Saturday, September 25, 2010

One-Hundred Stops To One-Stop Career Center

As you know, I have been working on getting into a job-training program through the One-Stop Career Center in NE Washington, DC. My homeless advocacy which I'm quite dedicated to doesn't leave me much time for anything else; but, I've managed to find the time to apply for job-training and to do something for myself. Howbeit, the lack of organization at the One-Stop and other systemic problems have made the process quite tedious.

I took the CASAS exam last year, scoring a 13.0 grade level in math and a 11.0 grade level in English. (Evidently, you can trust my figures more than my words, which makes it ironic that I would be a blogger. LOL.) At the time that I took the exam, I wasn't applying for job-training. I was simply seeing how the system worked and assessing how homeless-friendly it was. This year I was told that my scores were only good for a year. There is absolutely no logical reason as to why my scores shouldn't still be considered good now. Does DOES (Dept. of Employment Services) think that I got dumber since last year? (I have not had any additional skull fractures since I was 8 months old.) Those who scored too low need the opportunity to re-test and have their highest score considered. But those who passed with flying colors need not re-test. There go your tax dollars at work.

The receptionist at the One-Stop information desk seems to be the least informed person in the building. About 5 weeks ago I went to the One-Stop on a Tuesday morning. I explained to the receptionist that I was sent there by the instructor at the job-training program that I intended to enter and that he'd told me that I could only enter his program through the One-Stop. The receptionist told me to return on any Wednesday or Thursday for orientation and gave me a schedule of weekly sessions at the One-Stop. She didn't say anything about what documentation I would need. So I brought the usual -- DC I.D., voter I.D. and social security card (things that are always in my wallet).

Due to my homeless advocacy with its many meeting and my occasional speeches, I wasn't able to return that week. So, I went through the orientation on September 1st. The person doing the orientation gave the class a list of needed documents. The only thing on the list that I didn't have was my high school transcripts. It would eventually take almost 3 weeks of myself and one other person making numerous calls to Hollister Christian Academy in Hollister, FL as well as to the Putnam County School District in order for me to finally have the transcripts sent electronically. Had I known in mid-August that I needed the transcripts, it is conceivable that I could've had them in hand during my orientation on September 1st. But being given one tidbit of information by the information desk receptionist each time that I go has created weeks and weeks of setbacks.

Since the receptionist is the one person that every client of the One-Stop meets, he or she should be the most informed person in the building. The receptionist has the power to tell people everything that they need to know so as to save everybody a lot of time, headaches and heartaches. However, she only answers the questions that she is asked by clients when, in fact, she should be able to anticipate the unasked questions and tell people what they need to know but don't know enough to ask. (The receptionist deals with job seekers every day versus each client only going through the process occasionally.) It would make a lot of sense for the receptionist to stand up and make a short speech to everyone in the line, letting them know what paperwork they'll need and directing them to classes and other sessions so that they don't stand in line unnecessarily. Unfortunately, she answers everybody's questions individually as they come to the desk.

This past Tuesday I attempted to take the CASAS test again. I entered the One-Stop with my transcripts (though I expected to have to return on a Wednesday or Thursday to give it to a case manager) and asked to take the test. The receptionist asked me who my case manager was and explained that I can't test without first having a case manager. She gave me another schedule and list of needed documents (both of which I already had). I left and called One-Stop branch Manager Natasha Powell later that day. Natasha explained to me that the One-Stop system had been revamped in February 2010 and that, even though I was able to take the CASAS test last year without having a case manager first, that is no longer the case. I explained to her that the orientation instructor had indeed indicated that I needed to sign up with a case manager, but failed to indicate that I couldn't test without having one first. In lieu of the former policy, he should've made that clarification. That was another wasted trip. If all goes well, I'll sign up with a case manager and take the test this coming Thursday.

On a more positive note, a woman who wants only to be known as Ms. I.B. has sponsored me for the 42 weeks of public transportation that I'll need in order to attend trade school. Provided WMATA doesn't do any more fare hikes, she'll pay $15/wk for a flash pass (a bus pass that allows people to ride for an unlimited number of times per week). That comes out to $630.00. I will also be able to receive food stamps during my training. Things are beginning to work out in other areas. It seems that the only failures are with the big government bureaucracy. (DOES is a department of DC Government.) I'll keep hope alive.

I'd be remiss if I were to fail to point out that many homeless people are worse off than myself and would have a much harder time navigating the system. Many of them don't have the money to keep going to the One-Stop day after day. Some don't have a cell phone with national service. Some can't use a computer. And some don't have as many connections as I do. So, if you think that I've had a hard time of it, just try to imagine how difficult it might be for certain other homeless people to rise above their present state. Not everyone can afford to make one-hundred stops to the One-Stop Career Center.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Homeless People Vote Too

Well, election season is in full swing now. And though many people may be unaware, homeless people vote too, having won that right due to a myriad of court cases. A federal judge in Ohio has even ruled that a homeless person may list a park bench as their address when registering to vote. The National Coalition for the Homeless has its own bi-annual election campaign -- a campaign to get the homeless who have the right to vote to do so .

But getting the homeless to vote isn't easy and keeping them engaged in the political process after the candidate of their choice has won the election and then failed to deliver on his or her promises is even harder, as this only adds to the feelings of disenfranchisement that many homeless already feel. Some of the homeless laid aside their feelings of doubt and despair in the fall of 2008 and decided to cast their ballots, many of them voting for Barack Obama who ran on a platform of "hope" and "change". They seemed to be following the advice of Malcom X who said, "A ballot is like a bullet. You don't throw your ballot until you see a target. And if that target is not within reach, keep your ballot in your pocket." They saw their target within reach in the person of Barack Obama -- or so they thought.

Here in DC where we only have two levels of government (due to not being located in a state), the homeless community expressed the same sort of excitement about then-Councilman Adrian Fenty in 2006 that the nation expressed about Obama in 2008. Adrian Fenty had been the Ward 4 councilman and was also the chairperson for DC Government's Committee on Human Services. It was his job to care for the underprivileged people of the District and he did his job well. He was accessible to the poor community when they had any complaints about services, even holding town hall meetings at shelters. As a matter of fact, Adrian Fenty's transition team hosted a meeting during which they heard the concerns of the homeless community. Much to the surprise of the organizers, more than eighty homeless people showed up.

Though not an organizer, I was tapped in the spur of the moment as one of the small group facilitators whose job it was to write down people's concerns. The transition team had not recruited enough facilitators for the large group that showed up. With over a dozen people in my group (the largest of all groups) and all of the positive energy that they had, I had considerable difficulty keeping up and writing down all of the concerns and ideas that were being mentioned.

This year Fenty is being challenged by Vincent Gray who was the director of Human Services in the early 1990's under former mayor sharon Pratt Kelly . Some people, including Fenty, claim that Gray didn't serve the poor community well while operating in that capacity. Others understand that he had limited power as the director of DHS and still want to see if he can do better by DC's needy upon becoming mayor.

But no matter who you side with, it seems that the city is mandating that its chief executive be someone who pays attention to the poor. After all, both Gray and Fenty have worked in human services, though in different capacities. Both candidates seem to be well-aware of this mandate, which would explain why they have had such heated debates about their respective human services records.

That might also explain why the Gray campaign reached out to the homeless community and arranged a visit by the council chairman to Franklin Park so he could shake hands and bump fists with a few homeless people on Saturday, August 28th as well as answer a few questions. The visit only lasted about 10 minutes, as the chairman had 11 engagements that day including a visit to Al sharpton's "Reclaiming the Dream" rally. Though several homeless people were disturbed by the brevity of his visit, they will get another chance to hear from their future mayor on September 11th, during the 40th anniversary celebration of CCNV (the organization in whose name a shelter was opened in 1988).

But in spite of the hype around these two candidates, the fact remains that the homeless were let down by the incumbent after having had high hopes for him and many of them don't want to place any faith in yet another candidate only to get more of the same. They've also testified at council hearings, only to have their words ignored. They go down to City Hall year after year to protest budget cuts to social services, only to have to do it again the following year. Many of them are tired of trying and don't want to be bothered with politics anymore.

I often remind people that, when you give up and stop making demands on your politicians, you're doing exactly what they want you to do. When you stop confronting them, you are giving them full run of the house and enabling them to do what they darn well please -- not what their constituents want. Your responsibility as a citizen doesn't end with your vote. You must remain involved in the politic process year-round.

While I personally don't have any faith in government, I realize that we are locked into this dynamic whereby we must apply to government for services that individuals can't provide for themselves. And in spite of their past failures and atrocities, we have nowhere else to turn. This would explain why homeless advocates go through their budget routine year after year. But until we come up with something better, we'll just have to work with what we've got. And that means voting (even if it is for the lesser of two evils) and visiting the offices of our public officials on a regular basis. I hope that you'll get out and vote this fall. If you don't, then you'll forfeit your right to complain about whoever you end up with.

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