Homelessness: A "Gray" Area

Vincent Gray visited the homeless in Franklin Square Park on August 28th, 2010 in an effort to get their votes and has since gotten mine. I voted early in DC's general election, casting my ballot on Thursday, October 21st (a process that took less than 10 minutes due to their not being a line). VOTE!!!!!

In spite of me having voted for Vince Gray already, I am still quite uncertain as to what he'll do for homeless people here in the nation's capital, which begs the question: "Why, then, did I vote for him?????" Well, the short answer is that he's not Adrian Fenty. While that is definitely a good reason in and of itself, it is not wise to vote for someone only because you dislike their opponent. It is good to know what the person whom you voted for will do if elected.

I must say that I also dislike former Democratic candidate Leo Alexander due to his stance on undocumented workers (illegal immigrants). I believe that everyone should have the right to live and work here in the U.S. (with or without documentation).

After I weeded out the 2 Democratic candidates whom I definitely didn't want to vote for, Mr. Gray became my choice by process of elimination. However, as I often tell people, your responsibility doesn't end after you vote. You must stay involved and continue to make demands on your public officials. That said, Gray may ride into the mayor's seat on a wave of discontentment with the incumbent; but, if he fails to deliver, he'll be out on his ear just like Fenty in another 4 years. I, for one, plan to keep the pressure on. I'll visit his office regularly and hope to have dozens of my best friends in tow. Furthermore, if the homeless advocates and others involved in social justice are unhappy with his performance after he's been in office for a year, I personally will spearhead an effort to recall him.

Oddly enough, I've already been disappointed by Vince Gray. I attended his Ward 2 and Ward 8 town hall meetings on October 14th and 21st respectively. In each instance, I raised my hand for more than an hour during the question and answer session, only to have the person with the microphone pass me repeatedly without affording me the opportunity to speak. In both instances I was sitting near the front of the sanctuary and in plain view of the mayor-to-be. And in both instances others told me that they witnessed me being ignored and felt that I'd been wronged.

Furthermore, another homeless advocate named Robert Warren was able to ask about housing for all DC residents during the Ward 2 town hall meeting. Vince Gray maintained that it would be impossible to do, in spite of being the right thing to do. He told of a housing program in Paris and how that, when those in other parts of France heard of it, they began to flock to Paris, eventually overwhelming the program. He also mentioned the fact that DC used to have a right to shelter (1984) which had to be rescinded (1990) because of the financial burden that it put on the city. His statements came on the tail of a recent Washington Post article which highlighted the city's efforts to stop serving homeless people from outside of the District due to budgetary constraints and the economic downturn.

People at the Ward 8 meeting also mentioned concerns that were directly or indirectly related to homelessness. A man mentioned the failure of Community Connections to deliver adequate case management to those who have been placed in Permanent Supportive Housing. Vince Gray promised to consult with Sue Marshall, the director of The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness which oversees homeless services. When asked to commit to the creation of affordable housing, he mentioned that the city has lost over 100,000 units of affordable housing in recent years and stated his commitment (without any hard numbers). An advocate for childcare for working parents asked him to commit to creating funding for childcare during his first 180 days in office to which he gave a flat-out "No", refusing to make a promise he's not sure that he can keep.

Vince Gray has stated his agreement with the Fenty administration's move away from sheltering the homeless and toward permanent housing. On this matter I disagree with him. When deciding between creating shelter or housing, it is not an "either/or" situation. People need both -- shelter immediately after becoming homeless and housing some time later. Eliminating shelter in exchange for housing does more harm than good and amounts to a ploy to push the homeless out of the city. When a person becomes homeless, if they can't find shelter in Washington, DC, they are likely to go elsewhere looking for shelter, in effect becoming another mayor's problem. There have already been instances of DC residents who couldn't find shelter in the city going to stay with family in surrounding counties and then being denied housing or other homeless services in DC for "lack of residence" in the city.

We can only guess what Vincent Gray will do for DC's homeless. But we need to make sure that we don't give him a chance to fail. We need to stay on his ass and make him serve the most vulnerable citizens of his city. Let's not wonder and worry. Let's take action and make him deliver!!!!!


Eric Sheptock said…
Whoever posted an anonymous comment on November 6th, 2010 posted it at my July 2nd, 2009 blog post. You might want to go there to see my response. The comment had to do with looking for a homeless loved one who suffers from dementia.

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