Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Cause Of The Homeless Is Moving Forward

Much has been happening lately to move the cause of the homeless forward. This, of course, is why I haven't been blogging as often as I'd like to. I'm glad to say that progress is being made and that the cries of the impoverished and homeless have reached even as far as the UNITED NATIONS.

On October 7th, the case of SHEPTOCK, et al v. FENTY, et al was back in federal court for a status hearing. This is the case that was begun as a result of Mayor Fenty closing the Franklin School Shelter on September 26th, 2008. Many people are surprised that the case has lasted this long and not been thrown out of court. We are due to return to court on December 11th. So long as the case remains in court, there is still a chance for justice to be served.

On October 22nd, my fellow homeless advocates "Better Believe Steve", Skip Watkins, Brenda Wilson and others pre-taped 2 shows for STREATS TV. In the first show we spoke to Tommy Wells who is the Ward 6 councilman as well as the chairman for the Committee on Human Services along with Laura Zeilinger who is the deputy director for the Dept. of Human Services. We discussed HPRP (the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program) which is presently being developed.

HPRP is being created with federal funds from the American Recovery and Re-investment Act (ARRA) which is better known as the "Stimulus Package". It is geared toward helping those who need very little assistance from the federal government. Recipients of HPRP funds are only eligible for assistance for a maximum of 18 months. The program is not designed for someone to remain in it in perpetuity. The basic framework of the program is such that it will help the victims of the economic downturn to recover by helping them with back-rent, mortgage defaults and making ends meet as they seek employment or are re-trained due to their old line of work having become obsolete.

In the second show we spoke to Leo Alexander who plans to run for mayor in 2010 and Rev. Anthony Motley who will run for city council at-large. We gave them the rundown on what the homeless community expects from them, how terribly Mayor Fenty has disappointed us and the needs of the homeless (in addition to homes). I let them know,"We'll put you in office and then, if you don't deliver, we'll take you out". Leo Alexander made it a point to tell me that I should keep after the present mayor too and not just wait until he takes office in 2010 (hopefully). If only he knew just how much I presently go after Fenty for his misdeeds!!!!!

On October 25th, my choir put on its first concert at the Church of the Epiphany in Downtown Washington, DC. The Welcome Table Choir was begun in October 2006 and consists largely of homeless people. The Welcome Table Eucharist which begins at 8 AM on Sunday mornings (with the church opening its doors at 6 AM) is designed for the homeless population. (The homeless are also welcome at the 11:00 Eucharist.)

In the latter part of 2006, the clergy at the Church of the Epiphany decided that they needed to bring more life to the service. A former seminarian named Joe Hensley and I stood up in front of the congregation with him on the guitar and began to lead the worship. we invited people to join us and to create a choir. No one joined. Then I spoke with a parishoner (who was not homeless) named Carolyn Bledsoe. She informed me that having a choir for the Welcome Table Eucharist was originally her idea. She quickly took her place as the organizer. Three years later, we have over a dozen committed members, the majority of which are homeless or formerly homeless.

During the concert, various choir members were able to showcase their talent. (Unbeknownst to me at the time, someone videotaped me doing a solo of "His Eye Is On The Sparrow". It can be seen on Youtube.) If the involvement by the audience is any indication, they enjoyed the entire concert immensely.

Of all the projects that I've been involved in, the most exciting one is organizing for the arrival of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing. Some years ago, the United Nations declared housing to be a human right. Now they are moving forward on that declaration by making certain that all member nations are in compliance with it. The rapporteur is presently touring several U.S. cities so as to assess the housing and homeless situations in these cities. Her last stop in this country will be Washington, DC on November 7th and 8th. She will hear about the housing situation (i.e. DC's lack of affordable housing) on the 7th and about homelessness in our nation's capital on the 8th. I'm anxious to hear her assessment of this nation's housing practices, as are many others, I suppose.

As you can see, much is happening in DC to further the cause of the homeless. What will come of our efforts remains to be seen. In the meantime, we'll just keep on keepin' on.

NOTE: Thrive DC which used to serve the homeless out of the basement of the First Trinity Lutheran Church at 309 E street, NW is in the process of relocating. Their last day at the former address was Friday, October 23rd. They will be moving to St. Stephen's of the Incarnation at 1525 Newton Street, NW (near the Columbia Heights Metro Station). Their first day at that location will be Wednesday, November 4th.

Their hours will be as follows:

Morning Program (for men, women and children) from 8:30 to 11:30 AM, M-F
Evening Program (for women and children only) from 3 to 6 PM, M-F

(There will not be any more Sunday dinners for women and children; but there will be Friday dinners. Also note the time change for the evening program. It will no longer run from 3:30 to 7 PM.)

FINALLY, I'm not the "conspiracy theory" type and usually shun such conversation. However, something weird has been happening with my e-mail. a select few contacts of mine have not been getting my e-mails lately. I get theirs; but, they don't get mine anymore. They used to get them regularly. I've advised them to check their BULK and SPAM folders, but to no avail. The ones with whom I'm having this problem are the social justice/activist types. This leaves me to wonder if the federal authorities are onto us and intercepting our messages. I've tried to formulate other more credible theories, but couldn't. I even opened another e-mail account today. I'll soon find out if my messages from that account went through. How can I find out if I'm being censored????? Can anyone help with this matter?????

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Monday, October 19, 2009

DC Homeless Get A Reprieve From The Mayor And Realize Their Power

Reposted for Facebook viewers

I've made the rare move of doing 2 blog posts in 1 day. Please see the REVISED post below this one if you haven't already.

In a previous post I described the tenuous situation created by recent cuts to DC Government's Homeless Services budget. The loss of $12 million almost resulted in the closure of 6 homeless shelters which serve 900 men, 400 women and 600 children.

The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (TCP) is contracted under DC Government to provide homeless services to the District. Catholic Charities is subcontracted under TCP to provide the majority of the homeless services. This enabled Catholic Charities to do a power play on DC Government. So, when they heard that the budgets for all DC homeless shelters would be cut by 30%, Catholic Charities said "All or nothing. If we can't provide a robust array of services that include substance abuse counseling, employment services and life skills training, then we'll shut down our operations altogether."

Within 3 days, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty found $11 million to replenish the Homeless Services budget. As much as Fenty and I don't get along, I must say this much in his defense -- that it was actually the federal government that cut $11 million from its Homeless Services budget for DC and the District had only cut $900,000 in local funding. thus, Fenty was replacing depleted federal funding with local dollars. He is actually not the culprit this time around, though that is not true in a number of other situations.

-- During an October 14th Human Services hearing, DC Councilman Tommy Wells dug into DHS Director Clarence Carter about $13 million that is unaccounted for. I'm left to wonder how much the mayor has to do with that. That's not to speak of the fact that he has closed 2 shelters since taking office and that the Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) program (which the Franklin School Shelter closure was predicated on) has now been defunded. This amounts to a bait and switch. --

In spite of the afforementioned missteps by the Fenty administration, the oness for this latest situation belongs primarily to the feds. I commend Fenty for finding the funding to keep the shelters open, especially since the cold weather has begun to set in. Many of the homeless who I tell this story to respond with,"He had the money all of the time. He just didn't want to help anyone." No matter how you slice it and irrespective of his motives, he came through.

That said, I agree with other homeless people who believe that DC Government was actually scared of what would've happened if the budget cuts hadn't been restored. There was the distinct possibility of people (including small children) freezing to death. In addition to the immediate concern that people might lose their lives, there is the damage that this would have done to the mayor's political career. It's bad enough for adults to die unnecessarily. But people aren't likely to re-elect a mayor who allows hundreds of small children to be put out into the cold -- and, God forbid, die out there.

As if that's not enough, the homeless have discussed the prospect of breaking the law as they would've gone into "Survival Mode". They would've done anything to stay alive. there would've been people breaking into vacant apartments and condos. Then, since there is no power, they'd've been setting fires indoors to stay warm. This would inevitably lead to a spike in arson cases. There would've been riots and people stealing arms full of merchandise and unabashedly walking out of the stores with it, while daring the management to try to stop them. The unrest of scores of people who don't know how they're going to survive for lack of shelter would've been too much for the mayor to contain. We the homeless think that he knew this full well and therefore made the right choice. Congrats, Fenty.

In my conversations with the homeless, we've also discussed how that we shouldn't be assuaged by the fact that the shelters, and thus, people's lives were saved for the winter. After all, DC Government is liable to splurge more than 5-month's worth of Homeless Services funding on the 5 months of hypothermia season. Then they will speak of budget shortfalls and use this as a pretext for closing shelters in the spring, in hopes that the homeless will leave town before the winter of 2010-2011 sets in. We've already begun to prepare mentally for the spring fight. besides, we don't just want indefinite shelter, but rather solutions to homelessness. The successful fight for shelter has only emboldened people to fight for real solutions to homelessness now.

Our victories include much more than the mere retention of shelter for the winter. We've taught DC Government a valuable lesson as well. Councilman Wells who is also the chairman for the Committee on Human Services stated during the October 14th hearing that he now realizes that the baseline (minimum) budget for Homeless Services is $50 million and that we should never try to go below that again. this speaks volumes to what the homeless and their advocates have been saying repeatedly for quite some time now -- that, during hard economic times, we must preserve the social safety net. Let's hope that DC Government remembers this for the ages to come, as institutional memory is known to be quite bad.

In summary, the federal budget cuts led to a proposed cut in homeless services. This led to a power play by catholic charities as they threatened to close much-needed shelters. The mayor and the DC Council were actually afraid of the negative prospects that this presented, including hypothermia deaths and a major backlash from the community as well as a spike in crime. The homeless have learned that they can indeed put the mayor's back against the wall with the threat of unrest -- what's more is that we never even stated a threat; he just had to think about it. Now the funding has been restored, the Councilman has stated a lesson learned and the homeless have been enboldened to fight on. It's a win, win, win situation.

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Women From John L. Young Women's Shelter Standing In The Rain

The following message was copied and pasted from an e-mail that I sent to people in DC Government's Dept. of Human services (DHS), Catholic Charities (which runs the John L. Young Women's shelter), the Washington Post and several lawyers for the homeless. I saw the women standing in the rain on the evening of Friday, October 16th and sent the e-mail the following afternoon.

As of 6 PM on the 17th (only 1 hour early) they were allowed to enter the shelter and get out of the rain. I'm inclined to believe that the women were allowed to enter the shelter and get out of the rain as soon as the right person read the e-mail. It's good to know that I was able to help (no matter how small the favor may have been). Nonetheless, it raises questions about why the shelter management seems to be so ignorant as to allow the women to stand in the rain for hours on end. Shelter is supposed to keep people safe, warm and dry. Standing in the rain for hours awaiting shelter defeats the purpose. See the e-mail below:

"I often go around the corner to the John L. Young Women's Shelter to check on them. I went by there yesterday at 5:30 PM and saw dozens of women standing in a light but continuous rain, the kind we've been having for the past couple of days. It is not unusual for me to see 2 or 3 women out there at any given time, even in bad weather. Some just make irrational choices because of having some degree of mental illness. Certain ones exit the shelter at 7 AM and just sit outside of it until 7 PM when they can go back in. I think that we should really do something for those women.

But the primary reason for me sending this message is that I saw literal dozens of them standing out there in the rain and I realized that it was due to Thrive DC being closed on Friday evening. Thrive DC (the 9:30 Club) feeds men, women and children in the morning, Monday through Friday. But they feed just women and children in the evening, Sunday through Thursday. Circumstances came together in a negative way yesterday, as Thrive DC was closed and it happened to be raining, with the women having no place to wait for the shelter to open. This is conducive to illness, like pneumonia.

Let's bear in mind that Thrive DC is relocating to Columbia Heights and the women won't be able to walk around the corner to a place where they can stay dry and warm on days like yesterday (and today) until the shelter opens. What happened yesterday (and promises to happen again today) will happen much more often when thrive DC ceases operations at its present location, opening 12 days later at St. Stephen's Church (at 16th and Newton, NW). This will lead to a spike in preventable illnesses. Please attend to this matter ASAP."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Homeless and shelterless -- Where Will DC's Homeless Sleep?????

Some time ago, I blogged about the news that DC Mayor Adrian Fenty might be planning to close all DC homeless shelters by 2011. (He leaves office in January of that year.) At the time, many people didn't believe that any mayor -- even Mayor Fenty -- would try something like that. Nonetheless, while I can't pin this one on him entirely, Washington, DC stands to lose over 1,300 shelter beds within a month if the budget crisis is not dealt with immediately. Homeless service providers are scrambling to save the shelters so as to avoid a repeat scenario of the 80's and 90's when many of the homeless were freezing to death in the capital of the wealthiest nation on Earth.

The deaths of homeless people in Franklin Park while a vacant government building sat across the road was the impetus for turning Franklin School into a shelter in 2002. It was abruptly closed by Mayor Fenty on September 26th, 2008. The Franklin School Shelter closure was predicated on the success of the Permanent Supportive Housing (Housing First) program which has not received any new funds for fiscal year 2010 (which actually began on October 1st). This amounts to a bait and switch.

As if that's not enough, the news came out during a human Services hearing in front of Ward 6 councilman Tommy Wells on October 5th that 6 of DC's homeless shelters -- 3 male and 3 female -- might need to shut down if they can't find sufficient funding by November 1st, right at the onset of hypothermia. These shelters provide a warm place to sleep for at least 900 men, 400 women and an unknown number of children as young as 6 months old.

The problem began when the federal government cut $11 million from its homeless services budget for DC and the city cut $900,000 in local funds. In an effort to absorb these cuts and anticipate further cuts, the Dept. of Human Services slashed 30% from the $54 million budget of The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (TCP), the organization that is contracted to provide homeless services for the District. TCP has, in turn, slashed 30% from the budgets of the several shelters which it oversees.

The shelter administration claims that so much has been cut from their budget that they can't provide the necessary amount of staff, security and wrap-around services for their clients. They want to be able to engage their homeless clients in activities that will enable them to exit homelessness, as opposed to just providing shelter. Councilman Wells was correct in asserting that, with the winter weather approaching, bare-bones shelter is more important than wrap-around services like drug rehab, job training and placement, mental health services and life skills classes. When it's cold, keeping people warm and out of the elements is top priority. However, some shelter providers are taking an all-or-nothing stance, at the expense of the homeless. They might just be playing their political cards so as to force the city to return the money that was depleted from the Human Services budget.

At the end of the day, people in need don't want to hear about political games. Neither do they want to hear anyone passing blame. It doesn't matter to them whether the problems that they are experiencing were brought on by Congress, the DC Council or the mayor. When it comes down to where the rubber meets the road, they know whether or not they have what they need. That's it. That's all.

That said, an official count by TCP revealed that DC had 6,228 homeless people in January of this year, up from 6,044 in January of 2008. With some living in their cars, on the streets or couch-surfing in the houses of different family members, about 3,000 of them will seek shelter in a city-run facility this winter. By law, the District must shelter anyone and everyone who seeks shelter when the temperature is 32 or below, including the wind-chill factor. They must also provide respite from the heat when the temperature is 95 and above, including the heat index. DC has no right to shelter if the temperature is between 33 and 94. The requirement for hypothermia shelter can be met by simply allowing the homeless to sleep in the halls of a government building that has heat.

The way things are going, it is safe to assume that the city will try to move away from providing actual shelter. I wouldn't put it past this administration to have the homeless sleep in the halls of City Hall and other government buildings throughout this winter, only to put them outside in the spring with the hopes that they'll just leave town before the winter of 2010-2011.

This speaks to the fact that the nation's capital is becoming less and less friendly to the homeless population. It is cause for action. Some will choose to seek employment, which is becoming more and more like a wild goose chase. Others will choose to stand up and fight for their rights, to be recognized and regarded as people by the powers that be and to demand comprehensive solutions to their problems.

It is to this latter group that I suggest we vie for a mayoral recall. People should commit to getting 28,000 signatures from those who want Mayor Fenty removed from office. This would force the city to have a recall vote. Then, if the majority of Washingtonians vote him out, he won't be allowed to finish his term. Even though I can't rightly blame the mayor for federal budget cuts, he's done his fair share of damage to the homeless community. Quite recently, he removed $19.2 million from the permanent Supportive Housing fund so as to put it toward what he thought were "more pressing matters". he then went to Congress to request that they replenish the fund with federal dollars. They refused. He has also closed 2 shelters -- Franklin School Men's Shelter and the DC Village Family Shelter. He is quite unpopular with the poor in general and the homeless in particular. And we outnumber the rich.

I also have a suggestion for the homeless men and women of conscience who live anywhere outside of Washington, DC. As many as are able should make their way to Washington, DC so as to make their voices heard and to overload the system. Since the local government must provide shelter during hypothermia, anyone who is aware of their rights is not in any danger. While I'd be amused to see how it would all play out, it would also help to put the homeless issue in the national spotlight. Come to DC all that will and let's demand solutions!!!!!

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Friday, October 2, 2009

I Was A Victim Of Wage Theft

A hectic schedule has kept me from blogging on a regular basis lately. That is both good and bad. The bad part, of course, is that I'm not updating my "followers" as often as I'd like to. The good part is that it is because the cause of the homeless is moving forward, resulting in me spending much of my time in meetings. Therefore, I've decided to post an e-mail that I sent to DC Gov's Dept. of Employment Services (DOES) about the wage theft that I became a victim of at the job I recently lost. In about an hour, I'll be heading to a meeting about a show that will be taped on October 22nd. That show will air on DCTV and will be a panel discussion about the state of homelessness in the District. It will feature DC Government employees and homeless homeless advocates. In the meantime, here's the e-mail.....

A BETTER Desription of My Wage Theft Case

Below is a description of a situation in which I, Eric Jonathan Sheptock, was a victim of wage theft. I sent a less descriptive explanation of the matter to Joe Walsh, the director of DC's Dept. of Employment Services (DOES), on September 29th, being that I was pressed for time. This will (hopefully) be my final draft. I plan to follow-up with a call very soon.....

I was interviewed by Yvette James, the executive director of Housewarming Janitorial Services, LLC on April 7th, 2009. She and I can be seen speaking in a video which is posted on my blog at www.ericsheptock.com . (Scroll down to the April 7th, 2009 video.) Though she has issued paperwork which says that I began working for her on April 8th, my first day of work was actually April 21st. I was scheduled to work 4 hours per day from 6 to 10 PM, Monday through Friday with the exception of holidays. I missed 4 other days of work as a result of a death, a personal issue, having been laid off for one day and a UPO business meeting during which the area of the building where I worked was shut down. My final day of work was September 4th. I returned on the 8th, only to find out that Darryl and I had been terminated for having a non-violent argument on September 3rd.

I was paid $7.00 per hour for my entire time there. At one time I thought that it was due to taxes being taken out at a fixed rate, though I've never been given any paperwork to that effect. I then received word of mouth that Yvette doesn't take out taxes and that her business might not be entirely legitimate. I would find out after my termination that the minimum wage in DC is now 8.25 and that it was 7.55 at the time of my hiring. (See the link below.) Hopefully the information provided in these 2 paragraphs will enable you to figure out how much I was paid and how much I should've been paid, so as to recover what I lost as a matter of wage theft.

I was always paid in cash and received carbon copies of pay receipts (which don't remain legible for very long). In one instance I received a counterfeit $100 bill, which might have actually been the bank's fault.

As of today, September, 30th, I have not received my week-in-the-hole pay of $140.00 (which would actually be $165.00 if I were paid minimum wage). It is partly my fault, in that I haven't had a lot of time to return to the job to get my last check and then had problems with my cell phone. I plan to try to re-contact Yvette and the man who sometimes supervises the sight for her named Ed Paine.

The pay was unfair for another reason. There were no time clocks for punching in. Due to the demands of the job, we had to finish, even if it meant doing more than 4 hours. I often went 15 to 30 minutes over the 4-hour mark, in order to make certain that nothing was left undone. Until the last week of my employment, it was rare to have an on-site supervisor and there is no record of the times that I worked more than 4 hours. Ed Paine would usually come in late in the shift and not stay for long except when he was filling in for a former employee. During my last week of employment, Yvette's mother began to supervise the site.

There have also been issues with my uniforms. I received uniforms about mid-June. They were washed by the uniform company on a weekly basis. For about the first month, I was charged $5 per week to have them washed. Then, without explanation, the price was raised to $10 per week. I've recently learned that this is against the law. I returned the last of my uniforms on Friday, September 18th, but still haven't received my last check for the week in the hole. I have been paid for the week ending September 4th though (at $7 per hour). A dispute over whether or not I returned all of my uniforms is part of why I haven't been paid my week in the hole yet.

The uniform issue is as follows:

----- The uniforms are provided and washed by Cintas Uniforms. They are left in a common area of the building that is used by all employees and is also accessible to non-employees. Neither Yvette nor Ed went through the uniforms with me to see how many I was issued when they arrived in mid-June. About a week prior to my dismissal I overheard Yvette saying that we all had received 11 uniforms and thought that it might present a problem if I ever left that job, not knowing at that time just how close I was to leaving. I had actually had not received 11 uniforms. Besides, I don't know what went on from the time that Cintas dropped them off until the time that I first saw them.

We had to bring our dirty uniforms in every Monday evening so that they could be picked up by Cintas every Tuesday morning. They were left in this common area where I couldn't account for what happened to them. Yvette handed down a rule that we not leave more than 2 clean uniforms at a time on the job. Ed is now saying that it is because I sometimes left more than 2 clean uniforms that 2 pairs of my pants came up missing. That argument doesn't hold water; because, I still had to bring in as many dirty uniforms as i had every Monday whether it be 3 or 5. Uniforms were cleaned in rotation. About half would be picked up by Cintas and the other half dropped off each Tuesday. Anything can happen during the rotation. I spoke to Ed by phone on the evening of September 29th and he said that he is still awaiting an official count from Cintas on what I owe for lost uniforms and that he will contact me as soon as he knows. I will receive the difference between that and my week-in-the-hole pay, as he doesn't want the company to lose any money or to have to pay for my uniforms. -----

Housewarming, LLC is working under contract for the Developing Families Center at 801 17th Street, NE. The building is locate across from the Hechinger Mall Safeway on the other side of 17th Street at 17th and I (eye) and just one block north of Benning Road. The director of DFC is a woman named Dr. Randolph.

I spoke to Dr. Randolph on September 29th so as to inform her that she is in contract with a company whose business might not be entirely legitimate. She understands that this will affect the legality of their contract. I trust that she will take the appropriate actions.

Yvette James -- (202) 683-5020
Ed Paine -- (202) 367-1912

Here is a breakdown of what I believe I'm owed:

$400.00 -- approx. $1.00 per hour for approx. 400 hours
plus
$165.00 -- 20 hours for my week in the hole at the correct rate of $8.25 per hour
plus
$82.50 -- approx. 10 hours of pay forthe uncalculated times that I worked beyond 4 hours per night. (This is probably a gross underestimate.)

TOTAL: $647.50

DOES is more than welcome to add to the damages that I am permitted to collect.

Click the link below and then click "CONTINUE" to see a copy of.....

DC Labor Laws: http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.does.dc.gov%2Fdoes%2Fframes.asp%3Fdoc%3D%2Fdoes%2Flib%2Fdoes%2Fframes%2Fwage_hour_web.pdf&h=5323137ea6e07f1764469b8c23fd0a93


Eric Jonathan Sheptock "The Blogger"
www.ericsheptock.com (blog)
http://dchomelessness.blogspot.com/ (Jan's Blog)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_j6IBdHW_rY Song: "Tell Me Why" (a must-see)
also on FACEBOOK and TWITTER
425 2nd St., NW
Washington, DC 20001-2003
(240) 305-5255
"Homes Not Handcuffs" : http://nationalhomeless.org/publications/crimreport/crimreport_2009.pdf
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyqp2f6VPos&feature=related (Mr. Wendal -- by Arrested Development)

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