NO PLACE TO GO

While I haven't yet had time to do the blog post about the planned closure of the CCNV Shelter as I promised, I wrote the following article for the STREET SENSE newspaper and decided to post it on my blog as well. Besides, more info about the closure is still forthcoming. I will write about it soon. In the meantime, I hope you find the following to be both interesting and informative.....

Sometimes it seems that the homeless have no place to go. First of all, they have no home to go to. Then, they are often chased away from storefronts or told not to sleep in certain parks. Even shelters are not immune to being made to move on. The Central Union Mission was NIMBY'ed (Not In My Back Yard) out of its very own Petworth property and won't be relocating to the Gales School as previously planned either. Now the homeless shelter itself might become homeless after 125 years in existence.

The Fenty administration is still reeling from the closure of the Franklin School Shelter and the backlash that it has caused. They are still being dragged through the courts in the case of SHEPTOCK, et al v. FENTY, et al, which is now in federal court. Franklin was one of about 5 shelters that DC Government has shut down in as many years. Rumors have been circulated for years saying that the CCNV Shelter is on the chopping block. With Adrian Fenty in office, those rumors are proving to be true. Let's not forget that, while the Williams administration tried to close Franklin and failed, Mayor Fenty pulled it off. This is all the more reason to believe that Fenty will follow through on his desire to close CCNV (and as many shelters as possible) before leaving office. He is also responsible for the closure of the DC Village Family shelter.

While Congress has lauded the mayor's efforts to move from shelters to Permanent Supportive Housing, they seem to be uninformed pertaining to the present shortage of shelter space, the lack of affordable housing, the shortcomings of the program which they praise or the fact that it has already been scaled back considerably. In the July 14th Examiner article which addressed the money which DC would receive from the Appropriations Committee, the Senate also pointed out that DC Government had redirected some of its social services funds to address "more pressing matters". For this reason, the Senate was unwilling to replenish DC's social services budget.

With the shelter closures and the decreased funding for social services, the remaining shelters are full to capacity and operating under sub-standard conditions. The Homelessness Emergency Response Workgroup, a coalition of homeless service providers, advocates and homeless people, has been formed to address the shortage of shelter space. They succeeded at arranging a hearing in front of Councilman Tommy Wells on July 17th (which hadn't happened yet when this article was written). Shelter capacity must be addressed now, as it is bound to increase during the hypothermia season. Otherwise, the homeless people will have no place to go, come winter.

As if all of this isn't enough, the homeless are now being told not to hang out in front of the CCNV shelter, even after they might've just gotten off from work. Following the death of a homeless woman on a bench in front of CCNV, the Dept. of Human Services reminded the shelter administration that the service contract stated that people would not be allowed to loiter in front of the building. They threatened to end the contract if this term were not adhered to. This is a prime example of backwards logic. In order to make sure that no more homeless people die on a bench outside of a shelter, the benches have been removed and the homeless forbidden to congregate in front of the shelter, rather than providing sufficient shelter or housing. Some of the homeless feel that the space in front of the shelter is essentially their front porch while they're staying in the shelter and that they should be allowed to congregate there. (Not many pedestrians use that particular stretch of sidewalk anyway, since the SW corner of the block faces a non-pedestrian tunnel.)

Three benches were installed in front of CCNV in early April. The contractor who had done some work inside of the building thought that he would put them there for the CCNV employees to take their breaks on. However, it was not the employees but the clients who actually used them. The contractor had also planned to plant bushes near the benches. The shelter administration was concerned that the benches would be used to drink or use drugs and that the bushes (which were never actually planted) would have served as a place to hide drugs and paraphanilia. The benches were removed on July 9th, 2 days after I photoed them with the CAUTION tape across them to prevent people from sitting on them.

There are now volunteer security personnel keeping the sidewalk in front of the shelter clear. The homeless then began congregating on the wall in front of the U.S. Dept. of Labor, which is in the next block. One would think they might be given jobs by DOL. On the contrary, they have been chased away by DOL security.

While I was allowed to use the bathroom at CCNV even prior to staying there, a couple of homeless non-residents recently told me that they were not allowed to use the bathroom. Once again, the homeless have no place to go -- in this case, to use the bathroom. That explains the messes in many of the alleys.

It is believed by many that most or all of the homeless are substance abusers. (The truth is that about one fourth of the homeless use crack.) An additional 15% drink, which is legal. People often use this substance abuse as a reason not to want a homeless shelter near them. Fact of the matter is that moving the homeless from one location to another doesn't address their substance abuse. If anything, it will just worsen the problem by giving them something else to despair over. That's not to speak of the fact that many who are not homeless use drugs but don't get caught; because, they do it in the privacy of their own homes. It stands to reason that the "open container" charge for drinking alcohol in public (while not driving) is targeted at the homeless, due to them having no place to go and drink both legally and economically. (Drinks cost 5 times as much at bars.)

Some of the homeless who have no place to go might be solving their problem by squatting in the now vacant Franklin School Shelter building. The fire alarm has gone off at least twice since the shelter was closed abruptly by Mayor Fenty on September 26th of last year, in an effort to appease the business community. A homeless man told me that he has witnessed others entering and exiting the building in recent days. This would explain why the fire alarm keeps going off. The fire dept. actually had to break into the building on July 5th in order to shut off the alarm, badly damaging one of the doors on this 140 year-old historic landmark.

I guess Franklin is the gift that just keeps on giving and the school that just keeps on teaching insomuch as It is still giving shelter to the homeless and teaching us that desperate situations call for desperate measures. The homeless are possibly squatting in the building because they have no place to go.Let's hope that the police understand and don't house the homeless in jail. Fat chance.

All of this speaks volumes to the fact that the public is terribly uninformed or misinformed as to how best to deal with the homeless issue. It is high time that they learned that shutting down a shelter doesn't remove the homeless from sight. It makes them more visible. Those who were inside of the building will now be outside and in plain view. Furthermore, doing the homeless shuffle -- moving the homeless from one part of town to another -- doesn't change their behavior or make them feel like they belong. It surely doesn't help to make them into productive citizens. Besides that, those who choose to NIMBY the homeless should bear in mind that the homeless who they are tying to get out of the neighborhood might have gotten there in the first place because they were NIMBY'ed out of yet another neighborhood. Why push your undesirables off on another neighborhood?

If that logic still doesn't work for you, then maybe the GOLDEN RULE will. "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you". Few, if any, people would want to be pushed around because they are underprivileged. Even those who have no sympathy for the homeless shouldn't push off on another neighborhood those whom they wouldn't want near their own home. In any case, shuffling the homeless around town doesn't move them forward. It only serves to set them back.

As it turns out, wisdom sometimes comes in the guise of simplicity. That said, the first thing that a homeless person needs in order to rise above homelessness is a stable residence, be it a shelter or housing.

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