Friday, November 26, 2010

TOUGH CHOICES

NOTE: I encourage you to scroll down to the previous post about holiday giving, as I'm sure that you want your gifts to the homeless to be put to the best use possible. (It can also be seen on NPR's "Two-way" blog -- www.npr.org)


The homeless often have to make some very tough choices. If a job would require someone to work until 5:30 PM and shelter check-in is at 4 or 5, that person has to choose between working and having a bed to sleep in that night. If the person is broke and all feeding programs open at 7 AM or later, they may have to choose between working and eating or may have to work hungry for a day until they get paid by the day-labor office.

That's not to speak of the many people become homeless through medical bankrupcy. They may have had some chronic illness which required that they choose between paying the doctor bills or paying the rent. Oddly enough, DC homeless get free healthcare AFTER becoming homeless.

The tough choices don't end there. DC homeless recently had to choose between a mayor who broke his campaign promises after winning the support of the homeless in 2006 and a candidate (mayor-elect now) who won't make any promises to them. We've gone from the devil we know to the devil we don't know (all that well anyway) and are hoping that we made the right choice.

Well, in keeping with this pattern of homeless people making tough choices, I am now being faced with some tough choices. First and foremost among them is the choice to continue advocating for the homeless pro bono or to pursue a job (that might have nothing to do with homeless advocacy), housing and possibly a private life. Another decision with which I'm faced is the direction in which to take my homeless advocacy (and that of those who are paying attention to me).

Concerning the former choice, many people have been asking me why it is that I am homeless. They point out that I am a high-functioning homeless man -- one who speaks intelligently,uses the internet and has no mental illnesses or physical handicaps. The short answer is that many homeless people have come to look up to me and I can't just walk away from them. My conscience won't allow it.

In addition to that, I don't have the best work history and have had a few run-ins with the law. I know of at least a couple of other men -- one living and one dead -- who had run-ins with the law before becoming devout advocates for the homeless. This suggests that, when an intelligent man has a checkered past, his knowledge and skills are no longer desired by society and that all that is left for him to do is to fight for the underprivileged (under-class). Well, if working society doesn't choose to employ the skills of the capable homeless, there is a revolution brewing in this nation and a growing class of dispossessed people who need to be organized by these intelligent homeless advocates.

Furthermore, for the past 3 and a half months I have been preparing to enter a job-training program. The process has proven to be a long and tedious one. In the meantime, I have been doing a lot of public speaking on the issue of homelessness. I am part of the National Coalition for the Homeless with its Faces of Homelessness Seakers' Bureau. In the past 2 months alone, I have spoken at several colleges and universities. They include: Vassar college in Poughkeepsie, NY; Longwood University in Farmville, VA; George Mason University in Vienna, VA as well as Howard and Georgetown Universities, both in DC. A young lady by the name of Shana who heard me speak at Howard U. told me what a gifted speaker I am and said that I was her role model. She hopes to be as good a public speaker as me one day. That said, I must now choose between job-training as an auto mechanic (having had no such experience) and the public speaking opportunities that have presented themselves.

Moreover, I am a professing Marxist and a part of the National Right-to-Housing Movement. As more people become socially conscious and the movement becomes more relevant, I have my qualms about pursuing life as a blue-collar worker and decreasing or altogether eliminating my involvement in the movement. I want to be involved when the movement reaches critical mass and bottom-up change begins to happen in the U.S.

My homeless advocacy has even put me in the international spotlight (a little bit anyway). I was recently one of about a dozen DC homeless advocates who were on an Iranian TV show which addressed the U.S. government's neglect of DC's homeless while investing in war and Wall St. (It can be seen at: www.presstv.com/programs/TheLink ).

All of this has me thinking that something awesome is on the horizon for homeless advocates and the Right-to-Housing Movement. And I want to be there when the breakthrough occurs.

That brings me to the latter choice with which I've been faced -- how to advance homeless advocacy in our nation's capital. In spite of not making much money as a homeless advocate, I've amassed much social capital. And that can prove to be more valuable than any amount of money. I've developed close relationships with many homeless people, homeless advocates, homeless service providers and those who give to the homeless. As a matter of fact, the Washington Post is working on an in-depth profile of me -- all because a reporter found out that I have over 4,500 Facebook friends. That only BEGINS to explain how many people I'd be letting down if I were to stop advocating for the homeless.

People who've met me and/or read either of my blogs have donated 700 pairs of socks to the homeless by way of my church, donated computers to homeless service providers and donated their time to help the homeless do job searches and the like on the donated computers. A new acquaintance has offered to set up a website that would help donors coordinate their efforts and cut back on redundancy. (See my previous post.) People also turn to me for advice on how to best help the homeless and information about homeless services (sometimes for newbies in the "homeless community").

But none of what I've said thus far addresses the direction in which I hope to take homeless advocacy (as far as it is up to me anyway). Throughout the Fenty administration I have been one of many homeless advocates who've begged the mayor and the city council to invest more resources into ending homelessness. It has become all too obvious that there is not sufficient political will to make that happen. Farbeit from me to lead people down a failed path or to run headlong into the slaughter. This calls for a change of direction.

It is time for people to self-organize. The creation of the afforementioned website as well as other movement-based social media is a start. People pulling together to help provide for each other so as to decrease our dependency on government is a plus. I am also a proponent of the "rapid-response team" -- a group of people who would start a phone tree whenever a politician says or does anything unfavorable and organize a flash mob of thousands of protesters in a couple of hours. Pulling this off a couple of times would scare local politicians by proving to them that people have considerable organizing capacity. This only begins to explain the new direction in which I hope to take homeless advocacy during the Gray administration and shall not be construed to be an exhaustive list of ideas.

It would seem as though my mind is made up. I utterly refuse to forsake those who are looking up to me. Any paying job that I take on will definitely take a back seat to my homeless advocacy. And any new plans will take into account the fact that ending homelessness is not a priority of city leaders. I am not 100% sure as to what this new era will look like. But, then again, I didn't have the slightest idea what I was doing when I became a homeless advocate 4 and a half years ago. Diving headlong into the unknown is not always a bad thing. That said, I don't regret having made that choice in June 2006.

Well, what are you waiting for? Find something to do to advance the cause of the homeless and the rest of the under-class!!!!!

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5 Comments:

Blogger Human Rights Alert said...

Hi Eric:
Long time no talk.
Here is my latest post at:http://inproperinla.blogspot.com/2010/11/10-11-29-alleged-corruption-of-us.html
10-11-29 TIKKUN's Rabbi MICHAEL LERNER, is asked re: The Los Angeles Jewish Community and the Rampart FIPs (Falsely Imprisoned Persons)
Nov 29, 2010 – Los Angeles, November 30 – Human Rights Alert (NGO) and Joseph Zernik, PhD, requested Tikkun’s Rabbi Michael Lerner’s opinion on a question, which Rabbi Lerner was believed could and should address:
Should the Los Angeles Jewish community consider it part of its duties and responsibilities to initiate actions for the release of the Los Angeles Rampart-FIPs (Falsely Imprisoned Persons) - mostly black and latinos - victims of conduct of the Los Angeles, California courts?
The Los Angeles Jewish community is vastly over-represented among judges and attorneys in Los Angeles, and the ongoing imprisonment of the Rampart-FIPs is contrary to Jewish values and the historic commitment of the Jewish community to Civil Rights in the United States.
The basic facts in the matter were established over a decade ago during the Rampart scandal investigation (1998-2000) and through a series of investigative committee reports that followed: [1]
· The number of the Rampart-FIPs is unknown, but was estimated at many thousands [2].
· The Rampart-FIPs are mostly black and latinos.
· Prof Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the University of California, Irvine Law School, a renowned Jewish constitutional scholar found the matter sufficiently important that he initiated his own independent investigation of the matter and published his report, stating: "This is conduct associated with the most repressive dictators and police states... and judges must share responsibility when innocent people are convicted." (2001) [3]
· Prof David Burcham, then Dean of Loyola Los Angeles Law School wrote: "...judges tried and sentenced a staggering number of people for crimes they did not commit."
· The Rampart-FIPs were falsely convicted and sentenced to long prison terms through framing of evidence, through extraction of confessions under torture, and through fraud on the courts.
· Regardless, local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies have refused to release the victims to this date.
· The case was described as the largest court corruption scandal in the history of the US.
· The Blue Ribbon Review Panel Report (2006) documented that release of the Rampart FIPs is opposed by judges of the Los Angeles Superior Court under claims that it would lead to 'collapse of the justice system' [4] - an argument that defies logic and any sense of decency.
Rabbi Lerner had previously responded on a question posed by Human Rights Alert, affirming the ethical duties of Bet Tzedek (The House of Justice) and the Los Angeles Jewish Federation in an unrelated matter.
Posing questions to leading rabbis of the day is a traditional form of Jewish discourse, going back some 1,500 years.

November 29, 2010 at 7:29 PM  
Blogger Eric Sheptock said...

Human Rights Alert, I shared your link on Facebook. Yours is an interesting cause and is closely related to the homeless issue that I address. many returning citizens are released into homelessness. And some homeless are jailed for taking care of their most basic needs. Blacks (homeless or not) are imprisoned at a higher rate than other races. Let us end all injustices.

December 3, 2010 at 9:49 PM  
Blogger Craig said...

Eric - nice article on the work you're doing. I'm going to point people your way.

December 13, 2010 at 9:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really love the way you write and I have been in this situation before - in Canada - way less benefits for the homeless here I think. I am just one step away from being there again and it is hard to try to keep things from spiraling. I just got educated to try to prevent this from occurring but there is such a lack of jobs for us newbies in most fields - what a shame. Please do not stop being an advocate for the homeless even if you are not in the future.

December 13, 2010 at 12:31 PM  
Anonymous DocFan said...

Eric ~ You inspire, you empower, and you espouse what we all should live.

I think you need to get more than $40 per speech in or outside of DC.

What CAN I do to help your voice be heard first-hand, not just on the social networks you've gotten involved with.

Speak, man! Speak to me!

Professor Fandel

December 13, 2010 at 2:14 PM  

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