Progress Being Made By The SHARC Homeless Advocacy Group -- SHARC Has Some Bite now

Well, it's been 2 months since several homeless people and their allies began to hold weekly meetings in the basement of Washington, DC's CCNV (Community for Creative Non-Violence) Homeless Shelter. As you may recall from a previous post, several others and myself were discussing the impending budget cuts to Human Services while at a COHHO (Coalition Of Housing and Homeless Organizations) meeting on April 14th when someone asked, "Who's going to tell the poor and the homeless about these budget cuts that are going to affect them?" As a result of that question, arrangements were made to meet weekly in the basement of the shelter and the first meeting took place on Tuesday, April 26th at 11 AM. At that meeting we decided to meet every Monday at 1 PM and that remains the same to this day. (Meetings are open to the public.)

On May 18th we held a march and about 75 people marched from the shelter to the Wilson Building (City Hall) to protest the threatened budget cuts to much-needed social services, joining another 75 people who were already at City Hall. Yet another group of about 75 people trickled in during the rally. When all was said and done, we had over 200 people inundating the DC Council with our demands to save Human Services.

On may 25th the DC council voted on the budget and, much to our elation, restored funding for homeless shelters which had been removed in the Mayor's proposed budget. They partially funded other Human Services that had been defunded in the mayor's proposed budget. But the DC Council must vote twice on all legislation and then send it to Capitol Hill for a congressional review. So, several people from our group joined members of Save Our Safetynet (SOS) and did additional council visits with a much smaller group of about 30 people on June 10th before doing our own council visits on June 13th in the event dubbed the "SHARC Attack". On June 14th the DC Council held its second vote on the budget, leaving the advocacy community somewhat disappointed.

While the DC Council found $17 million to make up for the $20.5 million projected budget shortfall in homeless services for FY 2012, they didn't replenish the $18.4 million that the mayor took from the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF), a fund which is used to build affordable housing. The council also renegged on the list of budget priorities (a list of services for which they'll replenish funding if they find the money during quarterly budget forecasts) by moving various Human Services further down that list. It is no longer likely that those services will ever have their funding replenished. That said, we were able to save the funding for shelters but not the funding for affordable housing. Some people might be relegated to living in shelter for a very long time, making this a partial victory for the advocacy community and the homeless.

Within the first couple of weeks, attendance at our CCNV meetings peaked at over 50 people in attendance and then dropped off to about 5 people. It has since risen to 15 or so. Those who have attended the last couple of meetings seem to be in it for the long haul whereas many of the original attendees were just testing the water.

But the level of attendance isn't the only thing that has changed. The meetings have become more orderly and there is a higher level of commitment amongst the attendees. As it turns out, the homeless are a very disenfranchised lot of people, many of whom feel that they can't make a difference. Furthermore, many of them lack prior experience as community organizers or advocates. Then there are the feelings that people have a need to vent. All of this made for some disorderly, emotion-filled meetings at the onset. People seem to have gotten many frustrations off of their chests at this point and are ready to take care of business. They seem to be learning that we are the change we seek. Several people in our group have committed to doing different tasks. Through it all, I've learned that there is an added layer of concern when organizing the homeless, as they are dealing with many more issues and concerns than the larger community.

As further proof that we've "gotten over the hump", several people from our group met with DC Councilman Jim Graham on June 20th to discuss a broad array of issues being faced by the homeless. (He is the Ward 1 councilman but has oversight of the Dept. of Human Services for the entire city.) Mr. Graham was quite willing to hear our concerns, but asked that we formalize our demands by putting them on paper which has now become the focus of our group.Having the ear of the councilman has not only given our group a sense of direction; it has also given us the lead on other advocacy groups that are still grappling with the question of how to become more proactive rather than simply reacting to the mayor's unfavorable budget proposal.

As if that's not enough, we decided on an acronym and what it would stand for. In the spur of the moment as I made fliers for the June 13th event, I had previously dubbed it the "SHARC Attack" (Shelter, Housing And Real Change). However, on June 27th (during our 10th meeting), the group decided that we would still call ourselves "SHARC" but that it would stand for "Shelter, Housing And Respectful Change". Now the prospective donor who has offered to make name cards (business cards with a blank space where the individual's name goes) can do so. We can now promote ourselves in a more formal way. We are becoming a more viable group of homeless advocates, a force to be reckoned with. The SHARC now has some bite.

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