My Response To An On-line Article Disparaging My Homeless Advocacy

As stated in my previous blog post, I've been the subject of a massive media frenzy since Monday, December 13th due to my use of the internet to advocate for DC's homeless. It has gained much support for me. But it has also caused some to express their disdain for both me and my efforts. I welcome the supporters, but am not opposed to people stating their disagreement with me. I'm still working feverishly to harness all of the support that I'm receiving and channel it into something that would make my homeless advocacy more impactful -- something like a 501(c)4, as I refuse to give up my right to participate in political activities by establishing a 501(c)3. I'm beginning to weigh my options. The article about my on-line homeless advocacy has, in effect, forced me to spend even more hour on-line.

A ladyfriend from New Jersey called me on Sunday, December 19th because she was bothered by a particular article in the Huffington Post entitled "Food or Facebook for America's Homeless?" and written by James Richardson. She'd called me several days earlier to tell me that about two-thirds of the commenters on the Washington Post blog were saying negative, even ignorant, things about me. (I've been too busy to check the site.) But she found this article to be particularly bothersome. I presume, after having read it, that it is the intelligent manner in which it was written that made it so bothersome. (Writing intelligently gives one more credibility than making crass, uninformed remarks does.) So, though I had much work to do, I saw fit to respond to this article immediately.

Oddly enough, James Richardson who despises my use of the internet to advocate for the homeless has given me another reason to use it -- so that I can write this article in response to his article. However, I must emphasize the fact that I respect his intelligence and that I don't choose to have an adversial relationship with him. I have instead come to see this as a teachable moment. And being that this exchange is taking place on-line, it affords me the ability to do public education on the issue of homelessness -- thanks to James.

First of all, James, I am not a "recoverING crack cocaine addict". I am fully "recoverED". furthermore, I didn't go to NA or any government-subsidized drug program. I quit cold-turkey on the morning of August 1st, 2005 and haven't used since. And, for what it's worth to you, homeless people who felt alienated by me due to their own erroneous assumptions that I was holier-than-thou have become more comfortable around me. Just for the record, I don't buy into that lifelong "recovering addict" mentality that keeps people going to NA/AA years after having quit. My guess is that such thinking only serves to help NA/AA justify its continued existence and enables it to receive an infinite stream of funding. (If you want to end wasteful spending, start there.)

You were right about me receiving e-mail alerts on press mentions of my name, though I'm not so sure that I'm the only homeless man in America that does. And yes this one DID register.

James, I commend you for quoting me properly when you said that I "refuse to accept any job that might interfere with my on-line advocacy" Others have misquoted me by saying that I refuse to accept any job, which I've NEVER said. I might add though that my homeless advocacy is not entirely on-line -- and never could be. I go to many meetings, rallies, protests and other events. I speak to various high school, college and church groups about homelessness -- some through the National Coalition for the Homeless and some as an individual. I converse with various homeless people, so as to hear their concerns and communicate them to government and/or other agencies. I am presently working through STREATS.TV to create a job-training program for DC's homeless. I work with other homeless advocates to find permanent solutions to homelessness. I'm also part of a Marxist study group where we discuss Karl Marx's social theory and analysis of society (though I'm not an atheist). If I never got away from the computer, I wouldn't have anything to write about. That's not to speak of the fact that you obviously spend a considerable amount of time on the internet.

You are right about many people liking me. And they'll like me all the more when I'm through responding to you. But consider why it is that they like me. Here's a quick recap of events. On March 5th, 2009 Michelle Obama visited the homeless at Miriam's Kitchen here in DC. A homeless man photographed her using his camera phone while someone else photographed him. The latter photo was posted in blogs with people asking (rather ignorantly I might add) why someone who can afford a camera phone can't afford to pay rent. This began a media frenzy about the homeless using technology: cell phones, e-mail, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and much more. A Dept. of Labor employee put that photo and an offensive caption in his work e-mail (which wasn't very smart). My fellow homeless advocate Steve Thomas sent it to the man's superiors at DOL, stating that he didn't want the man fired but would rather develop a working relationship with DOL. STREATS (of which I am part) then began to work with DOL to create a job-training program for DC's homeless. Then the Washington Post article came out on December 13th, 2010. So, Michelle visiting the homeless led to people being fascinated with a homeless person's ability to use technology (as if being homeless makes one brainless). That led to an effort to create a job-training program for DC's homeless -- which continues to this day.

I personally was part of the media frenzy around homeless people using technology. That metamorphosed into people being awe-stricken by the fact that a homeless person can see beyond his own problems so as to advocate for others. (See my June 12th, 2009 appearance on CNN.) Then, two Washington Post reporters who'd interviewed me in the past -- Petula Dvorak and Marc Fisher -- told a Wash Po intern named Nathan Rott about the fact that I had over 4,500 Facebook friends, thus the profile. That said, my tendency to help others in spite of my own problems is quite inspiring to many. (Let that be a lesson to you.)

James, you described the homeless as "an otherwise silent, underserved community" -- and rightly so. Maybe now you can begin to understand why I am so passionate about advocating for them. And yes I did deliver an urgent call to action to my on-line supporters to "Demand the City of Gainesville, Florida to Feed All Who Are Hungry". That can be found at Change.org under "Poverty in America". You failed to mention the thrust of the blog post which was to reverse a new city ordinance which only allows St. Francis House to feed 130 meals per day, even though they have the capacity to feed more than twice that number and have done so for years. Furthermore, that was a targeted campaign with no less than three Change.org bloggers writing about it.

James, you quoted me as having said that "Socialism isn't a bad word". You then followed by saying,"But for those with responsibilities beyond updating their various social networks, demanding they be fed to their fill is not an option". I've already indicated that I'm a Theistic Marxist who does much more than sit at a computer. As a matter of fact, I just left MSNBC before sitting down to type this.

As my friend from New Jersey pointed out, you should be more sympathetic toward the poor, having grown up poor. When you mentioned the lack of government aid in rural Georgia during your childhood, were you bragging about your mother's hard work or complaining about the lack of a safety net? You explained that, if your mother had spent her time demanding that there be a social safety net or begging for charity, you would have been hungry and homeless. (But you made no mention of your father.) This is reminiscent of how many homeless people are incapable of searching for jobs due to the inproportionate amount of time that they must spend acquiring their daily sustenance. Many poor people the world over get trapped in poverty because they spend so much time just trying to survive and don'thave time to improve their situation. Can you relate?

As you mention how many government programs exist for the purpose of helping the homeless and/or mentally ill, bear in mind that it was President Reagan who closed many mental institutions, increasing the homeless population exponentially. This helps to make the point that certain segments of the population are always going to need some level of government assistance -- be it in a mental hospital or homeless shelter. It's like squeezing one end of a balloon. The air doesn't go away; it just moves to the other end. And so, Reagan simply shifted the problem -- and increased the cost of solving it. You should also remember that many government programs only maintain homelessness, rather than ending it.

James, I'd have you to know that the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) -- the shelter where I presently reside -- is a non-profit that is run by volunteers. Though it is located in a building that Reagan signed over to the DC government after a long fight with the homeless community, neither the city nor the federal government pay its operating expenses. Also, I use money I earned to pay $58.30/month for my Virgin Mobile phone ($49.99/mo. + tax for unlimited, anytime minutes and $5.00/mo. + tax for up to 1,000 texts). I own a Toshiba Notebook (small laptop) which was a gift. I often go to Starbucks and BUY a coffee before sitting down to use their wi'fi. Aside from that I use the computers at the Library of Congress or the DC Public libraries, which are free and available to the public -- not just the homeless.

I have several reasons for not working for an established organization. The homeless (myself included) have many barriers to employment which I'll address in another blog post/article/FB note. I should also point out that, when an intelligent man has a poor work history and/or checkered past, he sometimes begins to fight for the underprivileged because it is one of the few options that will make use of his talents. It behooves people like yourself, James, who would rather not see me speak up for the underserved to ensure that gifted people can always find work, as this might pull them away from standing up for the poor. Nonetheless, social justice is a good thing. You seem to understand the barriers being faced by the poor and the homeless who try to rise above their circumstances. But you also seem to be adverse to the idea of me helping them.

I won't stop until we've ushered in a more just system.

Comments

Nancy J Davis said…
I wanted to reply to this on your facebook page but couldn't cause I'm not on your friends list yet, hurry and make a fan page so i can reply ;)
Anyway, this was a very well written response and you made some very good points.
Although I am not homeless I work with the homeless, and to be honest, I am getting a tad frustrated because it seems as if nothing is changing. I hand them out food cards for local eaterys, I sit and visit with them on park benches, but I think that because I am not one of them, my efforts may be seen as just some do gooder as oppossed to someone who is one of them and really cares.
Mr Sheptock, I wrote all that to say this.
Praise God for your efforts and keep up the good work! I am please to have found that article about you so I will visiting your site often to help me be a better help the homeless,,and please don't be discouraged because of people like James Richardson, there will always be those out there who just don't get it.
God Bless you
Nancy Davis
Eric Sheptock said…
Nancy,

Thanks for the kudos. I'm actually working on creating that fan page. I HOPE to have it up and running in a day or 2. I know that there will always be those who just don't get it. Like I said on BBC, "in spite of the naysayers, here I am on BBC and other news outlets". I don't worry about the naysayers. I just move ahead with the supporters. However, an occasional naysayer affords me the opportunity to do some positive public education as i respond to his/her comments. Such was the case with James Richardson.

Much love.....
XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXO
I admire your advocacy and I'm glad you responded the way you did. Keep up the good work (and writing!)
Neil said…
Eric,

I am glad to see that the recent opposition to your efforts are motivating you further, and also making more and more people aware of those efforts. I find your writing to be very inspirational and look forward to following it, and other aspects of your advocacy.
Genevieve said…
I am a therapist who works with people experiencing homelessness.
One comment about the cell phones-trying to provide cell phones to people allows them to get jobs and access services. Our agency gladly allows our clients (our friends) to use our phone number to receive calls and messages. I have answered the phone many times when a company was calling to offer someone a job. They hear the name of our agency, make a comment such as "oh my gosh they're homeless," and revoke the job offer. I have spent hours searching canyons and other areas where I know my friends live to let them know that after years of waiting they finally have an appointment at the Veteran's Administration, with Vocational Rehab, an interview for social security benefits (for severe disability, etc. When we can't find them, they miss their appointment window (which is sometimes as limited as 7 minutes with less than 3 hours warning it was coming, despite having been on waiting lists for YEARS), they loose the opportunity for benefits. There are no exceptions due to circumstances, believe me, I have appealed and fought such injustice repeatedly and the person always ends up back on the bottom of the waiting list. Cell phones are such an inexpensive way to help people avail themselves of the limited programs that do exist, and lift themselves out of poverty.
My 9 year old son had a friend over to play recently. I overheard the child ask my son if his mom still worked for bums (Can you imagine what this child must be hearing at home?) My son responded "She never has worked for bums. She works for PEOPLE."
I too will not rest until this fight is won. Love and God's blessings on you.
Genevieve said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Genevieve said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
This article was very enlightening. It didn't occur to me the necessity of homeless people needing contact information, such as, a phone number, address, etc. Simply put, how can an individual apply for job or even get a job, even at a fast food restaurant if there is no way to contact him or her for the opportunity? I am waiting to read responses from people who are opposed to the homeless having these necessities. Amazing how the simple things to communicate effectively are taken for granted and often overlooked. Well done!
Anonymous said…
Dear Mr. Sheptock,

This story from the San Jose Mercury News might give you ideas for a national homeless resource network online and provide an income for you through donations while helping the homeless. It was the first of its kind online in the USA.

"MAKING THE CASE FOR THE HOMELESS TO HAVE A HOME ON THE INTERNET

March 19, 1998

By Mike Cassidy
Mercury News Staff Writer


"Hear Micheal Flessas out.

Think different and all that, because what he has to say sounds a little goofy at first. He wants every city in the country to organize a Web site containing all you need to know about being homeless.

``Even I, at first, thought, `Is this really a good idea?' ''

But he became convinced it was. So convinced, that he decided to do it himself in Columbia, S.C., where he was working a year ago as a telemarketer.

``It took several months,'' he says. ``I wanted to go see things. I wanted to ask questions.''

He visited shelters, food banks, clinics, soup kitchens, churches. He gathered bus schedules. Hunted down low-cost message services, free e-mail offers. He wrote a guide in the breezy prose of a travel guide
and enlisted a local Web designer to help him put it on the Internet.

``We just did it to prove a point,'' Flessas says.

He wanted to prove that computers don't have to be a tool only for the haves, but can be some salvation for the have-nots, as well. True, few among the homeless pack laptops among their belongings, but anyone who can get to a library can get on the Web.

``Do you really think the Internet is that hard for surfing?''

And the site could be a useful tool for those who seek to help the homeless.

Flessas, 38, is a wanderer and an eccentric. After studying philosophy and religion at the University of South Carolina, he worked as a dishwasher, a bit actor and a temp. He found South Carolina stifling -- in the idea sense, as much as the humidity sense. He hit the road.

``I got on a Greyhound and came out here,'' he said outside the
Rosegarden branch library, where he sometimes logs onto the Internet.

Now, he is paying $70 a week to live at an InnVision shelter and
earning $10 an hour selling management consulting services. Because he is living in the valley, it is the valley that he thinks most needs to get to work on a Web site for the homeless. He is clear about that and equally clear on another point: It's somebody else's turn.

``Let's let the computer
intelligentsia here do it,'' Flessas says. ``The example is there.''

For now, Flessas' contribution to the effort is handing out business
cards with his Web site's address and the admonition that it is a
``paradigm for Silicon Valley.'' He says he is busy trying to make a living. He will soon look for a second job. His term at InnVision is almost up. When it is, he will need to find a home at market rent.

``Or I might pitch a tent and be an urban nomad.''

In that case, his interest in the homeless site will be all the more
keen."

Mr. Sheptock, good luck to you and your homeless advocacy efforts. Keep striving towards your good goals no matter what anyone says. Merry Christmas to you and all who struggle for justice.

With all good wishes,

Michael Flessas
Anonymous said…
Dear Mr. Sheptock,

This story from the San Jose Mercury News might give you ideas for a national homeless resource network online and provide an income for you through donations while helping the homeless. It was the first of its kind online in the USA.

"MAKING THE CASE FOR THE HOMELESS TO HAVE A HOME ON THE INTERNET

March 19, 1998

By Mike Cassidy
Mercury News Staff Writer


"Hear Micheal Flessas out.

Think different and all that, because what he has to say sounds a little goofy at first. He wants every city in the country to organize a Web site containing all you need to know about being homeless.

``Even I, at first, thought, `Is this really a good idea?' ''

But he became convinced it was. So convinced, that he decided to do it himself in Columbia, S.C., where he was working a year ago as a telemarketer.

``It took several months,'' he says. ``I wanted to go see things. I wanted to ask questions.''

He visited shelters, food banks, clinics, soup kitchens, churches. He gathered bus schedules. Hunted down low-cost message services, free e-mail offers. He wrote a guide in the breezy prose of a travel guide
and enlisted a local Web designer to help him put it on the Internet.

``We just did it to prove a point,'' Flessas says.

He wanted to prove that computers don't have to be a tool only for the haves, but can be some salvation for the have-nots, as well. True, few among the homeless pack laptops among their belongings, but anyone who can get to a library can get on the Web.

``Do you really think the Internet is that hard for surfing?''

And the site could be a useful tool for those who seek to help the homeless.

Flessas, 38, is a wanderer and an eccentric. After studying philosophy and religion at the University of South Carolina, he worked as a dishwasher, a bit actor and a temp. He found South Carolina stifling -- in the idea sense, as much as the humidity sense. He hit the road.

``I got on a Greyhound and came out here,'' he said outside the
Rosegarden branch library, where he sometimes logs onto the Internet.

Now, he is paying $70 a week to live at an InnVision shelter and
earning $10 an hour selling management consulting services. Because he is living in the valley, it is the valley that he thinks most needs to get to work on a Web site for the homeless. He is clear about that and equally clear on another point: It's somebody else's turn.

``Let's let the computer
intelligentsia here do it,'' Flessas says. ``The example is there.''

For now, Flessas' contribution to the effort is handing out business
cards with his Web site's address and the admonition that it is a
``paradigm for Silicon Valley.'' He says he is busy trying to make a living. He will soon look for a second job. His term at InnVision is almost up. When it is, he will need to find a home at market rent.

``Or I might pitch a tent and be an urban nomad.''

In that case, his interest in the homeless site will be all the more
keen."

Mr. Sheptock, good luck to you and your homeless advocacy efforts. Keep striving towards your good goals no matter what anyone says.

With all good wishes,

Michael Flessas
Anonymous said…
Mr. Sheptock, what follows is in two parts:

Dear Mr. Sheptock,

This story from the San Jose Mercury News might give you ideas for a national homeless resource network online and provide an income for you through donations while helping the homeless. It was the first of its kind online in the USA.

"MAKING THE CASE FOR THE HOMELESS TO HAVE A HOME ON THE INTERNET

March 19, 1998

By Mike Cassidy
Mercury News Staff Writer


"Hear Micheal Flessas out.

Think different and all that, because what he has to say sounds a little goofy at first. He wants every city in the country to organize a Web site containing all you need to know about being homeless.

``Even I, at first, thought, `Is this really a good idea?' ''

But he became convinced it was. So convinced, that he decided to do it himself in Columbia, S.C., where he was working a year ago as a telemarketer.

``It took several months,'' he says. ``I wanted to go see things. I wanted to ask questions.''

He visited shelters, food banks, clinics, soup kitchens, churches. He gathered bus schedules. Hunted down low-cost message services, free e-mail offers. He wrote a guide in the breezy prose of a travel guide
and enlisted a local Web designer to help him put it on the Internet.

``We just did it to prove a point,'' Flessas says.

(continued)
Anonymous said…
(Part 2 continued)


"He wanted to prove that computers don't have to be a tool only for the haves, but can be some salvation for the have-nots, as well. True, few among the homeless pack laptops among their belongings, but anyone who can get to a library can get on the Web.

``Do you really think the Internet is that hard for surfing?''

And the site could be a useful tool for those who seek to help the homeless.

Flessas, 38, is a wanderer and an eccentric. After studying philosophy and religion at the University of South Carolina, he worked as a dishwasher, a bit actor and a temp. He found South Carolina stifling -- in the idea sense, as much as the humidity sense. He hit the road.

``I got on a Greyhound and came out here,'' he said outside the
Rosegarden branch library, where he sometimes logs onto the Internet.

Now, he is paying $70 a week to live at an InnVision shelter and
earning $10 an hour selling management consulting services. Because he is living in the valley, it is the valley that he thinks most needs to get to work on a Web site for the homeless. He is clear about that and equally clear on another point: It's somebody else's turn.

``Let's let the computer
intelligentsia here do it,'' Flessas says. ``The example is there.''

For now, Flessas' contribution to the effort is handing out business
cards with his Web site's address and the admonition that it is a
``paradigm for Silicon Valley.'' He says he is busy trying to make a living. He will soon look for a second job. His term at InnVision is almost up. When it is, he will need to find a home at market rent.

``Or I might pitch a tent and be an urban nomad.''

In that case, his interest in the homeless site will be all the more
keen."

Mr. Sheptock, good luck to you and your homeless advocacy efforts. Keep striving towards your good goals no matter what anyone says.

With all good wishes,

Michael Flessas
Anonymous said…
(Part 2 continued)

He wanted to prove that computers don't have to be a tool only for the haves, but can be some salvation for the have-nots, as well. True, few among the homeless pack laptops among their belongings, but anyone who can get to a library can get on the Web.

``Do you really think the Internet is that hard for surfing?''

And the site could be a useful tool for those who seek to help the homeless.

Flessas, 38, is a wanderer and an eccentric. After studying philosophy and religion at the University of South Carolina, he worked as a dishwasher, a bit actor and a temp. He found South Carolina stifling -- in the idea sense, as much as the humidity sense. He hit the road.

``I got on a Greyhound and came out here,'' he said outside the
Rosegarden branch library, where he sometimes logs onto the Internet.

Now, he is paying $70 a week to live at an InnVision shelter and
earning $10 an hour selling management consulting services. Because he is living in the valley, it is the valley that he thinks most needs to get to work on a Web site for the homeless. He is clear about that and equally clear on another point: It's somebody else's turn.

``Let's let the computer
intelligentsia here do it,'' Flessas says. ``The example is there.''

For now, Flessas' contribution to the effort is handing out business
cards with his Web site's address and the admonition that it is a
``paradigm for Silicon Valley.'' He says he is busy trying to make a living. He will soon look for a second job. His term at InnVision is almost up. When it is, he will need to find a home at market rent.

``Or I might pitch a tent and be an urban nomad.''

In that case, his interest in the homeless site will be all the more
keen."

Mr. Sheptock, good luck to you and your homeless advocacy efforts. Keep striving towards your good goals no matter what anyone says.

With all good wishes,

Michael Flessas
R. said…
Right on Eric! What a well-written and classy way to reply to your critic(s). You know you're doing the right thing, keep pushing your word and your passion out into the universe!
Anonymous said…
Hello Eric,

I think a society should be judged by its treatment of the less fortunate. Unfortunately these days there is a mostly ring winged referendum on human kindness, civility and sanity. I certainly hope that more people like you continue to keep up the good fight. The otherside will only win if good people sit back and do nothing.

Best Wishes & Happy New Year!

Aldo

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