Obama Fails To Address Homeless Crisis While at Kitchen

On Saturday, September 10, President Obama and his daughters paid a visit to DC Central Kitchen located in the basement of the Federal City Shelter which is right on the edge of Capitol Hill. The kitchen feeds 5,000 of the many impoverished, socio-economically disadvantaged people in our nation's capital every day. And it was a grand event indeed. While many were excited about the fact that our commander-in-chief would take time out of his busy schedule to visit those who are overlooked all too often in our society, others were a bit more analytical of the situation and less apt to praise him.

The excitement began on the night of September 9th when the Secret Service came out to survey the building, making sure that it was safe, planning their route and choosing places to post their officers and snipers. The next morning, as the homeless left the building which sleeps up to 1,350 homeless people (one-fifth of DC's homeless population) in 3 separate shelters and also houses the kitchen and a free health clinic, they immediately noticed an increased police presence. Those who hadn't already heard about the president's visit thought that a crime might've been committed. Then the Secret Service showed up, had the shelter security set up an additional baggage checkpoint and posted themselves all around the building. Not long thereafter, we all knew what the deal was -- almost all of us anyway.

I had planned to go to the Library of Congress so as to take care of some of my on-line business like blogging, e-mailing and Facebooking but changed plans immediately upon hearing about Obama's planned arrival. We'd received word that the president would arrive around 9 AM; but, he didn't actually arrive until 1 PM (a Secret Service move by all means, meant to thwart any violent plans that some people might have). But the disappointments didn't end there.

With the White House being just over a mile west of the shelter, people positioned themselves to view his motorcade as it came eastward on E Street and entered the parking lot which is behind the shelter and from which the kitchen can be accessed. However, the motorcade took a different route and approached the shelter from the east. Then, to add insult to injury, the 10 motorcycle cops pulled in front of the crowd that was trying to watch the motorcade enter the parking lot, thus obstructing our view. (I videotaped it all on my iPod.)

As a short YouTube video would soon reveal, the president put on an apron and began preparing food at DC Central Kitchen. In the video he can be heard commending the work they do. As he did his thing inside for 45 minutes, I hung around outside and made it a point to guess which way he would leave. I guessed right and got much better footage of him leaving than I did of him coming. That said, some people felt like he "looked better going than coming". And, while I join the president in praising the kitchen for helping to put a dent in the hunger problem, I am also empathetic toward those who feel that he has failed the homeless.

To his credit, I must say that the Obama Administration saw the pasage of the HEARTH Act (Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing) which the president signed on May 20th, 2009, a mere 4 months after taking office. The HEARTH Act is designed to decrease homelessness nationwide by comprehensively addressing its various causes. After its passage, it was handed off to HUD (the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development) to be implemented. HUD has been dragging its feet and the HEARTH Act has yet to do anyone any good.

While HUD is struggling to implement a law that was passed 2 and a half years ago, Congress promises to make their struggle a lot more difficult by cutting their funding for Fiscal Year 2012 by $5.7 Billion. The final word on the funding could come as late as mid-November. It has been estimated that such a cut would force HUD to destroy 600,000 of its housing choice vouchers, displacing 1.5 to 2 million people nationwide. DC has over 11,000 housing choice vouchers and might lose 5,000 of them, displacing some 12,000 people and adding to the city's present homeless population which is just shy of 7,000.

As it turns out, Washington, DC is neither a state nor located within one. That said, we get cut 2 ways on the funding. By not having states' rights, there are certain taxes that DC is not allowed to levy. And we aren't allowed to install toll roads. On top of that, we get less federal money than we would if we were a state. Add to this the fact that DC has more homeless people per square foot than any city in the nation and you can begin to see where I'm going with this. (For comparison: DC has 600,000 people and 7,000 are homeless; while, Chicago has 3 million people and 6,000 are homeless.)

So, the impending cuts to HUD promise to hurt this city in a way that is beyond words. When 12,000 individuals lose their housing choice vouchers right before (or during) winter, that will create a humanitarian crisis. But DC Law requires that anyone who presents needing shelter when it is 32 degrees or below (including the windchill factor) must be accommodated. They can not be denied shelter and lack of funding is not an excuse. This increased need will cause the city to spend whatever it needs to in order to keep people warm. Then, in the spring, they'll re-assess the budget, determine how much they have left for the latter half of the fiscal year (April 1st to September 30th) and begin cutting programs and services. The city has operated year-round shelter, even though it is only required to shelter people 5 months out of the year, but threatens to scale back to the bare minimum every time they experience budget woes. They'll make good on their threat one of these budget cycles. I'd venture to guess that it'll be the next one.

This brings us to the issue of the annual budget fight. Every budget season the DC Council tries to make cuts to much-needed social service programs. And every year advocates for the poor and homeless as well as the poor and homeless themselves come out of the woodwork to fight those cuts. During the FY 2012 budget cycle that ended on early-June 2011, the council stated that there was a projected $20.5 million budget shortfall for homeless services in the coming year. They threatened to close all city-run shelters on April 1st (or after the last freezing night, whichever comes last) and to re-open them in November 2012. After we put enough public pressure on them, they found $17 million for shelter (while taking $18.4 million from the fund that creates affordable housing -- an assenine move, to say the least). We thought that the shelters were saved (and lamented the loss of funding for affordable housing). However, if the homeless population increases exponentially during hypothermia season, that will offset our gains in shelter funding and resurrect our fight to save the shelter (and create affordable housing).

And the trouble doesn't end there. Any parent who is homeless with a child will have the child taken away and put up for adoption. One might think that the government would take the money that it spends on adoption and put that toward housing the biological parent and their child(ren). But they'd much rather break-up families. Sad.

All of this brings us back to the issue of the president's visit to DC Central kitchen which is located in the basement of what may very well be the largest homeless shelter in the country. Why didn't he say anything about his plan for ending homelessness? It only took him 2 years and 8 months of being in office to ride the 1 mile or so from the White House to the shelter which sits right on the edge of Capitol Hill and then he totally ignored the elephant in the room -- the national homeless crisis! Still, that's more than I can say for the U.S. Department of Labor. Their building is right across the road from this ginormous shelter and they've yet to walk over and see what they can do to employ its residents. As we say here, "In DC, everything is political". Sadly, that includes helping the needy to obtain the most basic necessities of life.

Eric Jonathan Sheptock
Chairman of SHARC (Shelter, Housing And Respectful Change)
Cell phone: (240) 305-5255
425 2nd St. NW
Washington, DC 20001-2003


Anonymous said…
My want to read this at the Democracy Now website:

Anonymous said…
President Obama is not the 'nice' guy he portrays himself as. He is possibly the most sociopathic president we've ever had.

Unlike GWB, who was dumb, if not learning disabled, Obama fully comprehends the fact his policies are destroying this country. His only concern is reelection, and thus it's necessary he cater to the bankers and fascist CEOs that have wrecked this country.

If you haven't seen this you're willfully blind.

His lack of action in many areas and appointment of right wing types throughout his administration indicates he is not a liberal, but a fascist who would gleefully wreck the foundations of this country.

Go through a checklist of what he promised to do and what he's done and you'll find the truth.
Anonymous said…
Obviously the earlier post is brought to you by the Tea Party. Fear mongering at it's best!
Eric Sheptock said…
Feel free to read this wherever you choose.

I am aware of the fact that Obama has become the chief executive of a Fascist government. I don't think that saying that is fear mongering. A major aspect of Fascism is the marriage of government and corporations. I realize that our government does not have the best interest of its constituents at heart. Case-in-point: Congress is about to cut $5.7 billion from the HUD (Housing and Urban Development) budget. Meanwhile, the contractors charged with rebuilding iraq and Afghanistan have "lost" at least $60 billion which is just totally unacounted for. That said, our military tears up a country. Then our contractors rebuild it, creating housing for foreigners. Then Congress cuts the funding that is set aside to house the poor of this nation. What's wrong with this picture?

Conclusion: Rebuilding other nations satisfies the U.S. Government's imperialistic goals; whereas, housing this nation's poor doesn't. They "protect" us from foreigners (most of whom don't pose a real threat to us anyway) and then leave us to die in our own streets at the hands of the government. They save us from the lion, only to let us be consumed by the tiger.
Anonymous said…
The solution being Maxist Anarchy, perfect. Though arguably better than a well-oiled Fascist human conveyor belt.
Unknown Soldier said…
"Unlike GWB, who was dumb, if not learning disabled, Obama fully comprehends the fact his policies are destroying this country. His only concern is reelection, and thus it's necessary he cater to the bankers and fascist CEOs that have wrecked this country."

Anonymous, allow me to interject; I would like to dissect your statements and append them with some logic and reasoning, since they are lacking in both.

Obama's policies are not destroying the country, not single-handedly as you insinuated. It's Congress and state representatives that are destroying the country. A two-party system built on corruption: lies and deception for the purpose of financial gain is killing our country.

The president is just a pawn to corporations when it comes to domestic policy. Corporate America runs the United States because they are NOT under government ownership. And all their political contributions go to the Military-industrial complex which has every single politician in their hip pocket. How do YOU propose we change that?

The power a president holds is mostly in foreign policy and their ability to control the military. And that is pretty much it. Every policy has to be approved by Congress. And then it's up to states to implement those policies any way they see fit. Why? Because there is little or no regulation. That's why you see states spending their money any way they see fit, because they can! Not enough people are coming forward and standing up for their rights as citizens. We all have ownership in the problem.

NEWSFLASH: Every politician caters to bankers and fascist CEOs - which is why we are in the mess we are in. Bush was probably the worst, but let's not forget about Nixon, Reagan, Carter, or Clinton either who all had a hand in getting this ball rolling.

And naturally, every president is going to be concerned about their reelection. It's their career fercrissakes!
Unknown Soldier said…
"His lack of action in many areas and appointment of right wing types throughout his administration indicates he is not a liberal, but a fascist who would gleefully wreck the foundations of this country.

Go through a checklist of what he promised to do and what he's done and you'll find the truth."

Again, every president that has held office appoints members of their own party. Sometimes they exclusively appoint members of their own party and don't consider other candidates. It should be pretty obvious why they'd do such a thing...it's to advance their own interests! Use whatever label you like "liberal" "conservative" "fascist" "communist" "capitalist" "socialist". The bottom line is: WHEN IT COMES TO POLITICIANS, THEY'RE ALL THE SAME! It doesn't take a genius to figure that out.

And you really have to be daft to believe everything a potential candidate lists off as to what they are going to do while they hold office. Do they gleefully wreck things simply for their own amusement? Maybe. Do they have the best of intentions when making those "promises"? Maybe. Is it humanly possible to perform miracles and manifest bread from rocks, and water to wine? Unless you're God then I don't think so! There's plenty of cogs in the machinery that run things.

Ever play the game 'Chinese Whispers'? One person tells another person something, and by the time it gets down the line the information is completely different. The analogy also applies here.

And if you haven't seen any of this - then YOU'RE willfully blind.

If you want to make a change, quit blaming the president, and quit blaming everyone else. Petition your congressman and your representatives - and when I say "petition" I mean "annoy the living hell out of them". Send them letters, call them on a daily basis, send them emails, do everything short of illegally harassing them to get them to listen and pay attention to your cause.

Start being proactive and quit whining about other people having control over or running your life. Only YOU (and others like you) hold the key to change the way things are. Without us, corporations and the government would cease to exist. They rely on average citizens too much to not give in to our demands, and they will put up a fight at first. But we are a legion and they are not. Remember that. There are plenty of people to champion the cause, you just have to find them. And I guarantee you that most of them can still be found on college campuses. ;)

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