Friday, May 27, 2011

What More Are You Willing To Fight for????? Affordable Housing? The Human Right to Housing?

This will be the main topic of discussion at the next Homeless advocacy meeting at the CCNV Shelter. But it is a good question for all homeless/housing advocates to address:

Now that the DC Council has restored funding for homeless shelters and certain other Human Services, will you be satisfied or fight for even greater improvements like the creation of affordable housing and the realization of housing as a Human Right?

Come answer this question with us.

The homeless have begun to organize around the proposed budget cuts to Human Services. We have been meeting weekly at the CCNV (Community for Creative Non-Violence) Shelter since late April. Meetings are:

Mondays
1 PM to 3 PM

425 2nd street NW
Washington, DC 20001-2003
(2 blocks from Judiciary Square Metro and 3 blocks from Union station -- both on the Red Line; D6 or D3 buses.)

In the basement
(accessed from sidewalk on 2nd Street)

All concerned citizens who want to do something about homelessness (and other societal ills) are welcome, encouraged and urged to come.

I'm also beginning the conversation around having a
NATIONAL POOR PEOPLE'S MARCH TO WASHINGTON, DC.
in mid-September 2011 or mid-March 2012 (tentatively).

(Being that I didn't put the word out sooner about Monday, May 30th being a holiday, I will be present at the meeting place, in case anyone shows up. However, I am not advertising it as a full meeting. The next full meeting will be on Monday, June 6th.)


We Did It!!!

We did it!!! We got the DC council to reject some of DC Mayor Vincent Gray's proposed budget cuts to Human Services -- cuts that would've wreaked havoc on the city's poor and homeless population. Homeless shelters will remain open year-round, as opposed to only sheltering the homeless during the 5 coldest months of the year. Plans to close city shelters from April 1st, 2012 through October 31st, 2012 have been scrapped.

Not all of the budget cuts were reversed though. TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) was almost fully restored. IDA (Interim disability Assistance) was partially restored. Funds for the Housing Production trust Fund (which creates afordable housing) and childcare might be restored if the revenue forecast for June is accurate and the city has more cash on-hand than they projected they'd have during the making of this year's budget. What funds we DID recover are reason for celebration.

NOTE: The DC Council has to vote on the budget for a second time on June 7th and then it goes to Capitol Hill for a 30-day Congressional review, after which it might be finalized.

It is important to note that it was the direct actions of the masses of poor and homeless people as well as their supporters which made this victory possible. Various non-profits like Empower DC, LEDC (Latino Economic Development Corporation), Bread for the City and S.O.M.E. (So Others Might eat) used their organizing capacity to bring people together. The homeless took initiative and began to meet on a weekly basis at the CCNV (Community for Creative Non-Violence) Shelter. We held at least one march to and several rallies and "walk-arounds" at the Wilson Building (City Hall). (A walk-around consists of large groups of people visiting the offices of all 13 councilmembers and speaking to them and/or their staff about the concerns of the group.) On one occasion upwards of 200 people participated in a walk-around and exerted immense pressure on councilmembers as we spoke to them one at a time.

Council Chairman Kwame Brown had to be "forced" out of his office by public pressure. Someone in his office locked the door when the crowd assembled in the hall outside of his office. I, Eric Jonathan Sheptock, began to shout to the crowd that we'd been locked out when a woman who was nearby put a microphone near my mouth, making it possible for all to hear me. The crowd booed the chairman. A staffer defended her employer by saying that the "he" whom I was referring to was not the one who locked the door, but refused to say who did. Chairman Kwame Brown emerged from his office about 5 minutes later and addressed the crowd.

He has insisted in successive e-mails that he was not trying to shut-out the advocates. Even so, he has failed to adequately control those acting in his name and on his behalf. A competent authority would make certain that what things his/her employees do reflect the views and policies of their boss.

Granted that we had to deal with some political BS, when all was said and done, we left with more than we came with. Let's keep building momentum! Let's go from saving the shelters and other Human Services to DEMANDING that the city create affordable housing. Aw shucks, let's vie for complete systemic change. Let's stop the mayor and council from kowtowing to developers and make them hear OUR demands. After all, the squeaky bearing gets the grease. Let's be squeaky bearings.

Maybe I should say "Let's CONTINUE to be squeaky bearings". Let this victory stand as a testament to our power. Let's formalize our efforts and decide how we can be a thorn in the side of a mayor who almost wreaked havoc on DC's poor and a burr in the shoe of any councilmember who voted against our priorities. La lucha continua.

But let us move forward with some analysis of this moment. Whereas the advocacy community has almost always gotten at least some of what they asked for, it seemed at times during this fight that we wouldn't get ANY of what we were asking for. Furthermore, we have never seen such drastic reductions in services as what Mayor Vincent Gray's proposed budget would've ushered in. All of this points to the "crisis of capitalism". The capitalists can't resolve their financial issues in any humane manner and are willing to take the poorest, neediest people and throw them to the dogs.

Many of the homeless have begun to tell me that the Democrats are just like the Republicans (DINO: Democrat In Name Only) They have also said that Mayor Gray is just like his predecessor. Some say he's even worse. The homeless were even saying that the closure of shelters in April 2012 would drive up the crime rate or even spark the imminent revolution that is brewing. I'm left to wonder if there was at least a little concern amongst councilmembers that the city might go up in flames if the mayor's budget had passed.

As we continue to analyze this moment, let us not look only at the harm that some local politicians were willing to do to their poorest constituents, but also at the conditions that enabled us to prevail and how we can manipulate our power and resources so as to obtain future victories:

1 -- We organized and included those who are directly affected.
2 -- Large numbers of us inundated the councilmembers with our DEMANDS.
3 -- There was a lingering threat of civil unrest in a city which is willing to deny shelter to mothers with newborns.

I'll close out with a quick word of advice for all advocates and activists. I often hear people say that they don't want to participate in a rally, protest or other direct action because it's all for naught, as the politicians don't want to hear us and won't give us what we ask for. To that I say, "Don't worry about what the politicians don't want to hear or to do. MAKE them hear you and meet your demands. Stay on them UNTIL you get what you DEMAND. If you are always worried about what the politician wants, you'll never succeed at getting what YOU want. Reverse the polarity and MAKE THEM HEAR YOU!!!!!"

La lucha continua.

My next blog post at www.ericsheptock.com will address the
NATIONAL POOR PEOPLE'S MARCH TO WASHINGTON, DC.


Eric Jonathan Sheptock
Cell phone: (240) 305-5255
425 2nd St. NW
Washington, DC 20001-2003

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

DC Homeless People march on City Hall

On April 14th, 2011, the Coalition of Housing and Homeless Organizations (COHHO) held its monthly meeting. We discussed the devastating impact that Mayor Vincent Gray's proposed budget cuts to Human Services for FY 2012 will have on DC's poor and homeless community. (There were about 30 people in the room of which about 5 were homeless or formerly homeless.) A formerly homeless man asked, "Who's going to tell the many poor and homeless people in DC about the cuts that are going to affect them?" In response to his question, several people said that they would remain after the meeting to plan an outreach strategy.

I secured a meeting room in the basement of the CCNV (Community for Creative Non-Violence) Shelter and we scheduled a meeting for April 26th.(There were about 30 people in the room of which about 25 were homeless or formerly homeless.) That Tuesday we decided to meet every Monday thereafter. At the May 2nd meeting we had about 50 people present. Then something awesome happened.

During the May 6th Human Services Budget Hearing a man told me about the plans of a non-profit called Save Our Safetynet (SOS) to have a Human Services Reality Tour inside of the Wilson Building (DC City Hall) on May 18th. The plan was to have dozens of people set up displays in the building and then walk the Councilmembers and/or their staff around to each display and explain the harm that will be inflicted on the city's neediest if the displayed social service is partially or fully defunded in FY 2012. He then floated the idea of having a march from CCNV to the Wilson Building prior to the reality tour. I ran with the idea and advertised it to my 15,000 on-line contacts through Facebook, Twitter and e-mail. Various non-profits posted it on their websites. I was invited to speak about the budget crisis and planned march on WPFW 89.3 FM (Pacifica Radio). The word really got out, so much so that we weren't sure whether to expect 50 or 500 people to show up.

Word was spreading about this group of homeless people who were organizing at CCNV. On May 9th a teacher brought his social justice class to the meeting. On May 16th a free-lance writer for the Washington DC Examiner explained that she had found out about the meetings through a flier on a supermarket bulletin board. Then came the big day.

On May 18th, people began to trickle into CCNV around 9 AM. We discussed some logistics, made some signs and waited until 10:30 to see who would show up. Our small crowd of 70 or so marchers began to make its way toward City Hall only to find another 70 or so advocates there who hadn't marched. Stragglers continued to trickle in and join the demonstration. When all was said and done, there were at least 200 to 250 people by conservative estimates -- and a considerable number of them were homeless people.

The visual displays ended up sitting idle on the ground floor as the crowd moved from office to office to express their concerns to councilmembers who were in favor of cutting the Human Services budget and/or against raising taxes on the rich. We had an awesome showing of power as we pressured the DC Council into meeting our demands for continued Human Services. As if that wasn't enough, we continue to visit our city council and follow their every move. When a couple of council members who said they would vote in favor of our demands had second thoughts and withdrew their support, we were right back in their faces en masse to get them right again.

The movement of the dispossessed is growing by leaps and bounds in Washington, DC-- the belly of the beast. Various non-profits and supporters of the homeless are coming together to save Human Services. The homeless themselves are stepping up to the plate. The media is beginning to cover homelessness like never before. Shelter employees are telling residents about the developing, government-manufactured crisis and allowing myself and other homeless advocates to come in and hold meetings. As for my part, I'm organizing a group of homeless people and supporters at the CCNV (Community for Creative Non-Violence) Shelter. We are meeting every Monday. Local radio stations are advertising our meetings and fliers are being posted in supermarkets. (So much is going on that I am having a hard time keeping up with some log-term commitments that I've had.)

What's more is that many of the homeless are becoming more socially conscious and are bringing some analysis to what they are doing. They've begun to talk about how the present mayor is like the previous one and how the Democrats are acting like Republicans. Some have gone so far as to say that the sudden loss of Human Services will spur a sharp rise in crime and might even spark a revolution. I've been advocating for the homeless for 5 years now, but have never seen such a wave of support for the homeless and other dispossessed people. Things are coming together so quickly. i'm glad to be a part of this new motion. It's been said that "There are 20 years that don't make a day; then, there's that day that makes 20 years". It seems that we're coming upon the latter.



Eric Jonathan Sheptock
Cell phone: (240) 305-5255
425 2nd St. NW
Washington, DC 20001-2003

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Monday, May 9, 2011

A NEW, "REVOLUTIONARY" WAY OF ENDING HOMELESSNESS

A NEW, "REVOLUTIONARY" WAY OF ENDING HOMELESSNESS

Some of the shelters in Washington, DC are threatened with closure in less than a year. The "Doom's Day" Date is April 1st, 2012. This is nothing new. We've been here before. But it's definitely much worse this time around. When the Randall Shelter was closed the 801 East Shelter was opened as a replacement. (I believe it was in early 2005, the year I moved to DC and a year before I became a homeless advocate.) When the DC Village Family Shelter was closed in October of 2007, families were placed in a housing program (though I've been told unofficially that some have since been ejected from the program and are sleeping in cars with their little ones). When Franklin School Shelter was closed, the Permanent Supportive Housing program was initiated and has since housed at least 1,200 people. But now the conmversation is about closing several shelters which hold at least 1,300 homeless people total. Programs that provide cash assistance or create affordable housing are being partially or completely defunded. And families which small children -- even newborns -- are presently being denied shelter. While budget cuts and shelters are nothing new, the magnitude of the crisis is.

It is for this reason that various homeless advocates as well as those who advocate for the creation of affordable housing and for the rights and needs of the poor have begun to come out in force against the DC Council so as to reverse the council's plans to drastically cut the Fiscal Year 2012 budget for Human Services -- cuts that would gravely hurt the poor community of our nation's capital. The homeless of DC have begun a coalition that has met every week since April 26th, 2011. (For now, we've decided to meet every Monday at 1 PM in the basement of CCNV. ALL ARE WELCOME.) We just had our third weekly meeting.

We have begun to make strides in our fight to preserve social services in the District. Several homeless and formerly-homeless people did outreach to various shelters to inform others in their community of the impending cuts to Human Services and the hurt that it would inflict on the city's neediest people. At least 2 dozen homeless people attended the Human Services Budget Hearing on May 6th and serveral testified in front of Councilman Jim Graham who has oversight of Human Services.

Many of the homeless people that I speak to as we traverse the city with our message are saying the same things without prior knowledge of my positions or of what other homeless people whom we've spoken to have said:

1 -- The Democrats are acting like Republicans (DINOs -- Democrats In Name Only).
2 -- Mayor Gray, whom we thought would be BETTER THAN Adrian Fenty is just an extension of Fenty.
3 -- When the shelters are closed on April 1st, 2012, there will be more crime and bad behavior in Downtown as the needy go into "survival mode".
4 -- What the city saves in Human Services will be lost on law enforcement and jail.
5 -- This is an elaborate plan to push the poor out of town.

(The aforementioned statements qualify the homeless of DC as "objective Revolutionaries" who need only to be told that there is a name for how they think and a movement for them to become active members of.)

ADDITIONALLY, there has been some discussion of forming committees and adopting duties:

I, ERIC JONATHAN SHEPTOCK, have assumed the duties of a lead organizer with the implied consent of many others.

Arafa Speaks has offered to serve as the temporary secretary.

Reka "Redz" has offered to become the permanent secretary.

The committees that the group has considered forming include:

1 -- a planning committee: would organize all other committees, receive reports from them, call meetings, oversee the setting of long- and short-term goals and organize our overall efforts across the city.

2 -- a homeless/poor outreach committee: would do outreach to sheltered and unsheltered homeless people as well as the housed poor, inform those who'll be affected of the developing crisis, invite them to meetings and other events that interest them and organize them for direct action.

3 -- a church/business/public outreach committee: would reach out to those in DC (and possibly surrounding areas) who are neither homeless nor members of DC Government but who might have some vested interest in seeing that the homeless not be forced into the streets and would do public education on the issues of poverty and homelessness (as many people are ill-informed concerning the realitiers of poverty and homelessness).

4 -- a media/social networking committee: would do outreach to media in order to shed more light on our issue and would do public education through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

5 -- a political action committee: would follow political developments that affect the poor and homeless, inform the full group of those developments and their impact on the poor and homeless and would plan actions for addressing the needs of the poor and homeless from a political prospective.

NOTE: This list is only tentative and is subject to change after consideration by the full group.

During today's meeting, several people committed to performing different tasks which include:

Reaching out to the media,
-- (During the meeting, a man called and arranged for me to speak on WPFW 89.3 FM at 9:40 AM on wednesday, May 11th.) --

Reaching out to several churches,
Posting information at several shelters,
setting up an information board at CCNV whereby to keep residents informed on the progress of our fight, speaking to DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes-Norton and
Performing the duties of secretary.

That said, we're just getting started and I, for one, am in it to win it. But what I find to be significant is the analysis that many homeless people have of the economic downturn and the way in which the budget crisis is being handled. I see room to begin to teach them some of my Marxist views about how capitalism is the problem behind the problem.

Within my Marxist study group, we often speak of the "deepening crisis of Capitalism" and how that the democrats and Republicans are both working for a capitalist establishment. We talk about how that each successive administration is an extension of the previous one insomuch as they tout the same line about budget problems and they continue to cut budgets to much-need social programs just like their predecessors. My Marxist friends and I speak of how Capitalism is in its final throes, how that the crisis is deepening irreversibly, how that each new administration is inheriting the problems left by others and how that these problems won't be resolved within the capitalist system. The homeless seem to know this, if only vaguely at the moment. It is bound to become clearer as time goes on. What's more is that some of them have begun to agree with me about the need for revolution, while others have mentioned the idea without any coaching from me. That said, the magnitude of the problem is not the only thing that is new. People are willing to try new ways of solving problems -- even REVOLUTION.


Eric Jonathan Sheptock
Cell phone: (240) 305-5255
425 2nd St. NW
Washington, DC 20001-2003
www.youtube.com/user/EricSheptock

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

What Is The Truth About DC Government's Budget Woes?????

On March 11th, during the Human Services Budget Oversight Hearing, many people listened to the testimonies of 4 young mothers who were denied shelter during the winter right along with their little ones. Several of them told of how they were given bus tokens by those who are contracted with the city to provide shelter to families with children and were then told to ride the bus all night in order to stay warm. One mother told of how she gave birth on February 10th, left the hospital on the 12th and slept in the Greyhound Station or the stairwell of an unsecured apartment building with her baby for the entire first month of his life.

On April 19th, during the ICH (Inter-agency Council on Homelessness) meeting, Fred Swan of DHS (the Dept. of Human Services) explained that the budget for Fiscal Year 2012 contained a $20.5 million budget shortfall for Homeless Services -- a line item that usually runs right around $60 million. During the pre-meeting he led an exercise that was designed to let others get a feel for the tough decisions that he and others in the administration will have to make. But he unwittingly disclosed a fact that shed some light on the mismanagement within the department.

Fred explained that DHS spends $12 million per year on the family shelter which holds just under 150 families. I did the math. That amounts to $80,000 per year per family. The average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in DC is $1,500. For a 3-bedroom it's probably right around $2,000. (By law a couple who have at least one boy and one girl must live in a 3-bedroom.) It would cost $24,000 per year to house a family versus $80,000 to keep them in shelter. Let's add another $1,000 for administrative costs. That said, $12 million per year would house 480 families as opposed to sheltering just shy of 150. DC Government could house 240 families -- 95 more than the shelter holds, paying all of their rent, and still save $6 million of the $12 million they spend annually on family shelter. The $6 million that they save could go toward filling the $20.5 million budget gap for Homeless Services.

Then there is the IDA (Interim Disability Assistance) issue. DC Government currently pays $270 per month to those who've applied for SSI, as it can take up to 2 years for the federal claim to be processed. DC Government claims that it can't afford to keep doing that; because, the federal government only gives them 40% of the money back.

I got a much different story from a woman who is eligible for SSI but is being prevented from receiving it due to the actions of those who administer the IDA program. She explained that, when a person's SSI claim finally does come through, it is sent to IDA. The new SSI recipient receives a lump sum which is calculated from the date of their application up to the date that their claim is confirmed. They then receive regular monthly payments. IDA is allowed to hold the lump sum for 6 months during which they receive all of the interest. They also are allowed to get back all of the money that they paid the person while he or she was awaiting the federal claim. For all I know, this is in addition to the federal government paying them 40% of the cost of administering the IDA program. My informant said that it was for this reason that DC Councilman Marion Barry advised Mayor Gray not to make the claim that IDA was causing the city to lose money.

She also explained her personal story. This woman has a physical condition that causes her to have episodes during which her speech is slurred. She said that it causes her to sound mentally retarded, though I've always known her to be quite intelligent and level-headed with only the slightest indication that she might be suffering from some level of stress. At the age of 4 she was misdiagnosed as mentally retarded and her mother received monies on her behalf. When this woman goes to the IDA office now, she is told that she can't be the same person that is described in paperwork from her childhood; because, she shows no signs of mental retardation.

She has been checked out by doctors who are contracted to diagnose those applying for SSI. They've determined that she is eligible. However, the IDA office has declared her to be a fraud, this in spite of the doctors' diagnoses. The SSI administration has regarded the word of the IDA office over that of the doctors (an over-zealous anti-fraud measure).

She has been told that she can not receive SSI so long as she resides in Washington, DC. She said that Virginia is no better. She would be able to receive the SSI payments for which she has been determined to be eligible if she moved to Maryland, but has no friends or family there. She is not allowed to use a P.O. box, but must have a physical address there. She may not have her check delivered to a church or homeless program that receives mail for the homeless.

This woman claims that the IDA office is treating her spitefully, saying that it is because she turned down the IDA payments that were offered to her. This, of course, meant that the IDA program would not get first dibs at her lump sum or the ability to get 6-months worth of interest from it before giving her the original payment minus the sum of IDA payments that she received during the application process. In spite of what doubts you as a reader might have about my informant, she seems quite intelligent and credible. I'm inclined to believe that there is quite a bit of truth to her claims.

And so, we have the matter of DC Government mismanaging funds for homeless families and the matter of possible wrongdoing on the part of employees of the IDA Dept. The former is irrefutable, having been confirmed by an administrator within the guilty department. The latter is most likely a credible claim. But both deserve further consideration. It may be that a large portion of DC Government's budget problem is self-induced.

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