We Demand Jobs!!!!!

I can't count the number of times that the homeless have asked me if I knew where they could get help finding a job. Some have advised me to ask the mayor for jobs for the homeless rather than shelter or housing. Then there are the ones who've suggested that they be allowed to work on an old, dilapidated government building and turn it into affordable housing. (This idea is known as "sweat equity" and has been shot down by the DC Council in the past.) Needless to say, the homeless are an industrious lot of people; but, there seems to be either a shortage of jobs or an inability on the part of DC Government and homeless service providers to connect people to the jobs that are out there. In the past I've even heard the DC Council discuss how employers often need to look outside of DC to find qualified employees due to many DC residents being unskilled.

As chance should have it, Mayor Fenty recently visited the DC Jail to promote the Central Detention Facility Employment Resource Center (CDFERC). CDFERC was created collaboratively by the Dept. of Corrections and the Dept. of Employment Services (DOES) to assist inmates who are 45 to 60 days from being released to re-enter society and to reduce recidivism. It is a One Stop employment center within the jail. CDFERC does career assessment, teaches life skills and gives inmates career information along with job counseling and guidance. They let inmates know what jobs are in high demand, teach computer skills and arrange apprenticeships. Inmates who complete the program have a job and an education awaiting them upon release. as a matter of fact, CDFERC even connects inmates to Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), the mayor's new housing initiative.

During his speech to the inmates, the mayor even took time to rehash his reasons for closing Franklin School Shelter and DC Village Family Shelter. He portrayed himself as someone who cares deeply for the homeless and doesn't want anyone to live in sub-standard conditions. Nonetheless, I won't address that issue in depth here and now. However, I would be remiss if I failed to point out that the mayor said he,"housed the men of Franklin" and didn't give any numbers. This may have led some to believe that he housed ALL of the former Franklin residents. He actually housed 86 out of the 300 plus men that Franklin School Shelter held on any given night. (The Dept. of Human Services has determined that approximately 1,000 men stayed at Franklin over a 3 month period.)

The center was opened on December 1st, 2008 and at least 21 inmates have completed the program thus far. Farbeit from me to criticize such a novel idea and awe-inspiring results. But the lingering questions are: "Why must a person go to jail in order to get the help that they so desperately need? Why can't we provide these same services in the homeless shelters?" This concern has been raised numerous times over the years to no avail. From Florida to DC I've heard people mention how that they'd have to commit a crime in order to get free job training and whatever else they need to get back on their feet. (Martin made that point rather comically in a video which begins with me speaking about job training and which is located to the right of this blog post.) It is as though government employees have a mental block that just won't allow them to comprehensively help the poor and homeless to recover and sustain themselves.

As it turns out, the Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH) had its bi-monthly meeting on February 25th, 2009. During that meeting, homeless people mentioned that they didn't know about the various services that exist to help them. Neither did they know where to access those services. The point was also made that all shelters should be 24-hour shelters insomuch as it would enable those who find jobs to get their proper rest regardless of what hours they work. (12-hour shelters often don't accommodate those with 2nd and 3rd shift jobs.)

As if some form of divine intervention were at work revealing the flaws of the present system, I spoke to a case worker the following day and she told me that the Public Defender's office actually has the single most comprehensive list of services for helping the poor and homeless. (This only serves to enforce the idea that one must go to jail or prison in order to get the help they need.) She explained that the PDO has a 250-page website about services that is just chock full of helpful information. It is ironic, if not appalling, that every shelter and homeless service provider doesn't have such a website or resource book. Several people, myself included, have asked DC Government for years to have such a website and/or book at all shelters and service providers. On February 25th, as in times past, I told DC Government to develop a resource notebook like the one at Miriam's Kitchen. They've yet to do it, even though it wouldn't require much effort to download the info from the PDO website. They wouldn't even need caseworkers to help people find information in the resource book. Shelter residents could look up the broad array of services themselves.

All of this begs the question: "Does DC Government really want to help the homeless or are they just pimping the homeless???" Let's create One Stop employment centers within all homeless shelters. Let's make all shelters 24-hour shelters. Let's create resource books and/or websites to connect people to services that are in place to help them. Let's do what really WILL end homelessness.

CORRECTION: Contrary to something that I wrote in a previous post, the Coalition for the Homeless actually DOES answer directly to TCP and not to DC Government.

A Quick Aside: During the ICH meeting that I referred to in this blog post, I made the point that I might seem to be mean at times; but, I appreciate what people do to try to end homelessness. I emphasized that my meanness is for the purpose of "making people do their jobs". I'm one of several people who use such techniques. Well, my personal opinion is that the pressure techniques are working. I should hope that those who are helping to apply pressure to our local government would keep up the good work. We'll soon have a local government which comprehensively helps its poorest citizens.


Anonymous said…
Hey Eric,

How are you? I don't know if you remember me, but I meet you in DC in December, when some friends and I attend the church in the park.You actually serenaded the ladies in our group with songs, which I thought was pretty cool.

While we chatted, you told me of a problem in Florida where illegal immigrants were hired under the table. They wold then be sold drugs by their bosses. Come pay day, they would owe their bosses so much money that they would never see a pay check, leading into a vicious cycle of slavery.

Do you remember what day that blog is posted under? I would really like to read it.

Thanks a million and keep safe.
Eric Sheptock said…
I'm sorry to take so long to notice your comment. I'm guessing your name is Grenetta, though I meet many groups in the park. (I'm probably way off.) I'm always glad to serenade the ladies.

I didn't actually do a blog post about the farming contractors and their mistreatment of the poor. Maybe I should. I have at least a couple of topics lined up already. If you don't see it soon, send me another comment in my most recent blog post.

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