Monday, April 10, 2017

Fight Capitalism With Capitalism: Self-inflicted Political Wounds

Banita Jacks of DC killed her four children in the summer of 2007, their bodies being found during a January 2008 eviction. Six social service employees were fired by then-mayor Adrian Fenty himself for failing to adequately serve this family whose issues were known to them. Ms. Jacks was eventually convicted of murder; and, DC settled with the family for $2.6M.  Sadly, there are other stories of child neglect and abuse that don’t necessarily rise to the level of this one wherein Child and Family Services has been made aware of the familial problems should have learned the signs of exacerbation and developed a system of appropriate, timely interventions.

Fast-forward to 2011. Denise Gibson gave birth to a son on February 10th and spent the whole first month of his life homeless and unsheltered due to social service providers breaking a law that requires them to put families with children in hotel rooms when the DC General Family shelter is full. Denise had been taken from her mother when she was six in 1990, due to her mother having become homeless. She spent 15 years as a ward of the state in different foster homes and then was released into circumstances that were no better than her mother’s and which led to a third generation of homelessness. (This actually passes for work within the ranks of government.)

In early 2014 an 8-year old girl named Relisha Rudd was abducted from the DC General Shelter  by a janitor who eventually killed his wife and himself -- the girl having never been found. With the first two stories having been all but forgotten by DC residents, the plight of Relisha has stayed on people’s minds -- maybe because of her age; and, maybe because there hasn’t been any closure and she might be a sex slave in South America right now.

Mayor Muriel Bowser (2015-2019), during her 2014 campaign, used Relisha’s abduction and the public outcry about lax safety measures at the family shelter as reasons to shutter the DC General Family Shelter -- a valuable property that has been sought by developers for redevelopment since as far back as 2008. However, she has been able to use what I call “the facade of caring” once again. It’s the same ploy government uses to shutter public housing and other shelters after failing to maintain these government-run(-down) buildings while stating that they are “unfit for human habitation”. In all fairness, it should be stated that the current DC General building is over 150 years old and very difficult to repair. However, that excuse doesn’t work for the much newer public housing buildings.

It’s interesting that the local government wants to remove poor people from dilapidated buildings as a “safety precaution” while failing them in so many other ways -- even to the point of premature death. It, all of a sudden, makes sense when you factor in the value of the property -- especially after the new construction. When one juxtaposes these matters, it looks less like government cares for its poor and more like a deliberate plan to let the buildings fall into disrepair so that the powers that be can “compassionately” remove the poor inhabitants and give the property to developers who can build high-priced residences whose mere existence then raises the property values, taxes and rents of nearby buildings that weren’t even improved upon.

If the last two decades of gentrification and the contested plan for seven smaller replacement shelters are any indication, then the developers who donated to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s campaign whose pockets the DC Council wouldn’t allow her to line will now be allowed to share the spoil (for as little as $1) when DC General is closed -- though her plans to vacate the campus before the September 2018 primary have been thwarted, with the timeline having been pushed into 2020 so far.

As is the case all too often, people of conscience only come out of the woodwork to respond to an immediate crisis; and then, they retreat to their comfortable abodes once the crisis has been averted, leaving government to its own devices thereafter. We need activists and advocates to recognize and contest negative patterns like that of gentrification which run across multiple mayoral administrations; to tease out the real motivations of government; and, to fight giveaways of public land to wealthy developers -- not just to help avert an immediate crisis.

Mayor Bowser’s motivations were briefly called into question during the series of public meetings in 2016 during which the replacement shelter plan was presented in seven wards. Some members of the public were well aware of the fact that DC has had upwards of 1,200 homeless families at a time -- the former hospital only having 288 units, of which dozens are often taken off-line for repairs. Though many of the attendees were elitists who’d come to say “NIMBY” (in a longer and more sophisticated way), they raised a very valid concern as they asked why it was that the mayor’s plan only calls for the replacement of the DC General Shelter while it remains silent on the futures of the 900 families that are in hotels in both DC and Maryland on the city’s dime. In short, those hotels are not prime real estate that is being sought after by developers.

As if the aforementioned instances aren’t enough to make the case that DC Government is Hell-bent on downgrading the quality of social services until the poor just get out of town, former mayor and current Ward 7 Councilman Vince Gray who represents one of the two poorest wards in the city (and who has directed the Department of Human Services as well as Covenant House which serves homeless youth) is now promoting a plan that would hire 500 more police to fight crime instead of promoting programs of social uplift. It would seem that the increased police presence is intended to draw the well-to-do types that he, as mayor, said he wanted to draw into the city -- ostensibly so that a broader tax base could be used to support social services. (He might have conveniently forgotten about the automatic tax triggers that reduce taxes on the middle class when the city’s finances are doing well.) Add to this the fact that Mr. Gray plans to run again for mayor in the 2018 Democratic Primary (DC’s de facto election) -- a rematch against the woman who unseated him -- and what you have is a “two devils we know” scenario and a chance to choose the mayor who has “hurt them the least”. Insanity but reality.

All of this just goes to show that DC’s local politics are not geared toward comprehensively assisting the poor, dispossessed workers of the city; but rather toward making them another city’s business. It raises questions about our strategy. However, knowing the political aspirations of the current and former mayors along with the intricacies of current policies toward the city’s  impoverished communities affords us a unique opportunity to create immediate competition between these two city officials. Rather than getting the 2018 mayoral candidates to make promises to the city’s needy that they probably won’t keep, let’s get them to move now on creating ways of lifting people out of poverty rather than continuing to push them out of the city. After all, competition is a hallmark of the capitalism that is the cause of the extreme poverty which we seek to end. So, let’s use capitalism to defeat capitalism -- in DC’s local politics anyway. Then the deaths of Banita Jacks’ children, the abduction of Relisha and all of the other failures of politicians to their needy constituents will have become self-inflicted political wounds.

Monday, March 20, 2017

What is work???

What is "work"???

It's a simple but profound question. Some might even say it's a stupid question. However, with 2017 marking 30 years since Ronald Reagan was forced by Homeless Advocate Mitch Snyder and others to begin "working" on ending and preventing homelessness, it's a very relevant question. Let's add to our list of considerations the fact that DC Government began "working" on ending homelessness in 2004 and that various advocates -- including but not limited to Yours Truly -- have been "working" on getting the local government officials who are charged with ending homelessness to implement a plan that actually "works".

Before I address the definitions for "work" or the justifications for describing what any of the aforementioned groups do as "work", I'll lay out a few goals for my "work" as a homeless advocate.

GOAL 1: With there being a strong possibly that the May 10th-15th publication of results from Washington, DC's January 2017 Homeless Point-in-Time Enumeration will reveal that we had over 9,000 homeless people, it is my goal to inject this fact and the conceivable possibility of us reaching 10,000 homeless people in 2018 (in a city of 680,000 people) into the public's and the advocacy community's discourse around homelessness, poverty, social services and affordability -- to get folk talking, not only about the small percentage of homeless people who were housed, but also about the ever-increasing number of homeless people who likely won't be housed by the current five-year plan called "Homeward DC". We can then hold this over Mayor Muriel Bowser's head as something she'd better address since she wants to be re-elected in September 2018.

GOAL 2: With large advocacy events and protests being planned between now and the end of May 2017, it is my goal to get the advocacy and activism communities to define or redefine success (past, present and future) -- for ourselves, for elected officials and for the various departments and agencies of government (especially those whose job it is to serve the poor and reduce poverty).

GOAL 3: At the DC ICH's (inter-agency Council on Homelessness') next quarterly meeting in June it is my goal to ensure that, unlike the June 2014 meeting (which followed a May announcement of a 13%, 889-person, one-year increase to 7,748 homeless people), we actually discuss the reasons for the (yet-to-be-determined but highly-likely) increase -- that we force a new culture upon the ICH and that this culture includes having the hard conversations about the decades-long failures of six-figure earners who live off of taxpayer dollars even more so than the poor whom they are appointed to serve.

GOAL 4: With DC Mayor Muriel Bowser having justifiably blamed the 1,052-person increase from January 2015 (when she took office) to January 2016 on her predecessor's draconian shelter policies versus her own policies bringing needy people out of the woodwork; and, with it being highly unlikely that Ms. Bowser will break the pattern of the last three sitting mayors losing their re-election bids (in 2006, 2010 and 2014), it is my goal to get all who advocate locally for the city's poor and dispossessed to develop a narrative that forces results WITHIN and DURING an administration -- as opposed to merely expressing our displeasure at the ballot box in the September 2018 DC primary (our de facto election in this Democratic town) and thereby puts immense pressure of the current administration to perform.

GOAL 5: With me having seen 75-85 homeless people at a time attend advocacy events in late-2006 (right before we counted 5,757 homeless people) and it being hard to get even five homeless people to any such event now (after an adjusted 2016 census of 8,680 homeless people); and, with other homeless advocates sharing my sense that the DC ICH has become very top-down and elitist, it is my goal to create a space and/or set of circumstances that encourage the poor and homeless to come out and speak truth to power -- no matter how much those in power don't want to hear that truth.

You might say that those are lofty goals. I prefer to think of them as "Gansta Goals" that resurrect the aggressive edge that advocacy once had and needs again. After all, we've known for a long time that "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will". This much is clear: I've got my "work" cut out for me. I don't think it's as hard as it might seem. After all, there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come; and, the opposition to Trump's policies -- some of which hurt the poor -- is on the upswing. Furthermore, I've made many connections during my advocacy which began in mid-June 2006. In many instances, it's just a matter of building on the relationships I already have and the work we've already done. That said, the aforementioned goals are not out of reach.

It would seem that the Reverend David Bowers agrees with my sense of what's possible, though he might be adverse to the more aggressive goals of mine. He was one of several speakers at the March 18th, 2017 Housing For All Rally which is held annually and where an address is given by the DC mayor. Having "worked" for over 20 years thus far to create and preserve affordable housing even as the city loses it at an alarming rate, Rev. Bowers gave an impassioned mini-sermon in which he railed against the $200M that an advocacy community which is both too polite toward government and too conservative in their ask, in my personal opinion, is requesting of the local administration for Fiscal Year 2018. He insisted that we need $5B to end homelessness. (DC has a $13B annual budget with $3B of that coming from Congress.) He spoke of the DC Council's "rainy day fund" as he poured water on himself and exclaimed that the city's poor are experiencing a lot of rainy days while city officials fail to dip into the rainy day fund. He made it clear that, while the "work" of himself and others has definitely helped many, the problems of homelessness and of being rent-burdened are swallowing more victims at a faster rate than they can be helped. It's safe to assume that he believes that our efforts aren't "working" quickly enough. I agree.

When I was honored by the DC Council on November 18th, 2014 and they declared December 31st, 2014 (which is the date by which the failed 10-year plan should have ended homelessness in the city) to be Eric Jonathan Sheptock Day in the District of Columbia, I thought about the accomplishments of myself and my colleagues. With us having gotten city officials to convene a nine-month task force from October 2013 to July 2014 during which we discussed the future of the CCNV Homeless Shelter and then to pass a law that all but guarantees that its residents will receive adequate service in the foreseeable future and in the event of a closure, I had a sense of accomplishment. Then there was the passive-aggressiveness of the ICH when I began to inquire in late 2015 about the mayor's plans for the shelter. After much pestering by me, four staffers from DC Government's Department of Human Services (DHS) came out to CCNV on April 27th, 2016 and spoke to some residents about current needs and the absence of a plan to close the shelter. (Residents firmly believe that, when a nearby 2.2M sq. ft., $1.3B construction project is completed as early as 2023, the shelter will be history.) As I now approach my eleventh anniversary as a homeless advocate, I spend much time thinking about what little has been accomplished by us pro bono advocates during the Bowser administration and how the wheels of gentrification are turning with ever-increasing speed. I'm hungry for measurable and collective success and smarting over ways for those of us who are "working" to cure various social ills can change our tactics and force results -- thus the list of goals.

Speaking of goals, it would seem that, while homelessness is said to be going down nationally and DC homelessness is on the rise, that one would conclude that the local government's plan is not "working" while the federal government's is. But both conclusions have been called into question -- the feds' because their policies often discourage the needy from seeking assistance, thereby creating a false sense of accomplishment, and DC's because they are likely doing exactly what they intend to do by gentrifying the poor out at a faster rate than they create supports for them. While the local administration as a whole is geared toward attracting the well-to-do, the fact remains that they are living a farce by maintaining a contingent of personnel who purport to be "working" on ending homelessness. I've listened to ICH member agencies across multiple mayoral administrations say that they lacked the authority to create the affordable housing that is needed in order to solve the problem that they are hired to solve -- most recently ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt during the March 15th, 2017 DHS hearing before Councilwoman Brianne Nadeau. None has earned my respect like Leslie Steen who was given the impossible mandate by former mayor Adrian Fenty to direct an affordable housing task force without having any subpoena power whereby to bring all pertinent agencies together. She resigned a year later. She knew that the circumstances under which she was expected to function wouldn't "work".

Still, there's much to be said for those who remain and stick it out, even though they know that the odds are stacked against them. If we didn't have people like DHS Director Laura Zeilinger to stay the course, then we might have considerably more than the 9,000 homeless people than we presumably have at this juncture. In like manner, if we didn't have the many paid advocates and especially the few pro bono advocates, then we might have fewer rights or services for the city's poor and homeless community than we currently have. So, while it sometimes seems like we're just spinning our wheels and go nowhere fast, I don't want to even imagine where we'd be without those of us who refuse to quit. Even so, there's a big difference between persevering and succeeding. We actually want our efforts to "work" and to render results.

I often think about the words of former Councilman Jim Graham when I asked him to look into whether or not a then-two-year old day shelter for women was rendering any results (by assisting the women at exiting homelessness). He said to me, "Eric, if you make any investment, you're going to get SOME results. The question is how much". It is with that thought in mind that I've concluded that the slowly-increasing successes of those working to end homelessness are becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of the total group of needy people which is growing at lightning speed. If those in government who are part of the farce that supposedly aims to decrease homelessness or any of the advocates who are trying to do the same realize that we are getting further and further behind the ball, it is incumbent upon us to step back, regroup and change our tactics. If we fail to do that and continue with our failing tactics, there is a point at which we can no longer be said to be "working". After all, "work" is defined as:

  1. 1:  activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something:a :  sustained physical or mental effort to overcome obstacles and achieve an objective or resultb :  the labor, task, or duty that is one's accustomed means of livelihoodc :  a specific task, duty, function, or assignment often being a part or phase of some larger activity
  2. 2a :  energy expended by natural phenomenab :  the result of such energy sand dunes are the work of sea and windc :  the transference of energy that is produced by the motion of the point of application of a force and is measured by multiplying the force and the displacement of its point of application in the line of action
  3. 3a :  something that results from a particular manner or method of working, operating, or devising careful police work clever camera workb :  something that results from the use or fashioning of a particular material porcelain work
In closing, I want those who say that I should just "go to work" on a paying, full-time job to an example of work given in definition three: "police work". I've often thought of myself as being something in the way of a police officer -- someone who ensures that those who get paid by your tax dollars do right be the people they are charged with serving, with my presence alone presenting a threat to those who would otherwise do wrong. So, while I might soon "work" a bit more at improving my personal situation, I have no intention of completely eliminating or alleviating the threat that my presence creates for the capitalists and gentrifiers; because, creating that threat is "work".

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Homeless Advocates: A Tax Payer's Best Friends (Getting Government Right)

[P]ARCHING ORDERS: Homeless advocates should use DC Government's [foul] ups in terms of the homeless services that should have been provided before the MLK Jr. Library's 3/4/17 closing (due to a planned three-year renovation) as a springboard for demanding that DC Government hear, respect and act on the advice given by homeless and formerly homeless people -- and that they pay us stipends for our input as per this 2014 draft ICH document (a principled proposal that was quickly trashed), since the six-figure earners royally [fouled] up something they've been working on for three years. That'll really BURN THEM UP!!!

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In Washington, DC there is much talk of the "haves" and the "have-nots". Charles Dickens "Tale of Two Cities" is often invoked here. As a matter of fact, I've shot videos of tent cities in the shadows of DC's tower cranes and edifices. However, we also talk about how "We are more alike than we are different" and say that, "We have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, just permanent interests". I'll focus on this latter idea for the time being and show how the city government's failures to its poor community across multiple mayoral administrations also adversely affect the wealthy and well-to-do. Hopefully good people of means will stand up and demand better of their elected, mostly Democratic officials and the government that their tax dollars fund. It's also worth noting that, even if you utterly hate poor people, it's well worth your time to demand real solutions to homelessness and to push for the establishment of a downtown homeless service center; as, either would get those housed by these solutions and those served by the center out of sight and thereby make them easier to get out of mind. Lovers and haters alike are welcome to join the cause.

Washington, DC's Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library closed its doors on March 4th, 2017 for a three-year long renovation that has been talked about in earnest since as far back as June 2014 when I attended a meeting of a group called the "Friends of the Library" which was held at DC's Carnegie Library. Catholic Charities DC's CEO, Monsignor John Enzler spoke at the event, with Catholic Charities having contracts with DC Government's Department of Human Services to provide homeless services which include three male shelters (that have a combined winter census of about 970 beds) and two female shelters (that have a combined census of about 200 beds). Catholic Charities' office sits across the road from the MLK Library; and, from what I can tell, Catholic Charities has been grossly dissatisfied with DHS' lackluster response to the years-old announcement of the library's renovation.

In all fairness, I'll say here that Mayor Muriel Bowser's administration began on January 2nd, 2015 and that most of her administrators assumed their current positions on or after that date. Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH) Director Kristy Greenwalt assumed her post on April 28th, 2014 (though she was meeting with her then-future coworkers and associates months earlier). She was then retained by Bowser in 2015 and should have been in the know. Other administrators like DHS Director Laura Zeilinger and Brenda Donald (who served as deputy mayor for health and human services until recently moving within the administration) worked for previous administrations that ended in 2011 or sooner and then returned to work for Mayor Bowser. In any instance, the Bowser administration has had over two years to prepare for the closure and has a "homeless czar(ina)" who has had almost three. To their credit, the ICH DID discuss the impending closure and the need for a downtown service center at the June 2015 ICH full-council meeting; but, the apparent lack of decisiveness or action is clearly indicative of government dysfunction and retardation. I'm often so kind as to assume that government failures are due to ignorance and incompetence; though, many whom I know insist that these failures are by design.

It's quite true that libraries are not homeless service centers; however, as many as 150 homeless people have used the central library at one time. As a matter of fact, the library hired a full-time social worker in 2014 for that very reason. So, the homeless persons' transition during this closure should have been a bigger part of the conversation about renovations. For its part, the library did better than DHS at helping the homeless through this change and they moved more quickly to disseminate information to the homeless about interim services -- including bringing library services into the shelters and doing sensitivity trainings at the smaller libraries (with the library having become sensitive to homeless concerns some years ago).

Three days after the library's closure, the ICH held its quarterly meeting which is always preceded by a "pre-meeting" (a round-table discussion at which anyone can speak). The set topic for the March 7th pre-meeting was "how the homeless are transitioning since the library closure". As this WAMU article indicates, there was noticeable tension in the room as the homeless and formerly-homeless advocates essentially said, "We told you so" and the government apologized profusely -- while letting an administrator who's only been on the job for six months and upon whom I bestowed much forgiveness do most of the apologizing. (She insisted that she share as much blame as anyone else.)

The government's missteps were many. In much the same way that the February 11th, 2016 ward meetings about the seven planned family shelters that are to replace the DC General Family Shelter were advertised only two days in advance, the homeless were given information about interim services less than a week before the library's closure -- these systemic failures affecting the housed AND the homeless, respectively. The family shelter plan has been hotly contested; and, the information that the homeless were given about interim services during the renovation was both incomplete and incorrect -- subjecting the housed and the homeless to unsatisfactory planning by government. The information about the free shuttle that used to drop the homeless off in front of the library every morning and pick them up there to return them to shelter every evening was incorrect insomuch as the information post card said that it would operate six days per week. (It will actually continue to operate every day.) Men from the three Catholic Charities shelters for which there are three different shuttles were given shuttle schedules for the same male shelter, as were the women. Though the post card correctly stated that the Church of the Epiphany which is four blocks from the library (and my church) would allow the homeless to sit in the sanctuary during normal business hours, a newspaper article for which DHS was interviewed incorrectly stated that the church would allow the homeless to use its bathrooms while there.

Add to this the fact that well-paid people in and associated with government have looked in vain for at least two years for a location to replace the downtown homeless service center that used to be in the basement of a church that sits next door to the library. The church was torn down in 2007, rebuilt about five years later and forbidden in a contract to ever bring back the 400-person, six-day homeless program it used to host. It is highly unlikely that officials will find a replacement site in downtown, unless they make the minimal repairs that are needed in the vacant spaces at the Federal City Shelter from which two of six entities moved in 2016 and which a non-profit tenant of this government-owned building has asked the government not to place a downtown service center within.

In their defense, DC Government created the Adams Place homeless service center which is several miles from downtown in October 2015. Since the library closure, they are serving multiple meals during the five days per week that the center is open -- up from just serving lunch (though I've heard different sources say that it would be two and three meals -- truth sought). The center's distance from downtown makes it unattractive to many of its intended clients who might choose to remain in downtown parks and other public spaces once the weather warms up consistently -- DC having had a very warm winter, relatively speaking. On weekends the Adams Place location won't be an option. All of this means that, as of mid-April, the general public will see many more homeless people hanging out downtown -- which is their right, I might add. Lovers of the homeless will have more mouths to feed. Haters of the homeless will have a reason to push for a downtown service center. The homeless will love both groups -- even the haters.

Haters, if you really really hate the homeless and poor, fight for affordable housing. then the former group won't be visible or homeless and you'll have less reasons to hate them. What's more is that you will have proven yourselves to be good for something -- which will, in turn, give you a reason to look down on your local government which will have taken your place as the most useless people in the city. As a matter of fact, you can remind your elected officials that we've been here before. A year after haters of the homeless told DC Government (by way of Downtown BID) to close the Franklin School Shelter, a 2009 Examiner article explained that the homeless had become more visible -- not less. The well-educated business community had grossly flawed logic whereby they assumed that closing a shelter would cause homeless people to leave downtown. How they figured shutting down a shelter would keep the homeless indoors and out of sight is beyond me. They were dumb haters. Hopefully you're at least smart and demand the same of government.

Beginning two weeks before and extending until shortly after the September 26th, 2008 shelter closure, DHS placed 300 men into Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH). They've since placed many more people in PSH. Congrats, DC Gov, even if the effort isn't keeping pace with the rise in homeless people -- 6,044 in 2008 and 8,680 in 2016 (after adjust for 330 that were initially missed). That said, only 60 of Franklin School Shelter's 300 men were house prior to the closing. Another 240 men were pulled from other shelters and housed -- those who had the most debilitating mental and physical of conditions. The other 240 men from Franklin then moved into the vacated beds at the other shelters. It stands to reason that it was many of these 240 men who began (or continued) to hang out in Franklin Park -- which is their right. The women came from elsewhere. In any instance, DC Government may very well be recreating the logic that caused the homeless to swarm to Franklin Park and other parts of downtown nine years ago. Go figure. Haters, help us fight for a downtown service center. Lovers should too.

I'd have you to know that the library closure is not the only thing that homeless advocates and others have rightly told DC Government for three years to be mindful of and prepare for. We advocates have for years asked government to heed our advice on a range of issues, to let us help and to pay us stipends as contributors or even full paychecks as government employees. This most recent [foul] up, because of the more-than-ample warning time, gives us unpaid advocates the space to say that we the advocates are more deserving of stipends or even $60,000/year/person (in some cases) than any of the six-figure earners in DC Government are of their checks. The 2014 draft document (the first hyperlink) wherein a budget for financially supporting the advocates was proposed also says that the ICH values input from us advocates. DC Government has yet to put its money where its mouth is. (The ICH lacks a budget; but, the DC Council can give them one.) It behooves the council to fund homeless advocacy; as, government would actually begin to operate like a well-oiled machine -- beginning with the ICH and fanning out to all parts of the local government.

With any treatise on government failures promising to be a lengthy one, I'll forgo mentioning anymore here and now and give a few predictions and warnings that are aimed at the government AND the advocates in an effort to show which group has more good sense. Chief among them is the fact that 2002 was the last year that DC re-elected a mayor and we should therefore plan around having a different mayor on January 2nd, 2019. This means that the five-year plan to make homelessness "rare, brief and non-recurring" (which runs from 10/1/2015 to 9/30/2020) might not be carried to term, fizzling out on January 2nd, 2019. If you hold out hope of another Bowser win, I might be saying I told you so.

With the DC Council's CCNV Shelter Task Force (October 2013 to July 2014) having only come up with 17 guiding principles and no concrete recommendations, we lack a sure plan for the shelter's future. (I said I wouldn't mention anymore government failures. oops, couldn't resist.) For a mixture of reasons, I'm guessing that the possibility of closing this 1,000-bed shelter won't be discussed again until 2020 and it will be closed by the fall of 2022. Residents ask me about this all the time, including this week. It would be wise for the advocates to start pushing government to improve its employment programs and other things that help able-bodied people even now. It would seem that a capitalistic and gentrifying government would try and get ahead of us advocates. Something tells me they'll wait until it's too late and the Left has mounted a vicious fight. That's fine with me.

As we wait until mid-May 2017 for the number of homeless people who were counted in January to be published, I'm guessing that we cleared 9,000 -- possibly by 300 or more. With DC having gained as many as 1,052 homeless people in a single year, I'm guessing that we'll clear 10,000 homeless people in 2018. The article about crossing that threshold will come out in May. The mayor will enter the September 2018 primary with a glaring failure on her pet project now in the public eye; and, voters who are all the wiser will elect a new mayor -- in the hopes that he or she can at least succeed at their pet project, if nothing else. I'm guessing that's an idea we all can get behind -- the housed and the homeless alike.

Tax payers, we homeless advocates are in fact the best friends you have insomuch as we can tell you much about government waste and dysfunction and help you move these public servants toward doing better by all of their constituents -- the housed and the homeless alike.

                                 Your friend,

                                         Eric Jonathan Sheptock

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Donald Trump: A Fascist Billionaire Without A Budget

Donald Trump whom I've taken to calling "Donito Trumpolini" because of his attempts at creating blatantly fascist policies, can hardly go a day without making another outrageous claim or devising another outrageous policy. He wants to use 100,000 national guardsmen to deport undocumented citizens; and, he wants to reinstate the draft -- both of which wreak of a fascistic, militaristic and foul odor. Let me remind you that a marriage of corporations and government is another element of fascism; and, Trump is tapping billionaires who have little or no experience in politics or governance for different cabinet posts. Make what you will of that. It looks like unabashed fascism to me.

It's been said that every dark cloud has a silver lining. The silver lining in this case is that people the world over are becoming more politically- and socially- conscious, though they could still use a strong dose of spiritual consciousness. As Meatloaf would say, "Two out of three ain't bad". Until very recently, I didn't notice many people throwing around the "F" word -- "fascist". Of late, it appears in many of the comments made by my Facebook friends. A much higher percentage of the posts by my friends and myself are of a political nature. They often express worry about where Trumpolini will (mis)lead the country -- and even the world. (Being as my Facebook forwards to Twitter, Trump might read something posted or forwarded by me wherein he is called the "F" word.)

I engage in political conversation with homeless men at shelters and soup kitchens. I walk down the street, as I did earlier today, and hear homeless men talking about Trumpolini and homelessness. Living in DC where everything is political, I see many protests -- some being quite spontaneous and spur-of-the-moment. People are beginning to develop and articulate political views. They're no longer just "leaving politics to the politicians". The ICE raids are showing them in real time how politics affect their lives. Whether or not you support the deportations, you'd have to be keenly aware of how quickly you or a loved one can disappear after Trumpolini sends the word out. That's cause for concern.

While on Facebook earlier today, I read a comment from a friend wherein he quoted one of his friends who thought that comparing Trumpolini to Hitler was a little over the top. The "friend of a friend" held that, if we really thought that Trump was anything like Hitler, we wouldn't speak so openly against him; and, our current exercise of free speech is proof that Trumpolini is no Hitler. I chimed in to tell them that Hitler was the champion chancellor of Germany before going on a rampage and advised them to give him time, but not too much. I'll elaborate a bit more here and now by saying that, even as Obama drew that "red line" (as he called it) or that "line in the sand" which he then told Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad not to cross, Americans need to draw a line in the sand with Trumpolini in terms of his fascist leanings; but, unlike Obama, we need to take action against him when he crosses it. This requires that we have some knowledge of social theory, of how unacceptable systems develop within accepted ones before turning on the parent system and of what indicators there are that we might be reaching the point of no return.

My hatred of unchecked hyperbole (that is, anything beyond a catchy title and introductory paragraph) on the one hand and my not wanting to wait until it's too late on the other hand, when taken together, have me conflicted. Having been raised by a father who frequently admonished my siblings and I "not to cry'Wolf!'", it has become second nature for me to think long and hard before saying anything that might be mere hyperbole. On the other hand, I've watched as Presidents Clinton, Bush 43 and Trumpolini lied to the public. I've also noticed that Bush 43, Obama and Trump have exhibited a propensity for going after whistle blowers who expose wrongdoings by government and its military rather than addressing the wrongs they've exposed. It's clear that a good portion of the voting public, having been fearful of another 9/11-style attack, re-elected a "great protector" in the person of Bush 43 and gave him full run of the house so he could do anything he saw fit to do in order to protect Americans. He used every inch of space that he was given and used it to advance a totalitarian agenda -- albeit Cheney's. It's true that Watergate has gone down in history as the most noticeable point at which U.S. presidents became obviously, and then overtly, corrupt. However, I believe that the 2004 U.S. presidential election is the point at which the faucet of fascism began to be turned counter-clockwise and the flow has been steadily increased since then to its current wide open, pant-splashing force. Fortunately, the "white sink" hasn't overflowed nor the torrent flowed down Pennsylvania Avenue and overtaken Congress.

Congress, even the GOP, is largely at odds with Trumpolini. Members of Congress and of Trumpolini's cabinet have expressed concerns over his low level of honesty (save his propensity for keeping the promises that many people wish he'd never made in the first place), his lack of knowledge about government and his mental health. Cabinet members have said during their confirmation hearings that they'd disobey any unlawful orders from Trumpolini, which would relegate him to being nothing more than a symbolic figurehead -- a very angry and vindictive symbolic figurehead. Cabinet and congress members seem to be somewhat apologetic toward the world as they offer their condolences and assurances to other countries that Trumpolini will be kept on a short leash where he can't do them any harm -- the leash of disobedience from them. How long can and will they keep this up??? The silver lining for Trumpolini in all of this is that he doesn't have a full-on mutiny within his administration yet; because, he hasn't filled very many of the key positions yet.

That brings us to the title of this post: "Donald Trump: A Fascist Billionaire Without A Budget". While the talk about Trumpolini's politics, in-fighting in the "white sink of fascism"...err White House, congressional bickering, the pseudo-presidents weekends at the Mar - a - Lago Resort, his unhinged press conference(s), his disdain for media or intelligence and his wanting to take two courts (so far) to yet another court over their reversal of his Muslim ban are all over the headlines, there are some nuts and bolts issues that have yet to see the light of day. Thank God for Facebook. In the past month I've reposted some of my Facebook memories and, in so doing, have been reminded of how in 2011 Congress wanted to cut funding for HUD and the EPA -- things that have come up again this year, with the GOP controlling all three houses (if you want to call what Trumpolini exercises "control"). As Congress revisits the issue of Obamacare, the Facebook community and at least one of my flesh-and-blood friends have begun to discuss the fact that Congress should have had an alternative to the Affordable Care Act ready to be signed by Trump on January 20th. After all, they've spent at least six years making and remaking it. This speaks to the matter of congressional dysfunction, their failure thus far to have a vote of no confidence against Trump notwithstanding. That said, the GOP replacement to the ACA has yet to see the light of day.

But that's not why I call him "a fascist billionaire without a budget". I spoke to a couple of Hill staffers on Monday, February 13th while visiting a senator's office. One of them explained that a new president must make 200 nominations for positions that must be confirmed by the senate. They include secretaries, under-secretaries and various diplomatic positions. As of 2/13/17, only ten confirmations had been made. In Trump's defense, the senate democrats have sworn to obstruct the confirmation process at every turn. The most vocal staffer explained that, while the cabinet positions are vacant, the budgets for those departments can't be submitted to or voted on by the senate. Fiscal year 2018 begins on October 1st, 2017. If a full annual budget is not passed, then Congress will substitute it with as many three-month-long continuing resolutions as necessary. While each department would have some finances, they'd be wary of spending more than two-thirds of their quarterly allotment (the CR money); because, the final budget (if one is adopted) might leave them with less operating funds per month than they initially thought they'd have.

For those of you who are not budgetarily or mathematically inclined, imagine that you were given $3,000 to last three months -- $1,000 per month. Then imagine that, after much congressional deliberation, you were give another $3,000 to last the remaining nine months. If you've spent the first $3,000, you now have $333.33 for each of the remaining nine months. If you've only spent $1,500 of the first $3,000 after three months, you can add the remaining $1,500 to the second $3,000 and continue to spend $500 per month throughout the year. That said, if a department of government spends down the first installment of CR money and the monthly allowance must be reduced in the middle of a fiscal year, then programs and initiatives of that department must be reduced or eliminated abruptly in the middle of the year.

This concern causes departments to exercise high levels of constraint without having a full annual budget. So, cabinet, under-secretary and diplomatic vacancies hold up the budget process. Congress uses a piecemeal, stop-gap funding measure called a "continuing resolution". Departments are afraid to do much of anything. Not much gets done by government. The people whose sustenance comes from the government -- in part or in full -- might be directly impacted (with the possible...possible exception of entitlements like Social Security and Medicare). Most of the military's budget is an entitlement; and, given Trumpolini's promise to build up the military along with his stated desire to reinstate the draft and use the national guard for deportations, you can rest assured that all of the military's entitlement money and most or all of the discretionary funding that it requests will be given by Trumpolini and Congress. Fascist militarism.

As indicated in a prior blog post, DC's local government has a $13 billion budget of which about $3 billion comes from Congress. About $1.2 billion is discretionary and the rest entitlement money. Long story short, the DC Council might soon find that they must move local dollars around to different parts of the budget to make up for the loss of federal funding. Though they will have lost about !0% of the budget, some parts of the budget might be impossible to reduce, which would mean other parts would be reduced by more than 10%. Social services are generally the first things to be reduced during a budget crunch. That's not to speak of the fact that people whose federal benefits are received directly from the feds would be left to wonder about the future of those benefits. They'd be hit directly by presidential/federal dysfunction and indirectly as the council is forced to reduce services in lieu of reduced federal funding. Much remains to be seen. Unfortunately, the poorest citizens -- the ones who need a social safety net -- are also the least likely to stand up and speak out. This makes them the easiest ones for the likes of Trumpolini to prey on.

Speaking of preying, folk need to increase their spiritual consciousness too. Some of us saw in June 2015 that Trumpolini had the spirit of a grossly irrational demagogue who appeals to the lowest common denominator of people's thinking -- that he promises to give people what they want but fails to devise a rational and viable plan for doing so. Bush 43, under the leadership of Cheney, began an illegal war that cost a lot of lives; but, his administration was not fully dysfunctional. Having served as governor of Texas, his style was a bit more polished than Trumpolini's. People get a pass for not foreseeing what Bush43 would do -- the quagmire he'd drag us into with his war [of] terror. But I question the reasoning of anyone who was so drawn to Trumpolini's campaign promises that they didn't pick up on how unfit he was and is -- this in spite of a 17-month campaign. That said, the continual downgrading of presidential sanity and intelligence from 2004 (when we should have known better than to re-elect Bush 43) should cause us to wonder just how much worse things can get and to determine where we'll draw that line in the sand. We should realize by now that voting for a candidate who promises to protect us by building walls or by engaging in illegal wars only gives us more to fear. We have nothing to fear but fear itself and God. (Saddam Hussein is probably laughing at us right now.) In 2020, if we are still able to vote for a president, we need not vote a demagogue who appeals to the emotions of the masses, but rather for a rational candidate who reasons well and considers all available facts. As for that line in the sand, I think the masses will rise up spontaneously when Trumpolini uses martial law to quell dissent. It might be too late then. So, for me, that line is when one poor person dies (or even comes close) for lack of sustenance as a result of a Trumpolini policy. In the meantime, let's continue to increase our political, social and spiritual consciousness.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Aborting the Mission: Churches, Social Services, Non-Profits and Government Fail the Poor

PREFACE: As I sit here and begin typing this blog post, I'm also thinking seriously about taking people up on their suggestion that I write a book. Several people have made this suggestion over the years. Most have not clearly indicated what they thought the book should be about, though it stands to reason that they'd want me to write about the lessons I've learned as a homeless advocate from June 2006 to the present. I've repeatedly thought about how my having been abused from shortly after birth until my biological mother fractured my skull when I was eight months old, my having spent five years in foster care and my having then been raised by a Polish man and Italian woman who had 36 other children (only 7 naturally) would make for a really boring story. So, I'm not inclined to write an autobiography. I've asked myself what type of book by me would even stand the chance of becoming a best seller. Assuming that the book should be a critique of the "socialistic" services that are offered by governments in America and with me being quite familiar with DC's local government, I've wondered what kind of spin I would put on it.

I think I have the answer. A fellow advocate who lives in London told me some time ago that he thinks the United States is "a capitalist beast with a Socialist heart". For those who don't already understand that metaphor intuitively, he was saying that, while the U.S. Government is caught in the [death] throes of capitalism which caters to the wealthy and exploits the poor, the government also provides for the poor to some degree. His succinct summation of American governance leaves much to be said, such as whether the provisions afforded the poor are the result of governmental compassion or they only serve to "keep the lid on the pressure cooker". That is to keep the poor from rising up against the powers that be. Call me a cynic (or a stoic); but, I'm inclined to believe the latter. My British comrade's comment also leaves one to ponder how we might shift away from settling for charity and begin to demand justice -- how we should reject perpetual social service handouts year after year and begin to demand that government do the math so as to ensure that any full-time worker can afford all of the necessities of life. After all, the same governments that provide food stamps (SNAP), HUD vouchers, TANF and other social services are continually reducing (and, in some cases, eliminating) these public benefits as they claim that the recipients thereof are lazy and shiftless. Government, at its various levels, has admitted to creating a "culture of dependency" and has proceeded to try and right their wrong by pulling the rug out from under needy people. The truth is that government realizes that technology is eliminating jobs more quickly that they can be created; that an ever-increasing percentage of available jobs require specialized training or a college degree; and, that many of the poor won't be able to complete such courses -- due to financial and/or mental limitations. All in all, blaming those who lack advanced education and financial resources for failing to advance and then cutting off their sustenance amounts to "passive euthanasia". That said, it seems that "the capitalist beast is having heart problems".

That brings me to the framing of this book for which this blog post can be considered a preview. I will, in the very near future, begin writing this book in which I'll spell out how the U.S. Government as well as the DC Government ostensibly began working "in earnest" to address homelessness in 1987 and 2004, respectively. I'll show how that, as another local advocate would say, "It's all just a shell game". It's quite shameful that, since the feds began addressing homelessness 30 years ago, DC's homeless population has grown exponentially (possibly six times now what it was then); and, since DC Government began "working" on homelessness, it has increased by approximately six percent -- through several ups and downs. So many of those in government who get paid to end homelessness and many of those to whom government awards social service contracts make six figures. Critics of mine have admonish me to call out these "poverty pimps", one man going so far as to post disparaging fliers about me and my advocacy on bus shelters. With me having been somewhat politically correct for the past few years, these calls for me to return to my more aggressive manner of speech are fully justified. It has crossed my mind frequently in recent months that I should redouble my efforts to make government consider its long-term and expensive failures -- irrespective of how many of their heads roll. There's no better time than the present to undertake this noble effort.

In this blog post and eventually in the book, I'll attempt to convince those who are just now becoming socially and politically aware that, well before but especially during the "Trumpolini" era, the way in which social services are structured in this country is prefaced on not wanting to disrupt capitalism and on wanting to ensure that the super rich class can continue to exploit the poor and others in the working class. The capitalist class averted full-on tragedy following the economic downturn of 2008; but, they are still in crisis mode -- for more reasons than I can spell out in a single blog post of reasonable length, thus the book. However, I will note here and now that technology has made human labor; concessions to labor unions and to the working class as a whole, and the provision of social programs for the currently-unemployed less relevant. It is less likely now than it was 30 years ago that dozens of workers threatening to strike will force the employer to bargain or barter with them. The capitalists are only willing to cut deals for what they want and need; and, they neither want nor need the large numbers of workers that used to define factories. The reduced need for human labor is also the reason that those who actually do get hired are often offered wages that are far below what one would need to earn in order to pay the average rent for that region. It also explains many employers' reluctance to offer health benefits and paid family leave. It's worth noting that, like the aforementioned poverty pimps, these low-wage-paying employers and high-rent-charging landlords are making out like bandits. Nonetheless, the governments that reluctantly provide social services to both the working and unemployed poor also make every effort to allow the laissez faire market to remain intact -- by raising the minimum wage at a fraction of the rate at which rents and the overall cost of living rise. Furthermore, we now have a pseudo-president who is trying to greatly accelerate the rate at which the interests of business are codified into law and made into federal policy -- all this, in spite of the detriments such actions would present to the poor. It's fair to say that all aspects of American governance are designed to give the rich all that they want, even if the majority of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and one or two percent are wondering where they are going to sleep tonight.

In times past, governments and corporations would take steps to sustain unemployed people who they'd eventually need to work for them again once business picked back up. However, as the capitalist class' need for workers diminishes, so does their willingness to assist the poor -- with employment or sustenance, though they might help the disabled in order to save face. Let's bear in mind that, once we correctly identify the motives that drive government and the wealthy, it will be easier to predict their moves well in advance; to devise our plans with the concepts on which the capitalists' plans are premised in mind; and to more deliberately and successfully thwart their plans. Then again, "Donito Trumpolini" is quite unabashedly promoting and implementing fascist policies; and, it might be too late to stop this train -- without another American Revolution. What's more is that it is our electoral system -- but not the popular vote -- that gave us this monster. Democracy -- the current American form, anyway -- has failed us.

There are many ways in which one can tell this story, to be sure. The disease of capitalism has many symptoms that have many variations. Keeping up with the evolving antics of the capitalist class is a full-time job -- for the masses. There is "inverted totalitarianism" wherein a government's constituents are afforded a false sense of choice; but, the reality is that a small cadre of people is actually making choices that affect the masses -- as was the case with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Locally, this concept manifests as what I'll call "NIMBY meetings" wherein someone like DC's Mayor Muriel Bowser arranges public meetings to discuss replacing a large family shelter with several smaller shelters but she only seems to attract those who are against having this social service in their neighborhoods to these meetings. As a result, she can now claim that it was her constituency that came out against the replacement shelters -- and leave us to wonder if that was the outcome she sought all along.

As of January 20th, 2017, she also has some "right-side-up totalitarianism" that she can tout, as Donito Trumpolini's emerging policies threaten to deplete the city's $13 billion budget of $1.2 billion in one fell swoop and thereby offer her a viable excuse for slicing social services to bits. Even DC's homeless are now talking about how she put a half million dollars toward supporting undocumented citizens even as she took steps in late 2016 to bar those whose last known address is not in DC from accessing shelter in the city. Immigrants aren't necessarily poor or in need of social services; so, they are more welcome than people who might have lived in DC before being evicted and sleeping on Mom's couch in neighboring Maryland or Virginia. Being somewhat cynical, I am all but convinced that Mayor Muriel Bowser is flaunting her "love of immigrants" with the full knowledge that Trumpolini promises to stop funding sanctuary cities like ours, even as she hopes that he'll make good on his promise -- which he has shown some propensity for doing. That would, all at once, take the burden of assisting the poor and the blame for failing them off of her. The DC mayor has a game of shifting blame -- just like she did following the 2016 homeless count, blaming the one-year 1,052-person increase in homeless people on the draconian policies of the previous mayor whereby homeless families were prevented from accessing shelter and forced to live doubled-up with relatives in sometimes overcrowded conditions until her policies increased shelter access in early 2015. Her argument does have plenty of merit; but, it doesn't gauge the full scope of unmet, hidden need or get past mere blame and to actual solutions that bring about a just system and reduce the need for charity.

Another aspect of the American system of governance that I'll describe here is what I'll call "inverted fascism". Whereas it is the national government in a fascist system that usually implements the most draconian and oppressive policies, it has become the norm for municipalities to implement these types of policies here in the U.S. where fascism is still in the nascent phase -- some cities jailing people for feeding the needy in public spaces and jailing the homeless for sleeping outdoors. The federal and state governments might issue notices of "guidance" which lack the force of law and which only try to dissuade local governments from creating oppressive policies -- without forcibly mandating that local governments treat all of their constituents humanely.

"Of the aforementioned tactics used by government, the one that is rearing it's head the most right now in Washington, DC is that of inverted totalitarianism -- like what DC's current mayor is using in the family shelter replacement plan and what ushered a 71-year old baby into the White House."

Aborting the Mission: Churches, Social Services, Non-Profits and Government Fail the Poor

Though it's taken me quite some time to get around to writing about it, the negative concept that initially inspired this post was a pattern that I've begun to see emerging where churches, social service agencies, non-profits and governments are aborting their stated missions. Governments like DC's municipal government have spent hundreds of millions of dollars -- possibly $2 billion or so in DC -- since declaring their intentions to end homelessness; but, they've failed to decrease it substantially (if at all) in 10 years or more -- much less, end it. DC embarked on such a journey in 2004. As of the May 2016 publishing of numbers from the homeless census that took place four months prior, we'd actually seen a 427-person increase over the 2004 numbers.

With this blog post having already become quite lengthy and me planning to write a book, I'll very briefly describe some of the systemic flaws that have the local social safety net on the verge of total collapse -- in my opinion, anyway. Decide for yourself if you think that the agencies referenced below are.....

"aborting the mission":

1 -- As stated earlier, DC Gov began "working" on ending homelessness in 2004 when DC had 8,253 homeless people. They developed a 10-year plan that FAILED. (They actually stopped paying attention to the plan about three years in.) In May 2014 it was determined that there had been a one-year increase of 889 homeless people, going from 6,859 in 2013 to 7,748 in 2014. When I called out the city's failure at the end of the June 2014 ICH meeting during which this group of government officials, non-profits and others skipped their usual mid-year discussion of homeless census results, city administrator Allen Lew softened the blow with a euphemism, saying that the city was "not failing" but rather "working on" [ending homelessness]. By the way, I hate euphemisms!!! In 2016 we INITIALLY figured DC to have 8,350 homeless people but found another 330 later on. (8,680 total). Government's euphemisms as well as their way of avoiding hard discussions about grim realities, about the overall thrust of the system and about their own failures leave me to conclude that many of these high earners are nonchalant and might even prefer that the problem that they are ostensibly attempting to solve actually be perpetuated -- giving them job security.

2 -- The Dinner Program for Homeless Women sat next to the MLK Library in a church basement and fed breakfast and men before relocating and changing its name to Thrive DC. It served 400 people six days per week and provided healthcare, employment assistance and other services -- as well as TV's that served to keep the homeless out of the way of the business community above in DC's Chinatown. The church was closed in January 2007 and torn down later that year. The rebuilt church was forbidden by the financier to have a similar program and accepted the terms. It just seems so counter-intuitive for a church to accept that it will be forbidden to assist the poor, with Christ having been a Communist who commanded us to help those in need -- with a job, when possible.

3 -- The MLK Library will close on 3/4/17 for a three-year renovation and this will create a disruption in the daily lives of the many homeless who the city drops off there day after day and picks up there every evening -- having done so for many years. This is happening a full 10 years after the church next door stopped serving the homeless, save a tiny outreach office. The city essentially moved many of the homeless from the church to the library next door in 2007 and must now move them from the library elsewhere -- not yet being fully certain as to where elsewhere is. These high earners in government (across several mayoral administrations) have only been moving the problem around and keeping it out of the way of the capitalists -- not solving it quickly enough to get ahead of the ball.

 4 -- The office of Catholic Charities DC sits across the road from the aforementioned church and library. As many as 200 homeless people line up outside of Catholic Charities' office to eat a meal every Wednesday (sometimes less at the beginning of the month). 3/8/17 will be the first Wednesday that they can't wait in MLK or re-enter the library to eat. There might be a colossal "mass" of people gathered on the sidewalk between 4 and 7 PM, either awaiting food or eating. What's more is that, while Catholic Charities' administration has claimed that they want to do more than provide bare bones shelter for the homeless whom they are in contract with the city to serve, a cog in the government-non-profit machine has prevented Catholic Charities from being able to work that out. I won't attempt to figure out right now where the problem lies. It brings to mind a 10-prison strike in Georgia a few years ago and a very recent prison riot in Delaware with prisoners in both cases complaining that they weren't being afforded adult education or job training. Now we have government only providing bare-bones shelter without proactively offering comprehensive educational and employment services. (In DC Government's defense, they've offered employment services as part of a terribly flawed process that was not designed or driven at all by someone experiencing homelessness.)

5 -- There is another church that sits 4 blocks from the library, serves 200 homeless people every Sunday, houses the office of DC's street paper as well as other non-profits and whose wardens have decided against helping the city mitigate the problems that will arise for the homeless when the library closes. So, now we have a church that has said that it won't take on any additional burden when it comes to assisting the downtown poor, although its stated mission is actually "to serve the downtown poor". That's even more counter-intuitive.

6 -- There is a shelter that has served as many as 1,700 people since 1987 (currently about 1,000) but which, since 2013 has:

A -- Refused to let the city build affordable housing on land that the non-profit which operates the shelter owns, in a manner of speaking (through a 30-year federal lease until 2021 -- or '23 given the quitclaim deed -- with a right to renew for 99 years thereafter). The shelter admin doesn't own the building. The city government recently gained ownership of the building after complying with a federal covenant for 30 years. During a nine-month task force process to discuss the expiring leases and covenant, it was suggested that affordable housing be built on the parking lot. The shelter administration refused.

B -- Refused to allow the city's Dept. Of Employment Services to park their mobile unit in front of the shelter so as to assist the homeless with employment. In all fairness, the shelter administration has had reason (due to a threat from a past mayoral administration) to fear that the city government might withdraw its license to operate. Shelter staff have become so paranoid about what may be a dead threat to revoke their license if they don't keep homeless residents from loitering on the sidewalk in front of their shelter that the staff won't even allow the city government's Dept. Of Employment Services (DOES) to park their RV in front and offer services. Go figure. (DC does not have an anti-loitering law; but, the homeless have special anti-loitering rules at the shelters at which they reside. That's why they go to other neighborhoods -- possibly yours. Go figure.)

C -- Refused to allow people to serve food to the homeless on the sidewalk outside of the shelter, though it is not against DC Law to do so. See above.

D -- Refused to allow the city to put a homeless drop-in center in the vacant parts of the building in which the shelter is located, even though the city actually owns the building. (A certain administration official has tried to play nicely in the sandbox with this shelter admin. She wants to get along with everyone. The shelter admin's intransigence and tendency to take her kindness for weakness might be all that's standing between the city's homeless and a solution to this social ill -- if only to the subset of problems created by the library closure.

IN CONCLUSION: I've concluded that city officials are avoiding addressing affordable housing and housing-wage job issues for the working poor. They'd rather see the working poor just leave town, only coming into DC to work. Churches, non-profits and various social services aren't doing any better. (Then there is the federal government -- another beast altogether. By the way, it recently tried to eat its baby, as Senator Jason Chaffetz, R/UT suggested that DC be folded into Maryland.) What conclusion have YOU drawn???

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Monday, February 6, 2017

World War III in 2018???; When the "Right" is Wrong

Unfortunately, Donald Trump (Donito Trumpolini) is our pseudo-president. It seems -- a mere 17 days into his term -- that, even as Cheney was the "war president" and Obama was the "too-sweet president", that Trump will preside over the implosion of capitalism in general and the U.S. Government in particular. Let's face it: As of February 6th, 2017, his administration is at odds with a GOP-appointed federal judge over a xenophobic executive order that Trumpolini signed. As many as 60,000 travelers have been inconvenienced and the process could end with Trumpolini being decapitated by the guillotine of impeachment. Congress people in his own party are pulling away from him and federal workers whose job it is to implement his policies are expressing their disdain -- which might be a precursor to an all-out mutiny.

Trumpolini has a head that as hard as a rock. He's filthy rich -- probably from swimming in dirty money. He represents the worst that capitalism has to offer. He's tapping multiple American billionaires for various cabinet posts. He's cuddling up to his counterpart in Russia whose national capital has more billionaires than any other city in the world. He's currently residing in DC, a city that seems to be on a track toward becoming as elitist as Moscow.

That said, the Trumpolini era might expedite gentrification and the transformation of DC into the world-class, elitist city that Adrian Fenty tried to make it. The silver lining here is that Trumpolini's rock-hard head might enable us to kill two birds with one stone -- the vulture of capitalism (preying on even the dying poor) and the pelican of U.S. governance (scooping up all of the oil from under foreign soil). Hopefully his neck is soft enough for the blade of impeachment to penetrate it -- and thereby afford us a stone to throw at the aforementioned birds.

Trumpolini is the capitalist's capitalist and the gentrifier's gentrifier. He can do with one fell swoop what local politicians working collectively take decades to do -- spoil the rich, push out the poor and develop an ethos within government that promotes the overall paradigm and mentality of the wealthy. DC's local politicians receive political donations from the wealthy and then make political decisions that take the motives of their donors into consideration -- a process that opens the politician up to a possible bribery charge. Trumpolini is eliminating the need to make decisions on behalf of the wealthy -- who most likely have not made political donations to Trumpolini in recent years -- by just installing the wealthy in his cabinet. Local politicians use the wealthy to fund their campaigns. Trumpolini is doing what he can to give the wealthy overt and direct control of government -- open fascism, by all means. So, while both government's here in the nation's capital kowtow to the wealthy, they do it in very different ways

While it's not good to use sensationalism or emotion to hype up a story and garner support for one's cause, it's even more dangerous to underestimate people in positions of power, only to have them execute a coup against the Constitution and all that we hold dear. (I don't think the Constitution or the forefathers represent perfection; but, people from the 18th and 19th centuries seem to have had a higher collective intelligence than the Americans of today.) When it comes to sensationalism, let's remember that an unsuccessful machete attack against a soldier in France (our oldest ally) was being called "Terrorism" by the French government and that Trumpolini counselor[sic] Kellyanne Conway remembers a Bowling Green, KY massacre that never made its way into the mass media (and which probably never happened -- LOL). So, while I choose not to believe the hype, I don't think it's stretching the truth to say that Trumpolini might just lead us into another American Revolution or even World War III. (The former would prevent the latter by necessitating the return of our forces from overseas, thereby saving the world.) But, given how socially unconscious the majority of Americans are as well as the allies we have retained thus far and the enemies that Trumpolini is making the world over, it's quite probable that we'll see World War III before we see another revolution. Just think:

Russian President Vladimir Putin likes (or just uses) Trumpolini. Russia will fight on our side -- initially, anyway.

China is at odds with us over the fact that Trumpolini decided to forego a decades-old diplomatic norm by communicating directly with Taiwan and circumventing China. Like Russia, China has nukes.

India, which has had a long-standing dispute with its neighbor and fellow nuclear nation of Pakistan over the Kashmir Territory, has also had a few high-profile sex crimes in recent years such that they appeared in the American media. Though India is not on the list of top 10 countries for rape, the notoriety of the few stories that have made their way to the other side of the "pond" is likely reason enough for Trump to consider India a strong ally and to side with them over what he perceives to be a dispute over goats and coats. No kidding. This puts India on our side and makes Pakistan the enemy. Add to that the fact that Pakistan was not happy about U.S. forces going in unannounced in order to kill Osama Bin Laden.

As stated earlier, France is our oldest ally and, if the machete attack is any indication, their government is as prone to hyperbole as Trumpolini and his (mental health???) counselor Kellyanne "CON-(her)-way-to-the top" Conway.

The United Kingdom slapped Trump on the wrist for suggesting who they appoint as ambassador to the U.S. They even voted in Parliament to bar Trumpolini from the country. Even so, I doubt they'd turn against the U.S. any time soon. They'd probably wait until the U.S. has taken a bad enough beating from our nuclear enemies and Trumpolini has learned how to STFU; then, they'd execute a surprise attack on those enemies. Whether or not it would prove to be too little and too late is another matter.

The final country on the list of eight nuclear nations is North Korea. I'm not sure that they deserve mention here -- being as they have so many impediments to their nuclear program -- not the least of which is the American government which has a propensity for telling other nations to voluntarily disarm themselves so that the U.S. will be sure to prevail in the event of a war. Go figure. I've taken the time to mention North Korea, nonetheless. After all, I was among the many people who thought that Trumpolini would never become president; so, I see that I can be as wrong as the masses whose vote or failure to cast a ballot left us with a four-year headache. (I voted -- not for Trumpolini.) It's fair to say that, if Trumpolini can become president, the North Koreans can nuke California. Let's not underestimate them.

Where this leaves us is with the U.S, the U.K. (as a late arrival), India, Russia and France on one side. We have China , North Korea and Pakistan on the other side. The U.S. is the furthest away from all other nuclear nations. It's likely that our enemies would attack American politicians' interests abroad before they'd even think about a direct attack against Washington, DC. After all, we'd have so much lead time to see a trans-oceanic attack coming that it would be a waste of ballistics by our enemies. In all honesty, China could just, abstain from the fighting (for a while), call in all debt and make it harder for the U.S. to finance a war. That might be a good thing. All we can do now is watch international developments and take steps to increase the social consciousness of Americans in the hopes that our fellow citizens see the need for revolution before Trumpolini thrusts us into World War III with his mouth.

Study and discuss social theory.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Why I'm Homeless

I sometimes hear people state what they perceive to be the reason(s) for my homelessness. Some people TELL me that I choose to be homeless -- instead of ASKING me why it is that I lack a home. Some spread the rumor that I was offered housing and turned it down. I was never offered housing. Some say that I should have played crazy when DC Government was housing the "most vulnerable" men from Franklin School Shelter. The most positive assumption people make is that I choose to be homeless so that I can advocate for solutions to homelessness for all who experience it. Facebook actually has the best short answer: "it's complicated". I'll explain.

I believe it was the end of 2015 when I had a one-to-one lunch with a certain professor named Sczerina. During our lunch, she asked me what I was looking to accomplish through my advocacy. I explained that I was looking to create a paradigm shift away from just housing the most vulnerable and toward getting city officials to split their attention and resources between the most and least vulnerable. I believed then, as I do now, that DC's city officials only want to assist the mentally ill, physically disabled and homeless parents as well as their children with housing. The municipal government has never had a robust homeless employment program since it began its efforts to end homelessness in 2004. They seem to only want to help those for whom the masses would clamor if they were ignored -- the disabled and the children. Furthermore, it seems as though city officials -- across multiple administrations -- try to ensure that any plan to address homelessness doesn't create a direct affront to gentrification.

I don't want DC Government to ignore the disabled or the children, but rather to split resources between those groups and the able-bodied singles so that every homeless person in the city fits into some group that is being assisted with a good-faith effort to move them toward housing. I DO want the city to create a direct affront to gentrification. I DO want to help bring about this paradigm shift and this restructuring of services so that I can eventually benefit from the better system that I helped to create -- whether I benefit as a program participant or I get employed by the program to help other homeless people. Having begun my advocacy in June 2006, I was hoping to have accomplished this by now.

City officials will, no doubt, say that I've wrongly characterized what they do. They'll offer explanations that are intended to appeal to an ill-informed public that understands close to nothing about the intricacies of government. (That's accountability for you.) So, let me say that, whether it's by their intent or ignorance, this is the way that the failure of the 10-year plan (2004 to 2014) and the insufficient progress of the current 5-year plan (2015 to 2020) add up. The bureaucratic bull, the refusal to put as much into employment for ALL homeless A-bods as they put into closing a shelter that sits on valuable land, the ways in which the city kowtows to developers, the ways in which the city favors landlords' rights over those of tenants and the nonchalant attitudes that I sense in meetings about ending homelessness strike me as indications that DC Government wants to do just enough to save face.

They want it to seem as though they are genuinely trying to make homelessness "rare, brief and non-recurring"; but, they're probably hoping that certain subsets of the poor and homeless will get tired of waiting their turn and just move out of DC -- even if they work here and should therefore be able to expect to find affordable housing here. Let's add to that the fact that there are homeless day programs that allow homeless people to hang out, have conversations that have nothing to do with getting out of homelessness, draw pictures and knit. Let's also factor it how that, for many years, the city has provided free shuttles from shelters to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library every morning and from the library back to shelter every evening. The MLK Library from which I'm writing this blog post will close on March 4th, 2017 for a three-year renovation and a problem that the city should have solved by now will spill out into the surrounding community. If DC Government IS trying to end homelessness, they need to try harder. (I might stop being a thorn in their side. Maybe.) While I don't pretend to be a mind reader, it's clear that either they can't or they won't do enough to end homelessness -- just move the problem from place to place. Something's gotta give.

Getting back to the matter of why I'm homeless, let's bear in mind that I've invested almost 11 years of my soon-to-be 48 (2/15/17) into creating this paradigm shift toward confronting gentrification head-on. Some would argue that I should give up and walk away from an effort that has consumed almost a quarter of my like thus far. I would argue that I definitely won't walk away without a sizable system-level victory that puts DC on a path toward ending and preventing homelessness and that actively acknowledges that any person who works in the city deserves to have access to housing that they can afford here as well. That hasn't happened yet; so, I'm still homeless.

In 2014 I told DC's ICH director, Kristy Greenwalt, to top-load her agenda so as to do the hardest things first. She told me that she doesn't work like that. I walked away. Three years later I'm still trying to get her and the ICH to top-load their agenda by focusing on homeless employment -- by gaining a full understanding of the insurmountable challenges that able-bodied homeless people have obtaining housing-wage employment and then by adequately addressing those challenges. I have no intention of changing my focus, though I'm quite willing to intensify -- to go harder.

As you can well imagine, a paradigm shift is about much more than a singular effort. It has to do with changing the overall way that people think and with the new thinking then carrying over into many decisions that are made thereafter. Even so, I'll offer a specific action which the city MUST take in order to show me that they are committed to effectively reversing gentrification. They MUST initiate a robust effort to connect as many as possible of the approximately 1,000 people in the CCNV Shelter to housing-wage employment and to housing. They MUST then do the same for able-bodied homeless people at other shelters. Finally, they MUST connect DC's tenuously-housed, rent-burdened community to housing-wage jobs. When they begin the first of these three phases in earnest, I'll begin to say good things about them -- unless and until they lose momentum (which gentrification is NOT doing).

As I push for this paradigm shift, I continue to assist DC Government in its efforts -- even those that don't address the issues of A-bods in a comprehensive way. On February 5th, 2017 (Superbowl Sunday) I connected someone in DC Government to the rector at my church which is four blocks from MLK Library. It was so that my church could help to mitigate some of the problems that will arise on March 5th, 2017 (the first day without the library in lieu of the renovation). When I asked the interim rector to help in this matter, he said, "It seems like a no-brainer!". I'm sure DC Government is glad I made the connection.

However, there is yet another connection between DC Government and my church (not counting the fact that people from DC Government and the advocacy community will likely visit my church to pay me their last respects). It is that, even as I push the ICH to top-load its agenda, I also push the fellow congregants who attend Bible study to acknowledge God's harshness and judgment. I push people to think difficult thoughts and to wrap their heads around various grim realities in both locations -- to put off any emotion or other concern that gets in the way of being effective and recognizing the ugly truth. After all, the homeless have to think this way. So, why can't the privileged, the educated, those in government and the clergy?????

This leads us nicely into a converse pair of truths that further explain my reasons for being homeless. The first is that I am ever-increasingly dismayed by how our society thinks. At almost 48 years old, I look back 20 and 30 years at how people thought and I reminisce about a time when our society's collective intelligence was much higher. I abhor the thought of having to report to work among the same group of social unconscious imbeciles day after day -- especially if there is no angle that affords me the space to demand that they think better. This is NOT to say that they have to share my opinions or do things my way. It IS to say that, if and when we don't see eye to eye, I have to be able to sense a rational flavor to what they say. You don't have to agree with me to qualify as rational, though there are certain types of statements that send up the red flag in my mind and cause me to wonder about your ability to reason -- to wonder if you are "on the level" at all.

The converse truth is that, in the name of accountability, I DO have the space whereby to back government against the wall and to demand that they do better by those whom they've sworn to serve. Any co-workers that I might have in a factory or on a construction site are required to do their jobs; but, I have no vantage point from which to insist that they think critically about their overall paradigm or about a plan that runs across multiple years and uses millions of dollars of taxpayer money. I can also put forth challenging scriptures and unpopular accompanying interpretations during Bible study; but, I must calmly accept when people disagree -- even if they don't present strong logic for their disagreement. However, the 13 years of failure thus far by DC Government to end homelessness, the billions of dollars that have been spent just maintaining homelessness, the exponentially increasing number of homeless people and the ways in which government plays on the public's ignorance concerning homelessness all serve as reasons for me to go hard on government. Government is the only entity with which I can use forceful logic to back them against the wall and make them do better. In a sense, it makes up for the fact that I can't expect to make the average citizen make sense -- even when they obviously lack the ability to connect the dots for their own stated conclusion. In another sense, I'm laying into government for its own shortcomings. in yet another sense, I'm making up for the shortage of socially-conscious people to force government to do better by its constituents and to be accountable to the same. Hopefully, the Trump saga will change that. Until then, I'm here and fighting -- even if I'm homeless.