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.


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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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Job Discrimination Against the Homeless: Shirley Contracting and DC's First-Source Law

CORRECTION: I continue to gather more facts about the large Shirley Contracting (Clark Construction Group) project near the CCNV Shelter. The project will net Shirley $1.3 billion, not the $2.8 billion I was previously told. That doesn't change my argument that they should be made to do more to hire DC residents, such as establish an employment trailer in Washington, DC as opposed to prospective employees needing to travel all the way to Lorton, VA for an interview. Here are a couple of links about the 2.2 million square-foot project known as "Capitol Crossings": ARTICLE and WEBSITE

It's been said by social justice advocates and activists that, “There are 20 years that don't make a day; and then, there's that day that makes 20 years”. I think I just had my day that makes 20 years on October 3rd, 2014. I attended a hearing at Washington, DC's City Hall (The John A. Wilson Building). It was about the 41% cut to TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) that went into effect on October 1st, 2014. I didn't plan to testify, only to observe. However, as I heard various homeless or poor mothers and one single woman from the non-profit community testify, the gears began turning and I gave into tempation.

A woman on the previous four-person panel set things off when she shifted from talking about the increased hardships that she and her child will endure as a result of the near-half reduction in public benefits to talking about how she doesn't believe that city officials really want to end homelessness or poverty. She even talked about how the system that creates or deepens people's poverty then blames those people for their poverty and was one of at least two mothers who talked about how more poor people will commit crimes of survival as their public benefits are cut. They went on to mention the prison-industrial complex and how that, as people commit crimes of survival, prisons are being built and expanded and police are at the ready to arrest the poor and throw them in jail where money can be made off of them.

I shared the testimony table with three mothers. Naila (nah – EE – lah) is still relatively new to advocacy. Other long-term advocates and I have been offering our support to get her started. She sat to my right. Naila was the first person on our panel to speak. She told of homeless parents being intimidated by staff for speaking out about shelter conditions and of how the homeless families at the Quality Inn, courtesy of DC Government, had received notices of eviction with nowhere to go and no one to talk to. I fleshed out what the woman on the previous panel said by giving some very specific examples of systemic failures that add up to poor people being gentrified out of the city or that make their lives harder. After all, I've dealt with DC Government for eight years and some change. I know about their major SNAFU's since June 2006 first-hand and have heard about others that occurred prior to my becoming a homeless advocate. A woman who shares my mother's name and put herself through professional schooling while homeless sat to my left. A woman who suffers from Dyslexia but has three gifted children sat to the right of Naila who broke into tears as she heard the mother of three speak. I held and comforted her.

Councilman Jim Graham was so impressed with the testimonies of our panel that he strongly advised us to organize for power. Immediately after our panel was finished, the four of us stood, exchanged hugs (which is uncommon at a hearing) and walked into the hall to exchange contact info and plan when we would meet to organize. (That will happen on Monday, October 6th at 1 PM at the MLK, Jr. Library in Room A-9.) I was impressed by the fluidity of our collective testimonies even though we hadn't collaborated on them. I was also impressed by the critique of the capitalist system that took place during the hearing. It was reminiscent of the hearing a day earlier before the same councilman concerning the future of the CCNV Shelter. During that hearing a man who is new to advocacy talked mainly about the hurtful effects of the capitalist system and the fact that much of what city officials claim to do out of concern for homeless people is just a facade. While myself and other advocates have known these things for years, it is unusual for a person who is testifying to exit the topic of the hearing and give a general critique of the system; and, it is almost unheard of to have several people's testimonies so unintentionally and coincidentally build the case for an indictment against the same.

During my testimony I mentioned the fact that there weren't many homeless families present at a hearing that directly affects them; because, they don't have enough money to ride the transit system – that the problem we were there to discuss was self-compounding insomuch as the decreased funds decrease the ability of the poor to attend events where they should be speaking out about their plight. I also said that,though it's rather pie-in-the-sky, maybe we should approach the transit authority about assisting homeless families by giving them free rides or reduced fares, especially when attending such a meeting. Councilman Graham would later say that he can help with transportation. I also mentioned the fact that,with homeless families at the Quality Inn having been told to leave with nowhere to go and no one to talk to about their plight, we were returning to the atrocities of the winter of 2010-11.

During that winter, homeless mothers were turned away from an over-crowded shelter with their infants and toddlers in tow and given tokens to ride the bus all night. (The buses stop between 2 and 5 AM.) One particular boy who was born onFebruary 10th spent his first month of life homeless as his mother slept with him in her storage unit, the Greyhound station and the stairwell of an unsecured apartment building. I too mentioned the insufficient political will to end homelessness, as I had the day before. At both hearings I mentioned Shirley Contracting which has begun a large 10-year building project right across the road from the shelter and only made a token effort to hire homeless people. I'm left to wonder if they've made any more of an effort to hire other Washingtonians.

I left the hearing at about 1:20 PM to go to an interview with an American University student who wanted to know about the phenomenon whereby homeless people are made to feelinvisible. Along with one other man, I told her about how the general public often tries not to notice a homeless person. I told her of how homeless parents often sleep in the bushes of various parks for fear that if they apply for shelter, the shelter is full and they are honest about not having anywhere to sleep indoors, then theirchildren will be taken away. This causes homeless parents to want to become “invisible”. I also told her about FEMA camps that are being erected in various cities, ostensibly in preparation for a disaster, and are being used as homeless shelters where a homeless person must go and is not allowed to leave without an escort in a van.

Then it was on to the radio station where I was one of three people on an hour-long show that centered around the book by my good friend, former Cleveland resident and current American University professor Dan Kerr called “DerelictParadise”. His book addresses poverty pimping from an academic standpoint. It shows the connection between the cheap labor afforded by day labor halls, the race to the bottom in terms of wages and the increase in homelessness since 1945. Dan, a Caucasian, beat me to the punch by being the first to mention that “urban renewal” is actually”negro removal”. (I really WAS getting ready to say that in my next comment when he said it. Great minds think alike.) It was here at WPFW 89.3 FM during the show with Garland Nixon from 6 to 7PM on October 3rd, 2014 that I mentioned the indictment of Shirley Contracting for the third time in two days (all three times having been taped and made available in the public domain.) The indictment is as follows:

In late August or early September 2014 Shirley Contracting which is a subsidiary of Clark Construction began work on a 10-year project near the 200 block of E Street NW in Washington, DC. There is a shelter building which holds up to 1,350 of the city's 8,000+ homeless people which is located diagonally across the road on the southeast corner of the same intersection. It contains three separate shelters, a clinic, a drug program and a kitchen that feeds 5,000 poor people per day and is collectively known as the Federal City Shelter. The CCNV (Community for Creative Non-Violence) is one of those shelters in the building with 950 of the beds. There are probably 300 people in that building who are fully capable of doing construction labor. There may be upwards of 100 who have skills in the construction trades.

Washington, DC has what are called “First Source Laws” which mandate that employers make a good-faith effort to ensure that at least 51% of their employees are DC residents. After they make a good-faith effort to hire DC residents, they are allowed to hire people from outside of DC. The following amounts to what I suspect was a token effort to hire DC residents and one which uses homeless people in ways that the homeless might not be aware.

I was told by a man who, along with his co-workers, comes from the Academy of Sciences during his lunch break to help homeless people write resumes and apply on-line for jobs that Shirley Contracting had indeed contacted the shelter administration to inform them that the company was hiring. This friend had been led to believe that the company wanted to hire a large number of people from the shelter. The shelter administration did not make it their business to convey this information to all residents, though I have no complaint about the man who told me.

I went to the company's website, sent them a message expressing my desire to discuss them hiring homeless people, made a flier with their contact info along with what I'd been told and posted those fliers at the shelter. On or around September 10th I called Shirley Contracting. I was put through to a certain Carrie Carr-Maina (703-550-1127) and explained my understanding of the matter. She seemed rather friendly, for what that's worth to you. (She works in HR.) She said that, while she doesn't know who from her company contacted the shelter, she thinks that they might have simply told the shelter that Shirley is hiring but doubts that they stated a desire to hire any homeless people. She emphasized that anyone may apply. She explained that the application can be done on-line or in person at the office in Lorton Virginia which is beyond where the transit system goes and considerably difficult to get to – especially if you are a homeless person of limited means. (It stands to reason that the interview would be in Lorton even if one were to apply on-line.) Ms. Carr-Maina suggested getting a van and bringing 10 people out to apply in Lorton. She also told me that Shirley Contracting would be participating in a job fair at the Washington Convention Center on September 24th.

On September 23rd I called Carrie Carr-Maina to confirm that she would be at the job fair the next day. She said she would but then asked me if I'd seen her e-mail. I hadn't. She then proceeded to tell me that I was publishing bad information about Shirley Contracting that included the idea that the companywould transport homeless people to Lorton for the interview. I asked her when she sent it and she said the 15th. I thought that a mentally ill homeless advocate whom I know may have made his own version of my flier and sent it out in the name of SHARC, the advocate group that I chaired beginning at the group's inception in April 2011. When I went back and read the e-mail, it had a faxed copy of my flier and a company flier along with a message from Carrie about the large amount of human resources that were wasted dealing with people who were calling in based on bad information. My flier said nothing about the company having offered to ride homeless people to the office in Lorton.

During this conversation I asked her about the claim by a certain homeless man that Shirley Conracting was hiring through the Local 657 labor union for construction and general labor. She said, “No”. She also told me that many other Shirley jobs were coming to a close and that those workers would be transferred to the site near the shelter, leaving very few jobs for the homeless to obtain.

I received a text from a different number (702-358-0411) on September 23rd which said that the job fair was at the Doubletree Hotel in Crystal City. The number belongs to what appears to be an identity protection firm in Las Vegas named “Level 3 VoIP”. I'm left to wonder why anybody from Las Vegas is contacting me, with me having no connections there. I didn't actually see the text until the morning of the 24th. I'd hung fliers directing people to the Washington Convention days earlier. I now had to write what I thought was the proper address on the fliers by hand. But it was too late. Some people had already made their way to the Convention Center.

I wrote this entire experience off as water under the bridge and decided that I would still do all that I could to connect homeless people to the jobs across the street from the shelter. I printed the company flier that Carrie had sent me, which had very scant information about the company's job offerings. Then I went to the hearing about the shelter's future on October 2nd. During my testimony, I mentioned the irony of it being so hard for homeless people to get the job across the street. I highlighted that there was an affordable housing issue on one side of the road and a living-wage issue on the other side of the road. What I would hear another man testify about moments later would cause the plot to thicken.

The last man to testify was new to advocacy. He made an indictment of the system as a whole and talked about how DC is being given to the wealthy and the well-to-do. Then he mentioned his experience dealing with Shirley Contracting. He'd initially been told that the job fair was in Crystal City. He claims that it actually took place in Pentagon City. At that moment I realized that I wasn't the only one to be given the run-around by Shirley Contracting and that it wasn't a matter of my own carelessness. I made sure to mention my updated assessment at the October 3rd hearing and during my October 3rd broadcast.

I've brought this matter up during several of my in-person conversations (as opposed to radio broadcasts). My friends and associates agree with me that, if Shirley has a project which will net them $1.3 billion and which will last for 10 years, they should have to establish a DC office or a mere office trailer on the job site where Washingtonians can apply and interview. We also agree that Shirley just used the homeless. Irrespective of their homeless status, the 1,350 people at the Federal City Shelter are DC residents. Shirley could, in theory, call the shelter director to say that they are hiring and then put that down as having reached out to over 1,000 DC residents about prospective employment with the company. Not only would it bring them closer to reaching the bare minimum of DC residents so as to justify them looking outside of the city for employees, in accordance with the First Source Laws. It might also bring them closer to satisfying some federal law that mandates that they reach out to depressed communities and other disadvantaged groups – such as “Equal Opportunity Laws”.

We can't let this token effort pass as a satisfaction of either law. Let's strengthen either law so as to require Shirley Contracting to establish a DC-based employment office and to visit the shelter and talk directly to groups of prospective employees at the shelter across the road. Let's take it a step further by strictly defining the real employment opportunities that they must offer and the reasonable accommodations that they must make to enable homeless people to obtain employment at the site across the road. They should also have to help them make it through until their first check – namely with cash advances against their hours worked. They should have to do this last thing for at least two weeks and, at most, five or six weeks. I've picked a fight with Shirley. Who will join that fight?????

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

I Became Homeless By Helping A Rape Victim

I rarely blog about my personal situation; but, this is one such occasion. In the six years since I began blogging, I've written about how my birth parents fractured my skull when I was eight months old, how I spent five years as an only child in a foster home and how I was adopted by a Polish man and an Italian woman who bore seven children and adopted 30 including myself. One brother has passed away. I've also written about a disagreement that led to me not speaking to my mother from April 1998 until August 2009.

I haven't blogged in the past about a girlfriend who passed away on August 11th, 1994 after we'd been together for four years and who would've celebrated a birthday on September 19th if she were living. I guess you can say that I've had a rough life; but, I'm not one to cower in a corner with my head in my hands or to wallow in pity. That truth about me is the impetus for this post; because, my propensity for moving quickly toward solutions has not always been well-received.

When I do talk about how I became homeless, it's usually part of a larger conversation or speech and I tend to give scant details so as to move quickly back to the larger conversation. I often tell high school, college and university students, “I worked at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida from May 1988 to February 1994. [Gory job description which includes incinerating amputated body parts] I had a falling out with my boss and walked off of the job on Valentine's Day 1994 which was the day before my 25th birthday. I got my last check soon thereafter, went back to New Jersey, spent my money on a hotel and ended up at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission at 2009 Bacharach Boulevard.

I'll begin the story of how I became homeless by first taking you back to October 1988. I'd been working at Shands Hospital for five months when Lynn Carese Allen (October 26th, 1969 to present) began working there in the same month as her 19th birthday. (Prior to that, I'd been the youngest of 4,500 employees.) She worked for the hospital's contract security firm, Globe Security. We became very good friends. Lynn left a year later and returned in 1990. Shands had developed in-house security by that time and she began to work the information desk, as opposed to her former duty guarding the entrance to the emergency room – the post where I initially met her.

Lynn worked evenings from 3 to 11:30 PM. I worked the night shift for all of my six years there (and pulled many double shifts) starting at 10 or 11 PM and getting off at 6:30 or 7:30 AM – with my schedule having been subject to that slight change based on a number of circumstances. I would often clock in, see how much there was to do, work for 30 to 45 minutes and then go speak with Lynn for 30 to 45 minutes. I was so good at my job that I could do everything in five hours or so and take three hours of break per night. On my off nights, my relief could work the whole eight hours with a half hour lunch and still not get everything done. My supervisor knew how much break I took but didn't mind due to me finishing everything and being willing to work through my regular breaks and skip lunch on hectic nights. This gave me plenty of time to spend with Lynn.

She and I would talk about a wide range of things, rap together and just have an all-around good time on the clock. I would often walk her to her car. I was a tractor driver. The vehicle was a Taylor-Dunn tractor (essentially a forkless forklift) with trailers behind it. It was similar to the small trains used to load luggage on airplanes. In the 1990's Shands, along with other connected buildings, was part of the second largest continuous building in the country when you measure the floor space, surpassed only by the Pentagon. It might be number one at this point. Due to the building's sheer size, the tractor drivers would drive in new supplies and clean linen and drive out trash and dirty linen. We'd incinerate red-bag trash, compact white-bag trash, bail cardboard and put large trash in the dumpster. I often had to ask Lynn to call her fellow security personnel to open hospital Stores (the warehouse on the west end of the building near the loading dock) so that I could get a tractor off of charge and put the one with a low battery on charge. That gave me a way out if one of her superiors might ever accuse her of goofing off.

In the summer of 1993 I noticed awkward behavior on Lynn's part. She was out of work for a couple of weeks. Another woman named Maxine Mingo who also worked at the information desk and was 51 in 1993 was both a good friend of mine and a mother figure to Lynn. Maxine told me that Lynn was in a hospital – not Shands – and didn't want visitors. I wouldn't see Lynn until she returned to work and she refused to talk about why she was hospitalized. I took it in stride until addition strange behavior began to occur a few months later.

This was around the time that Michael Jackson was being dragged through the courts for possible child molestation and the Menendez brothers were on trial for killing their parents. When I went to visit with Lynn on various occasions, she would often have a newspaper on the lower inside level of the information desk. I would often reach over and grab it. But when there was an article about either of these stories, she would place the paper on the upper level of the desk and have it turned to the page where the story was. It had the intended effect. We talked about both stories and I explained that I thought Michael was guilty and that the Menendez brothers had indeed been abused by their father – sexually and otherwise. She smiled broadly both times. I would realize some time later that it had been a test to see if I would be sensitive to her feelings about what she'd been through.

Lynn drove a brick red Nissan Lynx that was always breaking down. I've been present on numerous occasions when she would call her brother who would not answer his phone and ask for a ride home. She would then give a sigh of disgust before dialing her step father Jasper Peacock who would always answer immediately. I vaguely recall having asked Lynn why she didn't just call Jasper to begin with. I don't recall having ever gotten an answer. On one extremely awkward occasion in late '93 or early '94 I heard her speaking very seductively to Jasper. She repeatedly called his name in a higher-than-usual, seductive manner. (I'd never actually met Lynn off of the job and didn't know before this point that Jasper was her step father.) When she got off of the phone, I asked her, “Who was that, your boyfriend?”. She said nothing. I asked at least two more times. Finally, she snapped at me as she said, “That's my father!” That's when it all came together.

I realized that she'd been throwing hints for several months – some intentionally and some unintentionally – as to what she was going through. I could've kicked myself for having not realized it sooner. I made attempts to get her to open up and tell me in no uncertain terms what was going on. I went out to the hospital during my off time to check on her. She lived in Micanopy, Florida which is about 16 miles south of Gainesville. Since the city bus didn't go that far, I began walking. I got about halfway there and someone who knew the family picked me up and drove me to the house. Lynn's mother was raking and burning leaves. I had an uneventful conversation with her for about five minutes and went back to Gainesville. I visited the Gainesville police who told me that they couldn't help if she wouldn't open up. I went to a domestic violence assistance center on Waldo Road in Gainesville. They said the same. I called the Marion County sheriff's office where Micanopy and Ocala are located. Same.

I continued to try to get my friend of over five years to tell me enough so that I could help her. Eventually my supervisor named William Maxwell approached me and said that he was receiving complaints of me harassing Lynn. I explained the matter to him. He seemed to understand and wasn't upset. I, on the other hand, was highly insulted that anyone could even form their lips to imply that I was harassing or otherwise violating a woman. I ended up abandoning that job. I got my last check and went back to New Jersey. When the money ran out, I became homeless.

Shortly after becoming homeless, I began to ask myself why bad things happen to good people. I resumed a thought process that I'd begun about five years earlier whereby I'd begun to reflect on the friction that existed between my mother and I during my childhood. I'd determined that my propensity for objective, difficult rationale that often revolves around grim realities and absolute truths was at odds with her sensitivities that caused her to sometimes want to believe something even if it didn't make sense. I also reflected on at least one thing that I'd said to Lynn that may have sent up the red flag in her mind and caused her to change her mind about confiding in me – even before I figured out what she'd been going through or the drama that followed. In any instance, I left that period of deep thought having accepted that I have an affinity for rationale and not one for being sensitive or emotional. I decided to cease and desist from earlier efforts to seem sensitive and just be the rational man that I am. As a point of clarity, I should say that I do indeed feel. Here are my personal connotations of three words with similar definitions:

1 – Feeling: An individualized phenomenon whereby a person gets a sensation in their gut (and possibly other body parts) as a result of something they hear and/or otherwise sense (often through a non-contact experience). It can accompany an intense thought or desire.

2 – Sensitivity: A collective (often societal) way of thinking about an issue such as proper treatment of women by men including the idea that rape is wrong. (Some countries either actively or passively condone rape.) Sensitivity is generally not required to make sense, though it occasionally and coincidentally overlaps with rationale. Most often it is either considered apart from rationale or in direct conflict with it.

3 – Emotion: An individualized and situation-based way of thinking whereby a person is either extremely excited or upset about a recent occurrence. During upsetting incidents, emotion is often marked by a sense of uncertainty as to how to solve the problem and by extreme indecisiveness.

Once again, I do feel; but, I'm not sensitive or emotional.

Even to this day, as I reflect on the situation between Lynn and I, it only seems to make sense that I wanted to get her out of the bad situation that I believed her to have been in. Though the matter was never proven one way or the other, I firmly believe that I guessed right -- that her step father was repeatedly raping her. Over the years that followed I would run across writings and people who would say that a man often offends a woman (often his wife or girlfriend) by interrupting her emotional expression of an experience in order to present a solution. I remembered a showing of Oprah in the early 90's where she and a female psychologist advised wives to gently cover the husband's mouth and to say, “Don't solve it; just listen”. That idea didn't set well with me then and it still doesn't. In the late 90's I ran across a Jehovah's Witness publication that carried the same basic message.

I worked many low-wage jobs from 1994 until 2005. I been a farm hand for cabbage, tobacco, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, watermelon and onions. I've worked at many labor halls. I've landed several jobs by working well out of the labor hall. I've gotten out of homelessness several times and I've fallen back in. If I were to write a book (which my current blog posts add up to anyway), I could show that other people's dislike of my insensitive rationale has contributed to them “pushing me out” of multiple jobs and back into homelessness.

I found myself homeless and working at a labor hall in Gainesville, Florida in the summer of 2005. A fellow worker and I spoke about the Iraq War while we waited for assignments. With me having already believed that the war was based on lies, he told me about the Downing Street Memo and Bilderberg. I made it my business to come to Washington, DC and speak out against Bush 43 and the Iraq War. I arrived around 10:30 PM on July 31st and partook in my first protest on September 24th, 2005. In June 2006 I began advocating for the homeless.

These days, I post many of my thoughts on Facebook and in my blog, having learned to do in e-mail in November 2006, having begun a Facebook account and this blog in 2008. That said, there is a lot of on-line “talk” about Ray Rice hitting his fiancee who later married him and about Adrian Peterson abusing his 4-year old son. Both are personal for me – the former due to me having helped multiple female victims (not all mentioned here) and the latter due to me having been nearly killed by my birth parents. I've portrayed the Peterson child as a complete victim and Janay Rice as a partial victim. The sensitive camp (including men) has gotten upset with me for the latter. Come to think of it, I've bumped heads with more than one person over the years due to my tendency to assign blame in what I believe to be a fair and rational manner. I dare not assume that the woman is always completely innocent when she and a man have an argument that turns violent. I pay dearly for being fair. No good deed goes unpunished.

In the late 90's I was living in Orlando and spent much of that time at the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, a shelter which was located at 639 Central Blvd at that time. I've been told that it has relocated and is now directed by an acquaintance of mine that I met in DC, Donald Whitehead. Early one morning I was walking down Church Street toward an Asian store/restaurant named “Lucy's” where I would often buy breakfast.

I saw a woman on the ground, a man hitting her and others standing around and shouting. The man's friends pulled him off and the men began to walk away. I saw that the assailant was a man whom I'd spoken to on numerous occasions but whose name I'd never learned. I'd always known him to be easy-going. As the woman got up, I saw that it was someone affectionately known as Pocahontas, though I never learned whether it was her given name or a street name. She was known to be ghetto.

Pocahontas went back at the man. He knocked her down again and hit her a few times before his friends pulled him off. He and th friends told her to just go away as the men tried again to walk away. She got back up, broke a glass bottle that was lying on the sidewalk and charged at the man again. This time he knocked her down, put her leg in a figure-4 and hurt her so badly that she couldn't get up again and she let out several long screams. The ambulance was called.

The police also came. Before they got there, I told someone that I'd always known the man to be quite calm and friendly. I asked why they were “fighting” (if you want to call it that). This spectator explained that the man had given Pocahontas money with the expectation of getting sex. She had played him (all views on prostitution aside, for now). He verbally confronted her, intending only to give her a good tongue thrashing. She reacted and it went from there. When the police arrived, I began to tell them what I witnessed. Another man who I knew was lying told a story of the male fighter having initiated the attack and been fully to blame. This man emotionally interrupted me and sounded much more emotional than I could ever sound. The cops focused their attention on him and I went about my business knowing that justice would not be served based on his account. The male fighter had already left. I'm not sure if police ever caught up with him. I sensed that the liar felt that a man should never hit a woman and was lying to get the outcome he felt was right.

I see similar thinking emerging around the Ray Rice situation. Many people don't want to consider the possibility that Janay Rice antagonized her then-fiancee; because, they're so upset than a man (football player or otherwise) hit a woman for any reason at all. Rather than lying to the police, these people are reacting negatively to anyone who considers how Ray AND Janay could have done better.

But before I give my opinion of the Ray Rice situation, I'll say that a certain male Facebook friend whom I've met in real life several times was particularly upset by views that I expressed. After a lengthy exchange, it came out that he thought that I was only hard on women. I explained that I actually push many groups of people of either gender to think hard. He tried to find other ways to support his sensationalistic accusations. I logged off of Facebook and decided to explain the matter in a blog post.

With various groups that I associate with and conversations that I involve myself in, I have a personal rule of only speaking when I've identified a thought that:

1 – is highly rational
2 – further along in the thought process than what I've heard anyone mention
3 – difficult for people to wrap their heads around.

I often find ways to categorize my statements so that they apply broadly to many of the situations that those who hear me will encounter. This makes it likely that they'll be reminded of my words. That said:

I routinely go to my church's Bible study and talk about God being a hard god.

I have posted FB comments on multiple occasions in which I said that it is my pet peeve to see that people want a sweet god whom they can jerk around.

I routinely talk about how homeless people should learn to self-advocate and get over their apprehension.

I routinely talk about how housed people should forgo their stereotypes about homeless people and take steps to connect them to living-wage jobs – how that they should at least abstain from falsely accusing homeless people or hating them for their socioeconomic status.

I routinely tell Whites to bite their tongues and hear the concerns of Blacks, with the Black race having been oppressed and under-educated for many years.

I routinely tell Blacks to engage in critical thinking.

I usually speak calmly. I sometimes state the application and at other times the general concept. But I always make it a point to bring the most difficult thoughts to any conversation.

Now for the kicker. I've said that the Peterson child was a full victim and that Janay Rice was only a partial victim. I don't expect mature behavior from any 4-year old child. I do expect mature behavior from a woman or man. Rather than making allowances for a woman's emotion to get the better of her and cause her to initiate violence, we should expect rational behavior from both genders.

I also believe that Ted Robinson was right and should not have been suspended by the 49'ers when he said that Janay Rice should have come out with her version of events sooner and that her decision to marry Ray after the fact was pathetic. Neither statement “blamed” her for Ray Rice punching her. Both were advice as to what she should've done in the aftermath. I believe that this over-extended definition of victim blaming actually is an effort to muzzle a man's rationale. I won't be muzzled and don't give a damn who doesn't like it.

I should add that Ray Rice didn't need to cold-cock Janay like he did. Professional boxers are not allowed to hit non-boxers, even if the non-boxer throws the first punch. Ray Rice was getting hit by large men on the football field. What his wife did couldn't have actually hurt. So, while she clearly took shots at him, the magnitude of his response was unwarranted.

Please try to understand this very long blog for its rational content and don't get emotional or sensationalistic.

Any questions?????

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