Thursday, August 25, 2011

The East Coast Earthquake and Other DC Disasters

On Tuesday, August 23rd at 1:51 PM much of the east coast of the United States experienced an earthquake. As a homeless advocate, I must say that I'm glad that there weren't any reports of serious damage to non-governmental buildings and, as far as I know, no one was made homeless by this earthquake. However, the wall near my bed at the CCNV Shelter now has a hirzontal crack and I'm wondering how much of this large building which holds 1,350 homeless people (one-fifth of DC's homeless population) has now been compromised.

At the time that the quake struck, I was walking down the sidewalk toward the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library where a lady friend and I were planning to feed and show the movie "Freedom Riders" to a large group of homeless people. As I passed by the construction site which is adjacent to the library, I noticed that many of the workers were standing idle and heard one of them say that he heard a rumble which he thought was a subway train passing by underground. His statement didn't take on any significance at that particular time but would moments later when I got to the library and saw the building being evacuated. I actually had not felt the quake; so, I thought some sort of fire drill or actual fire was underway. Then I noticed many of the buildings in DC's Chinatown being evacuated and thousands of people just standing on the sidewalk waiting for the all-clear. They included employees of Catholic Charities which runs many of DC's homeless shelters and is located right across the road from the library ( a de-facto day shelter).

As it turns out, this is the third time that I was in a city as it experienced an earthquake and didn't feel it. I was in Detroit for the U.S. Social Forum in June of 2010. When I got up one morning, I heard people saying that there had been an earthquake during the night. I'd slept right through it and no one woke me or told me to evacuate the building. The same thing happened when I went to Chicago in May of 2011. Though I was asleep the first two times, I was awake and walking down the street this time and it STILL didn't phase me. There's one for the books.

Truth be told, I was actually annoyed by what followed the earthquake. I fully understand the need to take precautions; but, I don't relate to fear -- especially unfounded fear. The DC Government gave the order to shut down all government buildings including the homeless shelters and the libraries. We were unable to show the movie which we had put a lot of energy into organizing, though I'm certain that many other people's plans were interrupted too. We were allowed to retrieve the food and serve it outside of the library -- a building which, in spite of its age and deteriorating conditions, doesn't seem frail enough to be compromised by a 3-second long, 5.8 earthquake. The library was closed for the day. Shortly after feeding the homeless, I returned to the CCNV shelter where there were at least 400 people sitting and standing outside. When I left again at 5:30, they were still waiting to be allowed back in. I went to starbucks to do some work on my Toshiba Notebook (mini-laptop) and didn't return to the shelter until 11 PM, at which time I was able to go in. Starbucks doesn't seem to have missed a beat due to the earthquake. They're my kind of people.

As it turns out, people experienced the quake differently. Some thought it was a subway train passing by. Some thought it was a terrorist attack. Others, besides myself, said they didn't feel anything. Some were inside of buildings that shook, while others were outside. With much of DC being underground (subway system, below-grade parking and buildings with as many as 5 floors below ground), those who were below ground seem to have felt it more than those who were above ground. However, the National Cathedral, whose diocese I belong to, did sustain some damage.

Yesterday I saw a moderate amount of panic and an abundance of ill-preparedness. People were just standing on the sidewalks, not knowing what to expect and waiting for some form of instruction. We had an early rush hour as people took off from work. Intersections that don't usually experience traffic jams were experiencing them. The police had to direct traffic in areas where they usually don't. The cell phone towers were shut down such that people could text but they couldn't call -- a move which is intended to keep people from jamming the phone lines but doubles as a practice in martial law. This raised people's anxiety level slightly. The situation as a whole made myself and others think about how ill-prepared DC is for a large-scale terrorist attack. Then again, this is the same city which Obama mocked for how it shuts down over an inch of snow. I can't stand that about Washington, DC either. What will the city do when hundreds of thousands of disgruntled Americans inundate DC in September and October of 2011 and tens of thousands of them present at shelters this fall? This should be fun to watch.

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Movement Is Moving To Washington, DC

When will the national movement implement "stronger tactics" that effectively usher in the "revolutionary change" that we are working toward? Well, Gerald Celente of Trends Research Institute (a think tank on worldwide socio-economic trends) has predicted that this country will see food riots, tax rebellions and revolution by 2012. And his long track record for accuracy has some people worried.

But you don't need to be a well-paid academic to see that societal conditions are ripe for revolution. The news is chock full of reports of increasing unemployment, a worsening housing market and struggling families. The U.S. economy is so bad that Obama himself recently told people in a small town in Iowa that he doesn't believe that Washington knows best (and it doesn't). People have begun to polarize around Tea Party/Congressional demands on the one hand and the demand for the state to fund human need on the other, with there having been a strong undercurrent of the latter at the 2010 U.S. Social Forum in Detroit. There are countless stories of people in this country struggling for positive change and there is clear evidence that we are reaching the tipping point. As if that's not enough, barely ten percent of Americans are satisfied with Congress.

Furthermore, the national movement seems to be moving to Washington, DC in ways that are hereto now unforeseen. Though the Bush era saw its fair share of war protests, they don't even compare to what is coming down the pike for DC. There are at least three large actions which are scheduled to take place here over the next nine months. And they all share the same basic message: "Stop funding war and Wall street; and, start funding human need".

Citizens for Legitimate Government will begin its action dubbed "Seize DC" on September 10th on Capitol Hill (without obtaining the required permits for a protest). "Stop the Machine -- Create a New World" will occupy DC's Freedom Plaza beginning on October 6th, set up tents that night (which their permit doesn't allow) and stay beyond the four days for which they have a permit. Both groups are calling for days-long Egypt-style demonstrations that continue until our demands are met. And they might end up converging. I'm elated to see that others have finally realized that it is counter-intuitive to protest according to the rules of the oppressive government which they are opposing and that it's high time we used "stronger tactics" than merely having hundreds of thousands of people march, chant and carry signs for a few hours -- their words falling on deaf ears.

Then there is the Poverty March being planned by the Assembly to End Poverty to take place on June 30th, 2012. It's organizers have approached DC-based activists in an effort to establish an office here. As it turns out, we actually need an office that can, not only organize for June 30th, but also host the national movement as it comes to town and seeks to connect with the locals. While SHARC (Shelter, Housing And Respectful Change) as an organization might not be ready to rise to such a challenge as of yet, I personally have become a point of contact for movement activists who come to DC from across the nation. I, therefore, see the increased motion first-hand. This is an exciting moment which is full of opportunities.

There is one very important caveat in all of this. It is that, as this new wave of more brazen protesters sweeps into the capital, each successive action promises to further heighten tensions between the police and the protesters. Let's hope that police don't use the civil disobedience of the two earlier actions to justify aggression against peaceful marchers next June -- and let's know that they might very well do just that.

That said, we have a failed economic system, suffering people who are unhappy with government's performance and a growing movement which is converging in Washington, DC and promises to become more confrontational toward the establishment. It won't be long before that proverbial spark lights the fire of positive change here in the U.S. and has a worldwide ripple effect. Let's hope that Gerald Celente was right and prepare to be the change we want to see in the world. Come join the motion.

Eric Jonathan Sheptock
Chairman of SHARC (Shelter, Housing And Respectful Change)
Cell phone: (240) 305-5255

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

FOREVER HOMELESS -- Forward widely

I apologize for failing to post regularly, as I have been extremely busy lately. There is a lot happening in the way of homeless advocacy and activism as well as social justice. I am deeply involved in the planning of direct actions which are designed to speak truth to power and encourage the U.S. Government to fund human need here at home, not wars abroad and Wall Street. Even so, here is something I wrote yesterday and e-mailed to many people. It sums up the CONTINUING homeless crisis:

FOREVER HOMELESS -- Forward widely

Many poor people in what has been said to be the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world -- the United States of America -- are doomed to be HOMELESS FOREVER. Now there's no telling just how long this country will retain those titles and some people think we're losing ground rather quickly -- which is all the more reason (in the eyes of Congress and the president) to put our precious resources into imperialistic pursuits abroad rather than domestic human need. But, whether or not the Obama administration and Congress know or care, their dismal record on domestic affairs is making them the scourge of national governments.

That said, social programs that have for decades guaranteed that basic human needs of the nation's impoverished masses would be provided are being done away with, slowly but surely. After all, workers are being replaced by computers and the growing number of needy, unemployed people are becoming more expendable, thus deteriorating their capacity to sell their labor and eliminating their most valuable bargaining chip -- the fact that the employer NEEDED them to work.

As workers become less necessary and the increasing number of unemployed and under-employed become more dependent on social services, the governments in the country find it more conscionable to decrease their sustenance and to give them the run-around. Such has been the case with housing.

During the 2011 DC Budget Fight, advocates and activists were able to pressure the local government into finding $17 million to fill the projected $20.5 million budget gap for homeless services for FY 2012. However, we were not able to get them to replenish the $18.4 million that they gutted from the fund that creates affordable housing. (And many people's cash benefits were reduced.) This has, in effect, relegated those who make far less than the $25/hour needed to live in Washington, DC to remaining in shelter and being FOREVER HOMELESS.

Some of those housed by DC Government's Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) program are being given Housing Choice Vouchers by the U.S. Government's Dept. of Housing and urban Development (HUD) -- shifting them from a local housing program to a federal housing program. Simultaneously, Congress is strongly considering decreasing the HUD budget by $5.7 billion -- a move that would cause 600,000 families nationally to lose their housing. If this happens, DC could lose 5,000 of its 11,000 housing vouchers, affecting some 10,000 to 12,000 individuals. As a matter of fact, HUD's national office has sent the directive to all 3,000 housing authorities across the nation to start making priority lists for who will lose their housing vouchers first, in the case of a funding cutback. Some time after October 1st, 2011 we could see homelessness increase exponentially.

But let's not lose hope, put our heads in our hands and cry.....TAKE ACTION!!!!!

SHARC (Shelter, Housing And Respectful Change) meets in the basement of the CCNV Shelter at 425 2nd Street NW, Washington, DC every Monday (except holidays) from 1 to 3 PM. We will organize indefinitely and proactively to make housing a human right.

I hope to see you there!!!!!

Let's not allow out-of-touch governments to decide our fate.

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