Thursday, June 30, 2011

RIP Pam Stovall, Associate Director of MLK Library

On Tuesday, June 28th I went to DC's Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library to speak to a group of over 100 teenagers who are part of the Summer Youth Employment Program about homelessness -- to do a sensitivity training of the youth about the homeless issue. (This is the same program which former DC mayor Adrian Fenty pitted against the homeless last year when he shifted homeless funding into it.) This portion of the SYEP is one of the many steps that the MLK Library has taken in recent years to better serve its homeless patrons.

While there, I was saddened by the news that Pam Stovall, the associate director of the library had passed. She lost her battle with breast cancer on Sunday, June 26th. As Audrey Middleton broke the news to me, she said, "I just received an e-mail from Pam on Thursday. Everyone was saying, 'When Pam comes back, we're going to do this and tell her that.' Then, next thing you know, we get word that she passed".

Pam Stovall was a pioneer in her loving service to the library's homeless patrons, though I doubt that many homeless people knew who this awesome woman was when they passed her in the halls of MLK. But, even those who didn't know about her dedicated work for the homeless community which she did behind the scenes, never seeking any praise, most definitely reaped the benefits of her work.

I first met Pam on a cold January day in 2007. Several other homeless advocates and I had gathered under the library's overhang to protest the closure of the program which is presently known as Thrive DC and located in the basement of St. Stephen and the Incarnation in DC's Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. (At that time it was called the Dinner Program for Homeless Women, even though it fed breakfast to men and women, and was located next door to the library.) During the protest, we made a circle, held hands and prayed. It was at this moment that Pam passed by and inquired as to what our gathering was about. She then scheduled a meeting with our group which took place several days later.

During our meeting, we explained to her some of the problems being faced by the homeless. David Pirtle emphasized that those living on the streets and in shelter are people first and then homeless. And to this day, library employees refer to them as "people without homes". We also explained that many of the homeless have difficulty getting a good night's sleep due to being in noisy shelters near people who talk and snore all night or being on the streets where they have to sleep with one eye open. Pam saw to it that the library took a more sensitive approach to dealing with those who sleep in the library. She even allowed David to have art sessions with the homeless. But these are just some of the things that were done as a result of our first meeting with Pam. WE held several additional meetings with her. She brought other library employees like David Robinson and Grace Perry-Gaiter into our successive meetings. Eventually the library instituted several other programs and events that were homeless-centric.

Pam Stovall had homeless advocates to do several sensitivity trainings of its security and staff. Realizing that some of the "people without homes" needed to be connected to various services, she established a homeless outreach office in the library. Now the homeless can be connected to mental health services, shelter, feeding programs and places where they can shower and get clean clothes. Many of the homeless spend their days in the library. And now the homeless service providers can meet them where they're at.

Being that most shelters are closed from 7 AM to 7 PM. This means, among other things, that homeless sport buffs are often unable to watch games that they want to see. Under the auspices of Pam Stovall, the library began to show different sporting events to the homeless on its big screen T.V. in room A-5 or on a smaller T.V. in the 2nd floor lobby.

As it turns out, the library's staff and security are not the only ones who have been insensitive to the plight of the homeless. At one time, the library was also having a problem with teens who would mock the homeless who they met in the library. The issue came to a head in 2009. So, they took decisive action against this problem by developing a project that was designed to help teens gain an understanding of the homeless while also learning photography and interviewing skills. The project was called "Your Story Has A Home Here" and headed by Rebecca Renard. From October 2009 to June 2010 several teens interviewed over a dozen homeless people. They'd work in pairs, with one interviewing/audiotaping their subject and the other doing a photo shoot of the person. The finished project was put on display for several weeks beginning on June 21st, 2010.

I'm sorry to say that the next display which I expect the library to erect is a memorial to the life and work of Pam Stovall. And I'm not sure as to how much her obituary will say about what she did for the homeless community. But I AM sure she touched the lives of many people, most of them housed. Her work for the homeless may be a drop in the bucket when put up against all that she did for all those whom she knew and loved. But for the "people without homes", her work for their (our) community was indeed priceless -- even if they didn't know the woman behind the work.

As a lasting testament to her work for the homeless, may the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library continue to treat the homeless with the same dignity and respect that Pam Stovall demanded be shown to them and other libraries begin to follow her example. In so doing, you would not only continue her work for the less fortunate, but would also multiply it. May this record of the work of Pam Stovall cause even the multitudes who were denied the privilege of knowing her to serve "people without homes" with the same level of dedication, in essence, multiplying her effect many times over. Rest in peace, Pam Stovall.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

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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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Come Join The SHARC Attack At Wilson Building On Monday, June 13th!!!!!

PLEASE FORWARD WIDELY

Come Join The SHARC Attack
At Wilson Building On Monday, June 13th!!!!!


Help ensure that much-needed Human Services funding is restored to the DC budget.

The group of mostly homeless homeless advocates who've been meeting at the CCNV (Community for Creative Non-Violence) Shelter every week since April 26th, 2011 (SHARC) will make a final push on Monday, June 13th to ensure that funds which Mayor Vincent Gray sought to take away from Human Services is restored by the DC Council.

We will impress upon the DC Council the need to go beyond simply funding shelters and to ensure the continual creation of AFFORDABLE HOUSING across the city as well as LIVING WAGE and other policies that will empower the poor community and enable them to become self-sufficient.

WE WILL NO LONGER SIMPLY ORGANIZE FOR SHORT-TERM GOALS LIKE SAVING SHELTERS AND RESTORING FUNDING FOR SERVICES THAT MAINTAIN HOMELESSNESS.

WE WILL DEMAND THE CONTINUAL CREATION OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING ACROSS THE CITY AND THE REALIZATION OF HOUSING AS A HUMAN RIGHT!!!!!

People who DEMAND
"Shelter, Housing And Real Change"

will meet at:

The CCNV Shelter
425 2nd Street NW, Washington, DC

Nearest Metro station: Judiciary Square (Red line)
Buses: D6 and D3

Monday, June 13th
11 AM

To march to the Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania ave. NW

SCHEDULE
We will begin to gather at CCNV at 10 AM,
march at 11,
arrive at City Hall by 11:30,
speak to councilmembers and their staff until 12:30 PM,
and have regular 1 PM meeting at CCNV.

Eric Jonathan Sheptock
Cell phone: (240) 305-5255

PLEASE FORWARD WIDELY

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

We Need Another POOR PEOPLE'S MARCH ON WASHINGTON, DC

It's been more than 40 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. began his "POOR PEOPLE'S CAMPAIGN" which he never got to see through to its fruition, due to his assassination. It's been more than 20 years since the homeless marched to Washington, DC en masse. This might begin to explain why the powers that be seem to have forgotten about the poor, homeless and dispossessed. In some instances it seems more like they have waged an all-out "war on the poor". Let's face it: politicians often speak of helping the middle class, while neglecting those living in abject poverty. When they do acknowledge our existence, it is only to say that they are going to stop funding some much-needed social service. It's high time that we came out in large numbers and had a real show of force.

Coincidentally, as I sat down to write this blog post earlier today, I went to my Facebook fan page entitled "Homeless Homeless Advocate Eric Jonathan Sheptock" and ran across a web page entitled "Seize DC" (http://legitgov.org/seizedc) which advertised an event being put on by Citizens for Legitimate Government (CLG). It calls for people to occupy DC beginning on September 10th, 2011 and to continue to put pressure on our government until it changes its direction and aptly serves the American people. The mission and purpose of Seize DC and CLG are not all that different from that of the march that I am calling for in this blog post. As if some type of divine intervention were underway, the September 10th date of Seize DC coincides almost perfectly with one of the 2 dates that I have previously put forth as a date for the march -- September 15th, 2011 and March 15th, 2012.

That said, I will proceed with my call for a POOR PEOPLE'S MARCH ON WASHINGTON, DC, as does no violence to the Seize DC event but seeks to help many of the same people -- the poor, homeless and dispossessed. And both events seek to pressure the U.S. Government into redirecting our national resources away from illegitimate wars overseas and toward helping the needy here at home as well as solving other domestic problems.

The 2 dates that I set forth are significant insomuch as they each come about 2 weeks before certain government policies that are designed to hurt the poor might go into effect. The new fiscal year for DC Government as well as the U.S. Government begins on October 1st. That is when proposed cuts to HUD (Housing and Urban Development) funding as well as cuts to funding for other federal and local programs that help the neediest among us would go into effect. April 1st is the official end of Washington, DC's "Hypothermia Season" (as defined by DC Law) and that is when many shelters were threatened with closure, as local law only requires the city to shelter people when the temperature is 32 and below or 95 and above. (Hereto now the city has sheltered people year-round, though they weren't required to.) Thousands of people, including hundreds of small children, would've been put on the streets of our nation's capital in a single day; however, the direct action of hundreds of activists and advocates forced the DC Council to change its mind. Even so, the council must vote on the FY 2012 budget for a 2nd time on June 7th and then it must go to Capitol Hill for a 30-day congressional review, after which it MIGHT be finalized. So we aren't out of the woods yet. All things considered, the September 15th to October 1st, 2011 time frame has national significance; whereas, the march 15th to April 1st, 2012 time frame has local significance only, but gives us more lead time for planning.

So, I will give prospective marchers the lay of the land here in Washington, DC and let them know how to navigate the system and find resources.

Washington, DC begins to experience freezing nights in mid-October and this can continue through mid-March, sometimes into early-April. This is all the more reason for a September action. However, as previously stated, DC Government must provide shelter for ALL homeless people who present at its facilities needing shelter whenever the temperature is 32 and below (including wind chill factor) or 95 and above (with the heat index). They may not deny anyone emergency shelter under such circumstances, no matter where they are from. If hundreds of thousands of people were to inundate the city in an effort to force policy change at the local and/or national levels, that would stress the system, force both governments to be innovative and send out a strong message that they'd better find ways to take care of their people. I'd love to see just how it would pan out.

We also have a "Hypothermia Hotline": (800) 535-7252. A person can call that number to have a van pick them up from any part of the city and take them to shelter. If they choose to stay on the streets, the hypothermia van will bring them blankets -- gray, wool blankets.

There are a few places across the city that feed the homeless, most notable among them S.O.M.E. (So Others Might Eat) at 71 "O" Street NW. There is no reason for someone to go hungry in Washington, DC.....yet.

The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless (http://www.legalclinic.org/) can be reached at (202) 528-5500 and serves the homeless community of DC by giving them legal advice, connecting them with pro bono lawyers from various law firms and directing them to various services that are there for the poor and homeless.

As for where a person would pitch a tent, there is the National Mall http://www.principalspage.com/theblog/archives/the-national-mall-is-a-national-disgrace which has an almost 2-mile long stretch of open grass which is about 200 yards wide. (About 1.3 miles of it are pictured between the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument in the preceding link.)

Another similarity between what I am hoping for and the Seize DC plan is that both call for actions without permits. Protests in Washington, DC are strictly regulated and protest organizers are required to apply for permits in order to stage a protest. However, a spontaneous, ongoing flash mob would not have any immediate authorities that police could hold accountable, which would make it unmanageable for them. Besides, folk like myself and Citizens for Legitimate Government have asked the question: "Why is it that we protest according to the rules of the government whose policies we disagree with?????"

I have given you enough information for you to be able to plan your trip to DC to speak truth to power. Nonetheless, this is the first of several such messages. Furthermore, I will soon travel to Philadelphia to meet with long-time activist and friend Cheri Honkala and discuss how to get the national PEOPLE'S MOVEMENT moving. I will do everything within my power to help make 2011 the year that we see "change we can believe in" -- the change that Obama promised. As the Seize DC site says, he actually showed us "beliefs that can be changed". I hope that you too will put your best foot forward to usher in positive change.

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

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