Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A LETTER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA FROM A HOMELESS MAN.....

Dear President Barack Hussein Obama,

I would like to remind you of a former effort of yours that you seem to have all but forgotten. On October 25th 2006, you sent two (2) men from your senatorial office in the Hart Building to the Franklin School Shelter so that they could tour the facility and be informed on the issue of homelessness. Their names were Ian Solomon and Nicholas Colvin. The tour was led by the Committee To Save Franklin Shelter (CSFS), a group that was later incorporated as Until We're Home, inc
( www.untilwerehome.org ), a non-profit that spoke up for the rights of homeless people and advocated for solutions to homelessness. I was the field marshal/public relations specialist for the group, which has now been dissolved. After the tour, we never heard back from either man. We were left to assume that they were just part of an exploratory mission to see what platform you would run your campaign on.

Nonetheless, homelessness remains a major problem in this and other nations. With the worsening economic crisis, many more people are becoming homeless. The headlines are chock full of stories of tent cities popping up all over the nation and municipal governments putting people up in hotels. I'm sure that you're aware of the housing and employment crises. That's not to speak of mental illnesses, prolonged physical illnesses, domestic violence and chemical dependencies that often lead to homelessness. As it turns out, the homeless shelters are the collect-alls for the various problems and societal ills with which society is plagued. It therefore behooves you and your administration to address homelessness as you address the economic fallout that we hear so much about these days. I'd dare to say that it should be first and foremost among your economic concerns. Then again, everyone probably feels that their issue is the single most important issue.

I understand that your job entails addressing many different concerns and that you are being pulled in many different directions by those here in America and abroad. You were voted in by Blacks, Whites, Asians and Hispanics alike. You were voted in by the rich and the poor. Your decisions will affect those of other countries as well. It would therefore be selfish for anyone to try to horde your attention and present their issue as the single most important issue. However, the fact that so many problems lead to homelessness makes it more than logical to make addressing homelessness a priority.

I hope that you've found this letter to be both insightful and interesting. I look forward to hearing from you again. I also look forward to working with your administration to effectively combat homelessness. To start, you can read my blog at www.streats.tv/shep.html . Thank you.


Yours Ever So Truly,
Eric Jonathan Sheptock
Homeless Homeless Advocate

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

GOOD NEWS: The ICH is moving things along // (ALSO: a quick note about the new transit system cards)

I've earned a name as a bulldog who goes at DC Government rather hard and exposes their shortcomings. I actually like having that type of reputation. Criticism can be constructive and pressure people into doing better. I believe that I, along with other like-minded people, have contributed to the betterment of the ICH (Inter-agency Council on Homelessness). A compliment is ever so slightly overdue. It is my determination that people should take a less adversarial stance against the ICH and do more to partner with them so as to better serve DC's poor and homeless population. (Make no mistake. I am in no way, shape, form or fashion telling you to be nice to the mayor. He and the ICH are by no means on the same page.)

The ICH met on December 11th at the N street Village Women's Shelter. (Schroeder Stribling is a great hostess.) However, prior to the usual ICH meeting, there was a new addition -- a homeless persons' rountable discussion during which the homeless and service providers had over and hour to voice and write down their concerns. (During the ICH meeting there were still the usual public comment periods at the beginning and end of the meeting so that the homeless and others could voice their concerns.) I almost feel compelled to recant my running accusation of DC Government as a body that only chooses to do things FOR the homeless and not WITH them. They seem to have changed their tune.

Various members of the ICH including City Administrator Dan Tangherlini and Deputy Director of the Dept. of Human Services Laura Zeilinger seemed rather apologetic and understanding of people's concerns pertaining to the budget cuts to various social programs such as Housing first. Dan Tangherlini told a homeless man who spoke during the public comment period," I understand your concern. We held our hand out and then pulled it back". (Many homeless people were told that they were close to being housed and then got word of budget cuts and DC Government's decreased ability to house anymore people.) Laura Zeilinger mentioned the fact that DHS is still housing people, even with the budget cuts. She said, "Just last week we housed 7 people". (As a quick aside I must say that Mr. Tangherlini seems to have become more tolerant and understanding of the homeless than he used to be. Good job.)

((As a quick point of interest I'd like to point out that there is a distinct dichotomy within DC Government: those who truly care about their constituents (especially the poor and homeless) and those who've been bought and paid for by the rich developers. DC Government's Dept. of Human Services (DHS) and Deputy Mayor Neil Albert are part of the former group. Mayor Adrian Fenty actually heads the latter group. Let's not paint with broad strokes. Let's give the credit where the credit is due and place the blame where it belongs. Let's work peacefully with those who are truly on our side.))

Police Chief Cathy Lanier even attended the meeting, though she said nothing and left just prior to my comments complimenting the ICH.

During the latter public comment period I reminded everyone that the ICH meeting had been held in that very same location on Dec. 13th of 2007 and that I had felt compelled to compliment the ICH at that meeting as well. (Maybe it's just my Christmas spirit.) As it turns out, many people complimented them at this latest meeting. (Maybe we ALL have that ol' Christmas spirit.)

I also let them know that, regardless of how much I might complain about their delivery of services, farbeit from me to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I let everyone know that "Today I don't need any cheese to go with my wine (.....err whine)".

In my minute or two that I had to speak, I also let them know that they should spread the word about all of the good that they are doing to all of DC's homeless, especially those who can't use computers.

My final point was as follows:

"The homeless are in a position to (figuratively) rob DC Government at gunpoint insomuch as there are laws that mandate that DC Government provide shelter, at least during hypothermia. They aren't allowed to just watch people just freeze and starve in the streets of DC. This means that you can't PUNISH someone out of homelessness. You can't just put them out of shelter because they've been there too long. You can't stop feeding them either. You must creative INCENTIVES and MOTIVATION that cause them to WANT to end their homelessness."

In some one-on-one conversations before and after the meeting I explained my motivation: "Since first becoming homeless, I've come out of it several times. I've had a couple of girlfriends and a short marriage since becoming homeless. Each time that I find somebody, I come out of homelessness; and, each time that it ends, I fall back into homelessness". What to do????? What to do?????

BUS TRANSFERS

The following is from an e-mail that I sent to DC Government. Earlier today I spoke to Michael Rious who heads Councilman Marion Barry's Poverty Coalition. He explained to me that Marion Barry, Councilman Jim Graham and the Metro Board are aware of and working on the problem. He mentioned the possibility of having special transit cards that are given to service providers so as to be given to the homeless. Read on:

PROBLEM:

There is great concern amongst the homeless community pertaining to the changes being made to WMATA come January 4th. Presently, there are programs that give the homeless tokens to get to job interviews, doctors' appointments and other important appointments. These programs seek to only give one or two tokens per engagement (one if the errand is expected to take less than 2 hours) both as a matter of practicality and a limited budget.

These programs might not be able to help the homeless get to and from engagements with the elimination of paper transfers. If they do, it will cost more. The problem is that many of the homeless will not have the SmarTrip Card. Many of them lack the $5 to purchase the card. That's part of why they are going to the program for assistance in the first place. Furthermore, the programs can't afford to purchase the $6.25 starter cards (cost of the card plus one fare) for each of their homeless clients. This multiplies the cost of helping a homeless client by 5, though the card purchase would only be a one-time expense. This of course doesn't account for people losing their cards.

I understand that the tokens will be continued. However, without the paper transfers, the homeless person or program that is assisting him/her will have to pay 2 full fares for what used to cost a single fare and a transfer.

SOLUTION:

1 -- Funding to programs that help the homeless would need to be increased to help them shoulder the additional expense (start-up SmarTrip cards).

2 -- As a one-time expense, all homeless people could be given free cards.

3 -- Paper tokens could be continued, possibly at a cost of 10 cents. This would keep token users from paying full fare on their return trip.

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