Monday, September 21, 2009

I'm Unemployed Again.....Or Maybe Not

As you scroll through the videos in my blog, you'll come to the April 7th video of me conversing with my now former boss, Yvette. I began working for her on April 21st of this year. A friend actually stumbled upon the job and told me about it. The same friend had given me a cell phone with 200 minutes a week or so earlier and told me that he couldn't keep buying me minutes. I would have to find a way to pay for the minutes myself. He was surprised when I accepted the job, with me having not held a steady job in the 11 months that he had known me at that time. He'd given me the phone so that I could step up my homeless advocacy by being easier to contact and had now found a way for me to keep up the payments.

I would end up working for Yvette's cleaning service -- Housewarming, LLC -- for four and a half months. Housewarming, LLC which was contracted to clean the Developing Families Center in NE Washington, DC. Though I only made $7/hour and worked 20 hours/week, it paid for the phone and a few other modest expenses like public transportation. Other people and I have become accustomed to me being easier to reach now. I don't know if I'll be able to adjust to not having a phone again, if that should ever be the case.

I was known to work hard. Some might even argue that I gave Yvette more than her money's worth. Being that the company doesn't use time cards, most employees were assumed to have worked 4 hours per night. In actuality, we often went slightly over the four-hour mark; because, no part of the job could be left undone. Other employees and I have done work that we didn't get paid for. One might ask "why?" Well, in most cases, it only amounted to about 15 minutes per night or $1.75. In addition to that, the job fell into a time slot that worked perfectly for me -- 6 to 10 PM, M-F. I guess you can say that I was brown-nosing because of the fact that the job was a perfect fit. It allowed me to do my homeless advocacy during the day and earn enough money to support my efforts in the evening.

However, there was a particular employee named Darryl whom I just couldn't stand. He was the type to always have a chip on his shoulder. No matter what a person might ask of him, he had an attitude. Well, after four and a half months, he and I finally had some words when I confronted him about his attitude and we both got fired. Others at DFC thought that the firings were beyond reason and that we should've received write-ups at most. Se la vie. I'd actually only asked him for the keys, being that I was coming into work and he was preparing to leave in 30 minutes. He got an attitude about it and I decided not to let him get away with his ways anymore. I never get along with his type. That's my undoing. If people push me long enough, I give them what they're looking for.

Our argument took place on Thursday, September 3rd. I worked on September 4th and returned on Tuesday the 8th only to find out that Friday had been my last day. I was fired on my day off. I turned in my uniforms on the 18th and have yet to get my week-in-the-hole payment.

This, of course, raises questions about what I plan to do now and if I'll ever come to accept the type of behavior that Darryl exhibited if and when I find another job. well, I will take some time off and enjoy the money that I was smart enough to save. I'll probably look for work beginning in October. I'll re-contact people about jobs that were offered to me when I was still working. I'll catch up on some of my homeless advocacy -- especially my backlog of e-mails. I've already begun to revisit people that I haven't seen in months and to re-involve myself in certain social justice issues where the groups generally meet in the evening. As for putting up with bad behavior, I'm not sure that I'll ever develop a knack for doing that.

As a point of interest, I have reason to believe that the job might not have been entirely legit. I always got paid in cash. (One time I was paid with a counterfeit $100 bill, which Yvette blamed on the Bank of America. BoA is no angel either.) I was always given carbon copies of the pay slip. I was charged $10/wk to have my uniforms washed by the uniform company. No taxes were taken out. (I probably would've been tax-empt anyway.) I'm not sure that I was ever reported to the IRS as having been her employee. In my spare time, I might look into these matters and consider litigation. Ironically, the person who found this job for me works for the Dept. of Employment Services, which is part of DC Government.

I'd be remiss if I didn't address the issue of the employability of homeless people as a whole. Fact of the matter is that homeless people develop a mentality of their own. The same can be said about cops, politicians, lawyers, gays, immigrants and many other groups. However, one of the most common elements of the homeless mentality is their unwillingness to take any mess. Having learned to live with little or nothing, the homeless are often not afraid of losing a job. This enables them to tell the boss to "take this job and shove it up.....sideways!!!!!" In this matter, I'm no exception to the rule. I actually consider myself to have good conflict-resolution skills; but, Darryl was not one for much conversation. That rendered my conflict-resolution skills useless.

It may turn out that homeless advocacy and other forms of social justice are the only things that I'm suited for, since they involve getting upset with the powers that be about various injustices that are being perpetrated against the poor and the voiceless. This is a use of anger that few would disagree with. It makes sense for me to choose a profession that makes use of my natural abilities and getting angry at wrong-doing comes naturally to me. It is with this truth in mind that I say,"I'm unemployed again.....OR MAYBE NOT!!!!!"

Finally, I'd like to remind people that DC Mayor Adrian Fenty was a no-show at a community meeting that was held at the Developing Families Center on September 4th, though he'd promised to attend. He had several reasons for not wanting to be there. The Trinidad community where it is located was put on lock-down by the police twice last year, about which people are still upset. The poor of DC generally hate this bourgeois, capitalist mayor anyway. And he knew that I was working there, since he gets my e-mails in four of his accounts. Maybe now that I no longer work there, he'll go to the next community meeting. If he does, that'll give me something to laugh about insomuch as it will make it look as though he was avoiding me.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

DC's Homeless Not Welcome In Downtown

The Unwelcome Homeless

In November of 2008 a Washington City Paper article indicated that the homeless are not welcome in the libraries of our nation's capital. An August 2009 New York times article addressed the criminalization of poverty nationally. Then, a September 2009 Washington Examiner article mentioned that the homeless are not welcome in the parks of Downtown Washington, DC. It's no military secret -- the homeless are America's most unwanted. What's most disturbing about this news is that our public officials are often the ones leading the charge against the homeless.

Most homeless advocates wouldn't take offense to any reasonable request, such as wanting a homeless person to be presentable and well-mannered; but the mentally ill are one of the most underserved populations in the city, often leading to some very public psychotic episodes. And many of the homeless wouldn't loiter around businesses and other public places if they had somewhere to go. But, as this most recent article pointed out, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty closed the Franklin School Shelter on September 26th, 2008 and is now shutting down the Permanent Supportive Housing Program (Housing First). Insomuch as the Franklin closure was predicated on the creation of Housing First, this amounts to a bait and switch and to dirty politics at their worst -- leaving the homeless with nowhere to go. As a matter of fact, the two parks that were pictured in the article were Franklin Park (which is right across the road from the now defunct shelter) and McPherson Park (which is one block from Franklin Park). Both business owners and tourists alike are bothered by the existence of homeless people in these locations -- the former because it "interferes" with business and the latter because they expect the poor to be treated better in the capital of the wealthiest nation in the world.

It is not just the business community around Franklin Square that wants the homeless gone. Several homeless people were put out of the food court at the One Judiciary Square government office building on September 9th, 2009 -- some having just made purchases. I just happened to be exiting the subway system nearby as they spoke to security and the cops. The homeless told me stories of abuse and of their rights having been violated. Upon further investigation, I found out that, just days earlier, the mayor had met with entrepreneurs from around Chinatown and Union Station. They asked him to do for them what he had done for the businesses of Franklin Square, by getting rid of the homeless. The mayor then gave police the order to clear the homeless out from Gallery Place/Chinatown to Union Station and the surrounding vicinity, which accounts for the incident at the food court. Oddly enough, one week later the Examiner article pointed out that the homeless are still present in Franklin Square. The mayor hadn't done what they gave him credit for doing after all.

It is not just the homeless who have fallen victim to the anti-poverty policies of the mayor. In July of this year, Mayor Fenty threatened to cut off the benefits of women receiving TANF (Temporary Assistance For Needy Families) if the mothers receiving $428/month through this program fail to seek employment. He is also slashing programs that enable those women to receive daycare for their children. Without daycare, the mothers of young children can't go to work and are left to wonder when those in government will make the connection.

Taken together, these accounts show that there is a disconnect between related government policies -- wanting mothers to work, but failing to offer them daycare for their young children, shutting down shelters and housing programs alike, having the police to enforce no-loitering policies without connecting the homeless to services that effectively address their problem. I'm left to wonder how much of this is intentional and how much is due to sheer ignorance, though neither is excusable.

Tensions continue to build between the business owners who have the mayor as their champion and the poor of DC. It is only a matter of time before things boil over into a major incident. The poor from across the city are spewing words of anger and hatred at the mayor. Protests against the Fenty administration's policies are being organized. The homeless are seriously discussing the possibility of open conflict with the police. As economic conditions continue to worsen (in spite of Bernanke's optimism), we're left to wonder just when people will reach their threshhold and unleash their wrath. As for my part, I've instructed the homeless to come out in mass whenever the police bother any one of us or violate our rights. For the moment, all we plan to do is to stand together in large numbers and hope that's enough to send a strong message that we are tired of being pushed around. Time will tell.

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Friday, September 11, 2009


I hereby give my express permission for the following to be published on any and all printed and on-line publications including but not limited to newspapers, websites, blogs and forwarded e-mails. Please distribute widely, as the following is a true and accurate account of DC Mayor Adrian Fenty's actions against the homeless.....

(This is intended to become a STREET SENSE article, though I suppose it will not appear in the 9/16 issue but will be in the 9/30 issue.)


In a recent STREET SENSE article I pointed out that the homeless often have "no place to go". This article can be seen as an addendum to that.

I came out of the subway system at Judiciary Square just before noon on Wednesday, September 9th, having used the 4th Street exit. As I walked from the escalator toward 4th street, I saw several homeless people speaking to a HAWK ONE security guard who was doing a glorified disclaimer by telling people that he only carries out the orders that are handed down to him. As I listened, I was able to ascertain that the homeless people had been told that they had to leave the large restaurant on the first floor of the One Judiciary Square government office building. As the conversation continued, several PROTECTIVE SERVICES cops walked up -- just one at first and then 3 more several minutes later.

The several homeless people that were involved in the discussion often eat at Thrive DC which is right across the road. From what I was able to gather, they entered the restaurant -- some of them having baggage with them -- and sat down. Some bought food and/or drink and others didn't. They were told that if they weren't buying that they'd have to go. They were made to go out into the bad weather, with it drizzling off and on that day until about 2 PM. One of the homeless was a pregnant woman. There are claims that the cops were overly aggressive as they told people to leave. An officer had supposedly threatened to body slam the pregnant woman as he made them leave the porch earlier that morning as the restaurant prepared to open. During this latter incident, only those who looked homeless were being made to leave. Though the security officer claimed that only those who hadn't purchased anything were being made to leave, the homeless claimed that even those who had made purchases were being put out and that one man had been prevented from purchasing and was made to leave. The homeless who were offended during this incident, claim that there were others -- some homeless -- who didn't look the part and weren't made to leave, though they hadn't purchased anything.

During the conversation, the HAWK ONE officer said that the rule is that, when you buy something, you have 15 to 20 minutes to sit down and eat it and then must leave. In response I asked him,"Do you enforce that 15 to 20 minute rule with everyone or just the homeless? Do you tell everyone that they must leave after they're through eating or just the homeless?" He responded by talking about the many bags that some people bring in. This sounds like a move directed at just the homeless. They were put out of the restaurant irrespective of whether or not they had purchased there.

I also want to point out that, as the officer whom I was told is named OFFICER GREEN arrived, he was not in a talking mood. He just walked up as others of us were having a somewhat productive and respectful conversation with the other cops and said with an assertive attitude,"Have a nice day". As I tried to explain that I had not been part of the situation in the restaurant and that I am a homeless advocate, he repeated himself so as to make it clear that he was in no mood for conversation. He was impossible to reason with.

All of this goes to show that the homeless are being dehumanized by society and relegated to the level of second-rate citizens. However, I would find out on the following day that this incident was the result of an executive order that had been handed down by the mayor.

Mayor Fenty failed to show up at a community meeting which was held by residents of the poor Trinidad neighborhood on Friday, September 4th. However, he was able to attend another community meeting at the First District police station which was attended by well-to-do members of the business community. During this latter meeting, business owners complained to the mayor about the presence of homeless people in and around their businesses. They told the mayor that he was able to decrease the presence of homeless people near the businesses in Franklin Square by closing Franklin School Shelter and asked if he could do something similar for this group of entrepreneurs. Mayor Fenty responded by giving police the order to clean the homeless out from the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro station eastward to Union Station and southward toward Capitol Hill. The security officer had only been following orders after all.

During that meeting, Mayor Fenty also said that he wants to send any homeless person who is not from Washington, DC back to where they came from. This is reminiscent of moves made by New York mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. This begs the question: If a thousand homeless Washingtonians are made to return to their birthplace in New York and the same number of homeless New Yorkers are made to return to their birthplace in DC, what has the city gained? At some point we must stop doing the homeless shuffle and just solve the problem.

What's noteworthy in all of this is the sheer ignorance of the police and others when it comes to the plight of the homeless. (That's not to speak of the apathy or the I'm-just-doing-my-job mentality.) I'm sure that many officers don't know that the homeless people whom they wake and tell to move on couldn't get into a shelter due to there being a shortage and might not have slept for a day or more because they couldn't find an adequate place to sleep. Ironically, sleep deprivation is seen as a form of torture when U.S. soldiers inflict it on Middle-Eastern enemy combatants but not when cops and security guards inflict it on American homeless people. The difference is that, while the soldiers are deliberately forcing their prisoners to stay awake, the homeless are often being kept awake through a combination of disassociated circumstances which include the police enforcing no-loitering ordinances and there being no place for the homeless to go in lieu of the shelter shortage.

The homeless are being pushed to the limit, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Some of the problems with which they are faced have been created by a mayor who is becoming more openly antagonistic toward them. Others are the result of a faulty system wherein so many different people have held a particular office and left their footprint that one can't logically blame a single official for the problems being experienced by the underprivileged. The latter concern makes accountability nearly impossible. It is also the reason that the rank and file gets the brunt of people's anger when, in fact, that anger should be directed at the public officials who handed down the inhumane orders.

The homeless are victims of objective circumstances as well as policies that target them and add insult to injury. In Washington, DC the average rent for a one-bedroom is $1,400/month. If your rent shouldn't exceed 30% of your gross income, you'd need to make over $4,500/month or about $28/hour. However, the minimum wage in DC is always $1 more than the federal minimum, which puts it at less than $10/hour. Some of the homeless work but still can't afford a place to stay. Add to this the fact that housing programs and shelters are being closed across the city while affordable housing returns to market rate. As if that's not enough, people are losing jobs left and right and becoming homeless, creating the need for more -- not less -- shelter. So, when the homeless are awakened for sleeping in a public place, told to move along or even forced out of town by their mayor it is easy to see why they would get frustrated and feel mistreated. When will we demand the same level of humane treatment for our nation's homeless that we demand for those of other nations?

That said, things seem to building toward a major confrontation between the homeless and city officials, though it wouldn't be completely without precedent. Given the option of not sleeping or sleeping in a jail cell, some would choose the latter. Faced with the dilemma of having no food or jail food, the choice is an obvious one. When made to choose between being made to move along throughout the course of the day or sit in a jail cell, some would rather sit. All in all, going to jail is beginning to look like a move upward and something to be aspired to. This is presumably another result of ignorance on the part of our public officials. It is also a recipe for open conflict -- much like the open conflict between the homeless operating under the leadership of Mitch Snyder and the Reagan administration. The primary difference is that this time around the antagonist has a different name -- Adrian Fenty.

NOTE: Within the next few days I will blog about why I no longer have the job which you hear me speaking about in my latest video.

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Almost Unemployed -- Still Working So I Can Still Help Others

I recently had a situation that almost left me unemployed. Fortunately, my job was saved. I'm still not completely out of the woods though. But for now I'll enjoy my continued employment for what it's worth.

You can scroll down to the April 7th video and see me conversing with my boss, Yvette. As it turns out, she recently had a health issue that required surgery. (I'll afford her some privacy by not disseminating all of the details of her diagnosis/prognosis.) while she was out of commission, she gave her mother authority over her cleaning service. Yvette's mother (who is affectionately known as "Mom" by Yvette's employees and others at the Developing Families Center) was upset about the place having not been cleaned according to her (Mom's) standard, even though she was just assuming authority. She threatened to fire the whole crew. Ed, the supervisor, informed me on the night of Thursday, August 27th that Friday, the 28th would be my last day.

I planned to return to my place of work early on Monday so as to return my uniforms, say "Good-bye" to women in other departments whom I'd developed relationships with and see how everything went down in terms of the cleaning. I thought she might have other employees lined up already, but wanted to be there just in case Mom needed me.

On Monday I was unable to get there early. As a matter of fact, I was 10 minutes late. If I was indeed laid off, that wouldn't matter much, though it would mean that some of those whom I'd come to say "Good-bye" to wouldn't be there. I spoke to Mom who had only 1 new employee there with her as well as an old employee named Darryl. (It's not a very big building. Between 3 and 5 people clean the building on any given night. It's actually big enough to justify having a crew of 6 people on all nights.)
She eventually ended up putting me back to work. She took the time to train people according to her standard of cleanliness and ended up retaining the same crew. this was the wise choice and the one which I was hoping that she would make. Not to toot my own horn, but I guess I made a wise choice by going into work on Monday, even though I'd been told that the previous Friday was my last day. Mom is admittedly harder to please than her daughter, though she's an alright person once she calms down, clears her head of all stress and reasons a matter out. She has given me a ride in after work twice within the past 4 evenings that I've worked for her and even bought lunch for Jamal (the new guy) and myself on one occasion.

My only worry as far as this job is concerned now is getting along with Darryl, who always has a chip on his shoulder. It is for that reason that I say that I'm not out of the woods yet. I'll only let someone push me so far before I push back.

I was almost laid off in May, about a month after I started. I was told to call from day to day to see if Yvette needed me to come in. The very next day she didn't need me. I've worked every day since then. so when this latest threat came along, I said that I wouldn't worry too soon, just make myself available by calling from day to day or just going in. Well, it paid off.

And speaking of pay, I need this job for others as well as myself. As it turns out, I don't get paid for my homeless advocacy. My efforts are funded through my part-time job. I originally got this job so that I could pay for a cell phone and people could reach me more easily and quickly than if I just had e-mail. (My number is 240-305-5255.) That phone has proven to be quite the asset. Since i have Virgin Mobile's Anytime Unlimited Plan for $49.99/month, I can let people use my phone at no additional charge. Countless people have called about job opportunities on my phone. I've called the ambulance for people, including a young man who I found lying on the road in front of my workplace. He'd apparently gotten high on "dippers" (cigarettes dipped in formaldehyde) and then either laid or fell down on the side of the road. I found him lying there semi-conscious and called for an ambulance. (The bike cops got there in 5 minutes and the paramedics got there in 15. There's some food for thought.)

Just this morning I ran across a woman whom I've known for about a month. She's been walking on crutches for about 2 months due to a knee injury. She's homeless, has no income and had an appointment for her knee this morning. What's more is that she's dealing with a slight but noticeable degree of mental illness/stress. All but the last issue were reminiscent of my situation in Early 2006. I was homeless, unemployed and undergoing pre-op procedures for my knee surgery which took place on June 1st of that year. I've hobbled up to 5 miles to appointments, due to not having money for public transportation. As a friend who empathizes with her situation, I decided to pay her way and go with her to the appointment. When i couldn't stay any longer, I offered her $2, which would've been more than enough to get her the 3 miles back to the shelter where she stays. Unfortunately, her mental issues prevailed over her ability to reason and she denied any further assistance from me, though I told her that she didn't need to pay me back. she said that she would rather walk back, which i know from experience is not the wisest choice. But I lived through. She will too I suppose.

I could go on with the anecdotes for what would seem to be an eternity; but I'll end with this one. On the Friday that was supposed to be my last day of work I was walking down the street near a place that feeds the homeless. I saw a woman sitting on a wall and crying. It turned out that she was 5 months pregnant, homeless and had just seen her husband (and I call him that with some reservation) walk off with another woman right after she and the other woman had argued. She was feeling ill and wanted to go to her mom's house. I went to the bank to withdraw $50; because I had less than $10 on my person. I then came back and gave her the $10 that she'd told me she needed. I see her off and on. she's often stressed and unhappy, though I've not found her at the point of tears anymore.

All of these anecdotes beg the question: "Why are the social service agencies in the nation's capital not doing more for these people???" While I don't plan to open that can of worms in this blog post, I will say that it is difficult for me to pass someone up and not help them when I have the means. I guess I'm just the "bleeding heart" type. Nonetheless, we need a few bleeding hearts in DC Government -- people who can get help to the needy without a bunch of bureaucracy and red tape.
There are needy people who can't wait for the government to create another agency that will eventually meet their need. While I can't meet all of the needs of people whom I encounter, I do what I can. A friend told me about a job opportunity. The employer hired me. Now i'm just paying it forward. I hope that other homeless and formerly homeless people will follow suit.

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