While page 43 (on the PDF page counter which doesn't match the typed-in page numbers) there is a chart that sort of explains the plans for facility upgrades at some shelters and completely new buildings for others. It doesn't mention every city-run shelter. Furthermore, CCNV is not a city-run shelter, though it IS in a city-owned building. Add to this the fact that there was a nine-month long task force which concluded in July 2014 – almost a year before the 2015-2020 plan/report was completed. Oddly enough, the plan/report makes no mention of CCNV. One might assume that a plan which is going to end homelessness across the city would mention a shelter which holds about 1,000 people (with other entities in the same building holding another 300+ beds).

The plan makes a token mention or two of homeless singles who might be able-bodied. In each instance the mention is vague and ambiguous, allowing a seasoned advocate to assume that the writer had the most vulnerable homeless singles in mind. As for the sub-populations for which a plan is laid out, if only vaguely, they include families and the disabled. Even if one, after reading the plan/report, is unable to develop a clear mental picture of how the city plans to end homelessness for these two sub-categories, it's clear that city officials have a laser-sharp focus on them. The plan/report aligns perfectly with what the mayor has said on the news: that she is working on providing homeless parents (whose average age range is 18 to 24 years old) with a path to the middle class. I've looked in the written plan and listened to the news for even the slightest hint that Mayor Bowser is aware that there are homeless people ages 25 to 60 who need more employment assistance than DOES (Dept. Of Employment Services) offers – people who aren't adequately assisted by the department's current rigid structures or narrow purview. I neither read nor heard any.

This begins to explain why I go as hard as I do. After all, a plan that going to end homelessness in this city, making it “rare, brief and non-recurring”, can only succeed if every homeless person in the city falls into at least one of the sub-categories of those being actively assisted by the ICH's plan. This has not (yet) proven to be true for able-bodied homeless singles. Neither has it proven to be true for residents of CCNV, most of whom fall into the “A-bod” category. We're being ignored twice over. Fix that, Muriel Bowser and Kristy Greenwalt.

(I might need to do a “Part 2” to this blog post, as I couldn't say everything I have to say in this already lengthy post.)


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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Eric Sheptock on the ICH Committee: Good or Bad?????

In 1987 Ronald Reagan and the 100th Congress were pressured by the aggressive tactics of the Mitch Snyder Movement into passing the McKinney-Vento Homeless Services Act. This act allows homeless service providers to obtain surplus federal real estate through its Title V provision. It also mandates that school districts be prepared to counsel and assist homeless students. In response to the act's provisions, the U.S. Dept. of Labor (DOL) performed the Job Training Homeless Demonstration Project beginning in 1988 – an effort that ended with 25% of the homeless who took advantage of the program being employed for at least 13 weeks. There are other innumerable effects of the McKinney-Vento Act which are still being felt by the homeless and their service providers today. However, it's worth noting that, while Mitch Snyder and company should be lauded for the progress they made by bringing the plight of the homeless (some of whom were eating from trashcans near the White House) to the attention of Reagan and Congress, we should have made more progress than we have at this point in time.

Fast forward to May 20th, 2009 – the day that President Obama signed the HEARTH Act (Homeless Emergency Assistance, Rapid Transition to Housing) into law. In the almost seven years since, there have been congressional funding shortfalls that have led to the HEARTH Act being implemented piecemeal by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and urban Development (HUD). On a positive note, the re authorization calls for all cities that receive HUD funding to meet certain benchmarks for ending homelessness. It also calls for each locale to have a “homeless czar(ina)”, as DC Council Chair Phil Mendelson can be heard calling Kristy Greenwalt during a 2015 hearing – someone who can make quick, if not unilateral, decisions on HUD-related matters. (I felt hope insomuch as I have a certain penchant for benevolent dictatorship/autocracy with its ability to rise above the fray of “congressional bickering” and get sustenance to the needy in a timely fashion.)

With DC's Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH) having appointed up to five homeless or formerly-homeless community representatives since shortly after its inception and with me having attended the first meeting in June 2006 as a non-member, I was appointed as a community representative in November 2015 following a nine-month application process. (The process was altered by Ms. Greenwalt. She began her job on April 28th, 2014 and was retained by Mayor Bowser.) Long story short, I'll get more chances to speak at meetings and DC Government has slightly more leverage to “make me be nice” – this in spite of the fact that I hear the same unresolved conversations that I heard five or more years ago. With me euphemizing their words, some have told me that the ICH meetings come off to them as “government [handy work]: making themselves feel good”. The ICH has now gone from having bi-monthly meetings with a 10-minute public comment period at the beginning and end to now having quarterly meetings with a comment period at the beginning – cutting the public comment from 120 minutes per year to 40 minutes. With me being at the table now, I can speak at will during the 90-minute working meeting. And speak I will.

I was in Florida visiting my 78-year old mother and other family members on December 1st, 2015 – the day of the first full ICH meeting following my confirmation. In March 2016 I'll sit at the table for the first time – if all goes well. And that's a big “IF”. Being a straight-forward man (a quality that many don't appreciate these days), I've made it clear that I approach the ICH with an agenda and that I'll do more to bring the concerns of the homeless to the ICH than I will to laud the ICH before the homeless. That agenda is laid out in my November 4th, 2015 testimony before Council Chairman Mendelson: to promote meaningful discussion about the future of the CCNV Shelter and effect a transition from merely focusing on housing the most vulnerable homeless singles and families with children to also connecting able-bodied homeless single people to living-wage jobs and affordable housing. Despite my many e-mails to that effect and my testimony being on the public record, some people are still surprised. Even so, my nearly 10 years of fighting for a greater investment in homeless “A-bods” has moved to a new high (or low – maybe).

When I began advocating in June 2006 under the leadership of the late Mary Ann Luby, we were fighting to keep Franklin School Shelter open. (It closed in September 2008.) One of our arguments was that it was located near two subway stations and many bus lines that afford the working homeless a convenient way to their jobs. In conjunction with its September 2008 closure, at least 300 mentally and physically disable homeless men were housed. Fast forward almost four and a half years through my many blog posts and newspaper articles about homeless employment to January 2013 when I filed a FOIA (Freedom Of Information Act) request with the feds and obtained information about the property rights pertaining to the CCNV Shelter. I e-mailed the 100 pages of information to city officials and became somewhat of a catalyst in the then slow-moving conversation around the shelter's future. Finally, factor in that DOL sits across the road on the shelter's south side and a ginormous $1.3B construction project which is slated for completion in 2023 sits across the road on the north side. As you can well imagine, many of the homeless want help getting connected to employment across the road. (The big machines are doing most of the work right now and hundreds of laborers won't be needed for at least another six months.) Even so, the geography of these several city blocks stands as a testament to government's failure to adequately assist homeless A-bods. I intend to raise this concern whether or not I'm on the ICH, unless and until it is adequately addressed. The government saying “We are (or plan on) working on it” doesn't count as adequate.

On a separate but related track, I'm working with American University Professor Dan Kerr on a project that highlights the challenges faced by homeless people who need employment. In April 2015 we organized an event at Georgetown university Law Center (for which the Property Group Partners Development Corp catered $1,400-worth of food) and we gathered interviews from dozens of homeless people about their work histories and current employment challenges. This information will be presented to about 200 homeless people on March 27th, 2016 at Asbury UMC – in place of the health advice presentation that usually precedes breakfast on the fourth Sunday of each month. They will be given opportunities to add concerns that are not already on our list. The full list will eventually be used to affect public policy around homeless employment. Hopefully it will lead to DC Government connecting more than 25% of its homeless A-bods to employment for more than 25% of a year.

The “failing feds” and the fact that DOL hasn't made a robust effort toward homeless employment in the past 28 years lend themselves to the argument that the U.S. Government may have given up on homeless employment. This offers DC Government a prime opportunity to outdo their overbearing mother. However, my “Marxist homeless advocate” intuitions tell me that local officials who would rather “make themselves feel good” than to “grow a pair” won't seize the moment. After all, when tenuously-housed people see that the government is making it possible for low-income workers to live in the city of their employment, there might just be a public outcry for such initiatives to be expanded and made available to all of the city's working poor. What mayor wants to set him/herself up for that?????

From what I can tell, Mitch Snyder had a nasty disposition but led hundreds of people whose work we continue to benefit from today. When you juxtapose the slow progress of the past 25 years with the fact that advocates have become nicer, it would seem that one is the result of the other. It's also worth noting that most video footage we have of Mitch Snyder is from 1984 onward, with him having begun to advocate in 1974. His movement's greatest victories all came between 1984 and 1988, possibly as a result of him having gotten mean enough to be effective after 10 years of advocacy. I'll have been advocating for 10 years as of June 2016. Unlike Mitch Snyder, I have been grafted into a government agency. Whether that proves to be a positive of a negative remains to be seen. In any instance, I'll treat it as a positive until proven otherwise.

I knew during the application and nomination process that I could be somewhat muzzled and made to tone down my rhetoric if I was accepted onto the ICH board, even as the DC Council and government should have known I was coming with both an agenda and knowledge of government's failings since homelessness became highly visible on the streets of America some 40 years ago. It boils down to the fact that I might speak for a total of six minutes at the table each quarter or for two minutes from the audience and raises the question, “Do I really want to allow myself to be “forced into kindness” in order to get four additional minutes of air time per quarter?????”.

As it turns out, that may become a moot issue. You see, I've also encouraged DC Government to visit the CCNV Shelter and talk with residents about how we should interpret the legislation that was brought forth as a result of the task force and to weigh-in on other occurrences that have us wondering if the shelter might be closed in the next three to seven years. I continue to update shelter residents about my advocacy efforts. Many of those residents will attend the March 27th breakfast at Asbury. During my introduction, I have every intention to inform the homeless about the level of commitment that DC Government has or hasn't shown toward homeless employment, in my opinion; but, there will be more of a focus on how these 200 people think we should proceed at creating this paradigm shift.

If all goes well, this and similar events being planned for the second quarter of 2016 will lead to us formulating an agreed-upon list of “homeless employment demands”. Once enough of the homeless A-bods are on the same page, revoking my position would amount to political suicide insomuch as it would have a “hydra effect”. Government would go from having one homeless advocate raising concerns that challenge the local manifestations of capitalism to having dozens of homeless people who now feel spited raising their vices for both their employment and my reinstating. This hydra effect would be deepened by the fact that government would also go from having a spokesperson with knowledge of government function and an ability to negotiate solutions to having advocacy novices shouting them down with the demand for jobs. So, at the end of the day, homeless A-bods and I win. You might even say that DC Government “has created a monster”. In this case it's not Frankenstein; but the hydra of Eric Sheptock at the table which, if chopped off, will turn into dozens of unhappy homeless A-bods shouting from the audience. Either way, DC Government will have to address homeless single persons' employment in 2016 – a year of JOB-ilee. Besides, Dan and I seek to build a movement. This may be it.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Federal Real ID Act's Affect on the Homeless

The Real ID Act which was passed by Congress in 2005 has reared its ugly head as deadlines for states to comply are fast approaching. While many are concerned that adjoining the databases of all 50 states in a system that is administered by the feds will subject the information of all American adults to the same internet security failures that have plagued the Office of Personnel Management and other federal agencies, states are concerned with the price tag. Since some states are using their right to refuse to comply with the feds, this forces residents of those states out of compliance. This could eventually lead to trouble when attempting to board an airplane. However, citizens whose ID or driver's license is not in compliance with federal standards will likely have the option of presenting a passport.

I fly once or twice a year from DC to Florida to visit my aging mother and other family members. Having never left the country, I've never applied for a passport or visa. No problem; because, DC is in compliance with the Real ID Act. This presents yet another set of problems for me – not the least of which is that I'm not allowed to put my real address on the ID. (yes, you read that correctly. It's not a typo either.) I'm not allowed to put my real address on the ID.

Before I describe at least two major problems with Washington, DC's Real ID Act compliance, I must say that, on January 17th, 2015 I came extremely close to missing my flight to Florida. It was due to my ID from 2008 having expired in the summer of 2013 – a year and a half earlier. By the time that I finished going through the scanner and put my shoes back on (to the relief of other passengers), it was about a minute before my plane was to leave. The TSA agent noticed that my ID was expired and didn't want to grant me passage. I had the then-girlfriend with me and I was frantic about missing my flight. A TSA supervisor walked over. He asked if everything else matched – my name, my flight, the time etc. The agent said, “Yes”. The supervisor commanded him to let me through. My plane arrived at the terminal 20 minutes after it was supposed t have departed. I boarded and made it to the Sunshine State.

Backtrack to June 2014. DC Government's Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH) had its then bi-monthly meeting during which dozens of people come together to discuss ending homelessness. (They've been meeting since June 2006. There are even more homeless people than lived in DC 10 years ago. However, meetings are now quarterly. Go figure.) Each ICH meeting is preceded by a pre-meeting during which homeless people and the general public discuss a pre-determined topic that is related to homelessness. (There has been talk of eliminating the pre-meetings. That would be pretty top-down, with the homeless and public only hearing what government officials and ICH appointees like yours truly have to say.) In June 2014 the pre-meeting was about DC's implementation of the Real ID Act as it pertains to the homeless. I arrived about 10 minutes before the pre-meeting concluded and, there, missed a presentation by DALLAS WILLIAMS of DC Government's Dept. of Human Services (DHS). People were in Q&A mode when I arrived. Little did I realize then how this information would affect me in 2015, though my issue at the airport was more of an expiration issue than it was a Real ID issue.

I said that I'm not allowed to put my real address on the ID. Here's what I mean. I'm homeless. Though Congress passed the Mckinney-Vento Homeless Services Act in 1987 and Obama signed its reauthorization on May 20th, 2009 (with it now being called the HEARTH Act), the feds were remiss in how they approached the matter of homeless identification. To prove residency, a person can present two bills that they received through snail mail – if they actually use that anymore. Technological advances aside, a homeless person probably doesn't receive the permitted bills by snail/e-mail – like a light bill or phone bill. A homeless person can use certain service providers – soup kitchens and shelters – as their address. However, these service providers must go through a certification process in order to qualify as an address that is recognized by their local DMV. The CCNV Shelter where I currently stay is not certified as a recognized address. Its 750 year-round residents, as their ID's expire, will not be allowed to use 425 2nd Street NW, Washington, DC as their address on the new ID.

In August 2015, as I sought to renew my ID before a planned flight (which got postponed by three months due to a hurricane), I went to an office of the Downtown BID to inquire as to whether or not they still offer ID assistance. They referred me to a non-profit here in DC called Pathways to Housing. Their main address is 101 Q Street in NE DC. Pathways primarily serves mentally-ill homeless people. However, they also have an outreach office near the MLK Library which serves those who are not determined to be mentally ill. (I suppose it's a not-so-secret way of gauging those who haven't been certified so as to bring them into mental health services in a city where social services are designed to encourage people to present as mentally or physically disabled in order to receive them. I prefer to avoid being stigmatized by those who mistake me as a regular client, when in fact I've only used them to get ID – which is why I was reluctant to accept this service from them.)

I received a voucher for a free ID from Pathways. I obtained proof of residency from the CCNV Shelter. I made sure I had my social security card, birth certificate and old ID. I went to DMV. I was told that they would not honor my proof-of-residency paperwork from CCNV and that I had to use the address of the organization that gave me the voucher (which Pathways had not told me). I asked if that would change if I were to pay out of pocket. I was told I'd need two bills. I was S.O.L. (I'd not yet postponed my flight due to the hurricane and thought I'd end up missing it – though by myself this time.) I ended up having an ID made that had 101 Q St NE DC as my address, though I stay at 425 2nd St NW DC. I then received yet another surprise. DMV no longer gives you the ID right then and there (which Pathways had not told me). They give you a paper copy which is good for 45 days and they mail the ID card to you. (This may soon be the only thing USPS delivers.)

Several weeks later I went to 101 Q St NE to pick up the ID. It had been hand-delivered by a staff member from there to their location near the library. I went to the outreach location the following day. I was handed two pieces of mail. One had the card. The other was an adjusted voter's registration – the other problem. Here in DC we have eight wards which subdivide into ANC's (not African National Congresses, but Advisory Neighborhood Commissions). The wrong address puts me in the wrong voting district for elected positions that are not citywide. I'll need to fix it before April 2016 – DC's new primary month, since 2014.

I guess the only bright spot in all of this is that the homeless who often feel invisible and get ignored by many are now being paid attention to – even if it IS by the feds. (Truth be told, I sometimes wonder if a foreigner with a thick accent might one day say of a homeless person, “Hey look, a bum!” only to have law enforcement misunderstand and call out the bomb squad – the fact that homeless people storing their belongs publicly has already led to bomb scares notwithstanding.)

Over the past three months I've explained this ID matter to several people in DC Government as well as the director of Pathways to Housing. On October 4th, as I told Pathways Director Christy Respress, she listened politely and directed me to walk a few yards across this room in City Hall and speak to ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt whose agency is working on fixing Real ID system flaws that affect the homeless. (I was being sent from pillar to post – or shall I say “from Christy to Kristy”. As I explained it to Kristy, several non-profit and government personnel were sitting nearby. All other conversation ceased as all homed in on my articulation of a problem that is beginning to affect many and which is already on people's radar. I sensed respect for me and concern for the issue I was raising – more than usual.

How quickly things can change!!! Two days later I attended a meeting of homeless advocates and DHS personnel at the MLK Library. DHS Director Laura Zeilinger as well as DALLAS WILLIAMS and another man I don't know were there. Among other things, I described the aforementioned ID fiasco which, as you can see, doesn't implicate DHS at all. Laura had to leave in a rush before the meeting ended. I spoke to DALLAS WILLIAMS 1-on-1 after the meeting. There were at least a couple of other people nearby waiting their turns. However there weren't many witnesses within earshot of DALLAS WILLIAMS and myself.

DALLAS WILLIAMS became very defensive as he spoke sternly and said, “Sheptock, say that's YOUR experience!!! DHS doesn't do that. We help people with ID all the time; but, we don't let them use 64 NY Ave NE DC as their address. Say that's YOUR experience!!!” It was hard to get a word in edgewise or to tell him that, with Pathways being in contract with DHS, it is the job of DHS to know what Pathways to Housing is up to – the very reason I was telling DHS what they should have already known. Following DALLAS WILLIAMS' overly-emotional display, the conversation remained dysfunctional from there on out. Taken together with DALLAS WILLIAMS having shut down a process whereby a DHS employee was assisting an 80-year old homeless woman who'd been sleeping outdoors in the winter and was in dire need of accommodations, he's proven himself to lack genuine concern for the needy.

Additionally, he and I attended a May 27th, 2015 meeting at the DHS office in which he mentioned the planned relocation of two women's shelters from 425 2nd Street (where the building has six separate entities) to DC's Chinatown – a move that was planned to occur before November 1st, 2015 but will occur in the spring of 2016. DALLAS WILLIAMS went to the women's shelters later that same day but never mentioned the move. I would eventually find out the the director who runs both shelters hadn't yet been told about the move. In the meantime, I told the female residents who accused the shelter director of withholding info from them. The director thought the accusation originated with me. I explained that I accused DALLAS WILLIAMS, not her, of withholding info. I told her about the planned move. She contacted DHS. DALLAS WILLIAMS was sent out to the shelters again and talked about the move. However, by this time, it was clear that renovations at the new location were not going to be completed in time. The 200 women total in these shelters were given a January move date and not told by DALLAS WILLIAMS (who should have known) that a winter move is not likely and that, when the pre-November move didn't happen, late-March or early-April 2016 became the new date by default. I've since told them. I could also go into multiple stories of how advocates feel stonewalled by him and sense that he has a general disregard for homeless advocates. Long story short, DALLAS WILLIAMS is on my sh*t list.

I'll visit him soon in order to fix my ID problem.....
..and to ensure that DALLAS WILLIAMS knows who I am.


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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Revolutionaries, Let's Pit Landlords Against Employers

As recently as 2005 there were many American activists calling for class war. That obviously didn't go anywhere. Many people, like the homeless and the child laborers of the world, are too busy fighting for their daily sustenance to involve themselves in a class war where they'd fight for full systemic change. Therefore, homelessness and extreme poverty persist.

Add to that the fact that the non-profit/industrial complex has evolved to a point where many of the non-profits that ostensibly are pushing for solutions to homelessness and/or extreme poverty are now receiving government funding from a capitalist system. With capitalism being a system that permeates the world, none of the people who benefit from this exploitative system are incentivized to accommodate the less fortunate – unless and until the poor arise. These beneficiaries include obvious entities such as government and the business community as well as the not-so-obvious entities like non-profits that serve the poor.

Fact of the matter is that such non-profits help to keep the lid on the pressure cooker. They help to ensure that the poor will receive daily sustenance – food, shelter, clean clothes etc. They manage housing programs for the mentally and physically disabled. Some of these non-profits get paid to end homelessness, fail and continue to get paid. Then there is the fact that, when government officials who work on “ending” homelessness are formulating their annual plans, they call meetings with these non-profits. With the majority of attendees making money while managing a problem that they claim to want to solve, a vote is taken on what the attendees think is the most pressing issue within the homeless continuum. Not surprisingly, the vote always indicates that a room full of people who make most of their money managing the disabled who have been housed in programs like Permanent Supportive Housing think that the needs of the “most vulnerable homeless” are the most pressing.

I would never argue that we should decrease services for the most vulnerable among us – unless that group were to irreversibly decrease in size. However, there is no point in repeatedly voting on a matter wherein the outcome of the vote is likely to remain the same. Furthermore, DC Government initially said that they would start with the most vulnerable homeless and eventually assist the least vulnerable too. That was in mid-2008. The latter part of the plan hasn't materialized yet.

The “least vulnerable homeless” who are able to work if they were to receive assistance in finding and/or being trained for living-wage jobs are relegated to spending yet another year in shelter. The only silver lining in this dark cloud is the fact that, when they grow old and turn silver, they'll likely – but not certainly – be housed. That said, we need to blow the lid off of the pressure cooker.

We need to pressure government into connecting “homeless A-bods” to living-wage employment. But we must first realize where politicians are coming from if we re going to drag them to the place where they should be in their thinking. As elements of a worldwide capitalist system, homeless service providers – especially government – are not incentivized to do anything that would cut into the profits of businesses. They don't want to force employers to pay a true living wage or force landlords to keep rents down to a level that is affordable for the lowest-paid workers in their respective locales. If government were to make a robust effort to connect able-bodied homeless people to living-wage jobs and affordable housing, it stands to reason that other constituents who are teetering on the edge and about to fall into homelessness would clamor for these targeted programs to be expanded into citywide programs or for the underlying admissions (the need for living wages and affordable housing) to be codified into law. This would cause employers and landlords to cry foul and to come out against city governments. Municipal governments fear this phenomenon – and with good reason.

In Washington, DC rents average $1,500 per month. A full-time worker must make about $30 per hour to pay that much in rent. The minimum wage in DC will rise from $10.50 to $11.50 on July 1st, 2016. In just over six months a full-time worker in DC will make $1,840 per month – a whopping $340 more than the average rent. (you can't rent a hole in the wall for $600 – the amount such a worker could afford to pay.) This brings me to the reason for my proposal that we pit landlords against employers.

Until now, landlords have lobbied for the right to raise the rent any time that the DC Council considers any type of rent control. In similar fashion, employers like Wal-mart have lobbied for the right to pay low wages any time that the DC Council has considered creating any living-wage legislation. Both groups approach government with their respective concerns – though not simultaneously. As it turns out, someone who makes $1,840 per month before taxes can't afford to pay $1,500 or even $900 per month in rent. We should therefore create an initiative that brings these two groups together. We could tell the landlords that the employers don't pay their employees enough for these employees to pay local rents. We could tell the employers that the landlords are raising the rents which are already far beyond what their employees can afford to even higher levels. We could then tell these two groups to decide whether the pay goes up or the rent comes down.

This idea, of course, is lost on the argument that low-wage workers can live outside of DC and pay more for transit to come into the city. After all, they can take two or three buses over the course of two hours in order to get to work each day. It would only cost $1.75 each way, as opposed to a per-station charge on the subway. Who cares if they spend four hours in transit each day??? That's the price of poverty.

Being as a movement should be based on a widely-understood principle that the masses are willing to get behind and fight for, I've often argued that a person should be able to afford housing in the city where they work. Let's face it: your work (or willingness to work) is your primary bargaining chip – even in a society where labor is becoming obsolete and people are being replaced with more productive machines that don't demand benefits. (It's worth noting that, in many cases, laid-off people were also customers of the companies that let them go.)

All things considered, it behooves those of us who fight for the needs of the working class to demand that municipal governments create legislation that requires that anyone who works 40 hours per week in a certain city be able to afford housing there (without paying more than one-third of their income after taxes and without government assistance). We could call it “The Right to Live in the City Where you Work” Law.

Such a law could place demands on landlords to ensure that the percentage of their units that rent for one-third of a minimum-wage workers monthly pay is directly proportionate to the percentage of employees in that city who make a minimum wage. It could require that employers double as landlords by renting large numbers of units which they then sublet to their employees for no more than a third of an employee's wages. The possibilities are endless.

A former director of DC Government's Dept. of Human Services, David Berns, had a mantra – the one good thing he left us with. It was: “Get a job. Get a better job. Get a career.”. Current director of DC Government's Dept. of Employment Services (DOES) has made that her mantra as well. Great. Now to actualize it.

Oddly enough, it is a group of 50 local religious entities who do grassroots advocacy and which call themselves the “Washington Inter-faith Network” or “WIN” which has taken the lead on this matter. They've begun talks with the local water and sewage administration (WASA) around employing homeless parents for green jobs in the soon-to-be-developed sewage overflow gardens that will catch the raw sewage that is currently overflowing into the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers every time there is a substantial rain. (This problem must be fixed per orders of the EPA.) Of course, no one aspires to become a “sh*t shovel-er”. Nonetheless, it's a dirty job that someone has to do. It affords homeless parents with opportunities to build their resumes. A good reference from WASA could lead to “a better job” which could lead to a career. The trick after getting homeless parents employed at WASA is to then ensure that they are kept on the roles at DOES and trained up to 20 hours per week for better employment. The responsibility of DOES shouldn't end until the homeless parent is connected to a job that pays at least three times the amount of the parents' rent. All of this same thinking should also be applied to homeless singles.

As stated earlier, the possibilities are endless. However, the conversation has to start somewhere. As Frederick Duglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has. And it never will”. In lieu of these wise words, we should start the conversation by pitting rent-raising landlords against low-paying employers – by adjoining the concerns that hereto now have caused these groups to lobby separately and thereby forcing them into direct confrontation with each and AND with the third part of a “power triangle”: local government. Let's get the pillars of capitalism fighting each other at the local level. This should be fun.

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