The Exit Strategy Is Endorsed By DC's Congresswoman, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton

The Exit Strategy

The saga that began with a homeless man photographing Michelle Obama with his camera phone and led to homeless advocates at STREATS working with the U.S. Dept. of Labor and DC Government's Dept. of Human Services to create a job-training program for DC's homeless community continues. In May STREATS and DHS filed paperwork with DOL in order to get funding for the "Exit Strategy". a program that would train the higher-functioning homeless people to do jobs that pay a living wage so that they wouldn't need to depend on the government for anything -- not food stamps, rental assistance or any other government assistance. However, the paperwork was filed too close to the end of DOL's budgetary funding cycle, which means that now we must wait until the next fiscal year to be funded by DOL.

STREATS recently met with Clarence Carter, the director of DC's Services, to discuss the development of this program and other funding options including the distinct possibility of funding from DHS. However, one of the basic rules of funding is that a program must be designed according to the preferences of those providing the funding. On the one hand, if the Exit Strategy were funded by the federal government, STREATS would have to do what is known in the homeless advocacy community as "creaming" -- helping those who are easiest to help, who have the least issues and who are most likely to succeed. This would mean that the program wouldn't help anyone with mental illness, physical impairments or chemical dependency. On the other hand, if the Exit Strategy were funded by DHS, we would have to do some "silting" -- helping those who are hardest to help i.e. those who have the aforementioned problems of mental illness, physical impairments and chemical dependency.

Under the leadership of Director Carter DHS has done much silting. They've had a policy of focusing on the "most vulnerable" homeless so as to get them in housing and connect them to much-needed services -- not jobs. This ambitious goal is admirable and serves an important purpose. Nonetheless, DC's homeless shelters are chock full of able-bodied, able-minded people who just need a little help getting back on their feet. These people complain to me often about being ignored by the system. When asked about the prospects of DHS shifting its focus from the most vulnerable to the least vulnerable homeless, Mr. Carter was adamant about continuing to deliver the same level of service to those who are most vulnerable.

Mr. Carter said that he would definitely not fund a program that only accepted homeless people who had no other issues but might fund a program that accepts any homeless person who wants to work. That said, we are now making plans to incorporate the Exit Strategy at DC's Emery "Work" Shelter where the primary requirement for entry is that a person is working a steady job. As it turns out, many residents have been at Emery for a considerable amount of time; because, their jobs don't pay a living wage and often pay minimum wage, thus making it impossible for them to exit homelessness. If (and when) all goes well, the Exit Strategy will retrain some residents to do higher-paying jobs and help others to find higher-paying jobs in their present field of work.

On August 19th, some members of STREATS met with Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington, DC's congresswoman, to gain her support for the program. It was a sure sell insomuch as Ms. Norton heads the Commission On Black Men And Boys -- a program which deals with the challenges faced by this particular group. On August 10th, she hosted a panel discussion at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library which addressed the challenges being faced by Black men as they seek employment in today's job market.During our 15-minute meeting, she agreed that there is much overlap in what her commission and STREATS are doing in that a disproportionate number of homeless people are Black men. She expressed her support for our effort and has offered to send a letter of support to people in DC Government and the U.S. Dept. of Labor.

So, the Exit Strategy has gained the support of the U.S. Dept. of Labor, DC Dept. of Human Services, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and, most importantly, the homeless community. However, that won't prevent it from falling prey to the ravages of the present economy. With so many people being laid off, we're left to wonder who, if anyone, is hiring these days. That's not to speak of the fact that an employer promising to hire someone who is in job-training is almost unheard of in Washington, DC. As it stands, the Exit Strategy -- a program being developed for the most part by homeless and formerly homeless people -- is a few months and one funding cycle away from becoming a reality.


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