Job Discrimination Against the Homeless: Shirley Contracting and DC's First-Source Law

CORRECTION: I continue to gather more facts about the large Shirley Contracting (Clark Construction Group) project near the CCNV Shelter. The project will net Shirley $1.3 billion, not the $2.8 billion I was previously told. That doesn't change my argument that they should be made to do more to hire DC residents, such as establish an employment trailer in Washington, DC as opposed to prospective employees needing to travel all the way to Lorton, VA for an interview. Here are a couple of links about the 2.2 million square-foot project known as "Capitol Crossings": ARTICLE and WEBSITE

It's been said by social justice advocates and activists that, “There are 20 years that don't make a day; and then, there's that day that makes 20 years”. I think I just had my day that makes 20 years on October 3rd, 2014. I attended a hearing at Washington, DC's City Hall (The John A. Wilson Building). It was about the 41% cut to TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) that went into effect on October 1st, 2014. I didn't plan to testify, only to observe. However, as I heard various homeless or poor mothers and one single woman from the non-profit community testify, the gears began turning and I gave into tempation.

A woman on the previous four-person panel set things off when she shifted from talking about the increased hardships that she and her child will endure as a result of the near-half reduction in public benefits to talking about how she doesn't believe that city officials really want to end homelessness or poverty. She even talked about how the system that creates or deepens people's poverty then blames those people for their poverty and was one of at least two mothers who talked about how more poor people will commit crimes of survival as their public benefits are cut. They went on to mention the prison-industrial complex and how that, as people commit crimes of survival, prisons are being built and expanded and police are at the ready to arrest the poor and throw them in jail where money can be made off of them.

I shared the testimony table with three mothers. Naila (nah – EE – lah) is still relatively new to advocacy. Other long-term advocates and I have been offering our support to get her started. She sat to my right. Naila was the first person on our panel to speak. She told of homeless parents being intimidated by staff for speaking out about shelter conditions and of how the homeless families at the Quality Inn, courtesy of DC Government, had received notices of eviction with nowhere to go and no one to talk to. I fleshed out what the woman on the previous panel said by giving some very specific examples of systemic failures that add up to poor people being gentrified out of the city or that make their lives harder. After all, I've dealt with DC Government for eight years and some change. I know about their major SNAFU's since June 2006 first-hand and have heard about others that occurred prior to my becoming a homeless advocate. A woman who shares my mother's name and put herself through professional schooling while homeless sat to my left. A woman who suffers from Dyslexia but has three gifted children sat to the right of Naila who broke into tears as she heard the mother of three speak. I held and comforted her.

Councilman Jim Graham was so impressed with the testimonies of our panel that he strongly advised us to organize for power. Immediately after our panel was finished, the four of us stood, exchanged hugs (which is uncommon at a hearing) and walked into the hall to exchange contact info and plan when we would meet to organize. (That will happen on Monday, October 6th at 1 PM at the MLK, Jr. Library in Room A-9.) I was impressed by the fluidity of our collective testimonies even though we hadn't collaborated on them. I was also impressed by the critique of the capitalist system that took place during the hearing. It was reminiscent of the hearing a day earlier before the same councilman concerning the future of the CCNV Shelter. During that hearing a man who is new to advocacy talked mainly about the hurtful effects of the capitalist system and the fact that much of what city officials claim to do out of concern for homeless people is just a facade. While myself and other advocates have known these things for years, it is unusual for a person who is testifying to exit the topic of the hearing and give a general critique of the system; and, it is almost unheard of to have several people's testimonies so unintentionally and coincidentally build the case for an indictment against the same.

During my testimony I mentioned the fact that there weren't many homeless families present at a hearing that directly affects them; because, they don't have enough money to ride the transit system – that the problem we were there to discuss was self-compounding insomuch as the decreased funds decrease the ability of the poor to attend events where they should be speaking out about their plight. I also said that,though it's rather pie-in-the-sky, maybe we should approach the transit authority about assisting homeless families by giving them free rides or reduced fares, especially when attending such a meeting. Councilman Graham would later say that he can help with transportation. I also mentioned the fact that,with homeless families at the Quality Inn having been told to leave with nowhere to go and no one to talk to about their plight, we were returning to the atrocities of the winter of 2010-11.

During that winter, homeless mothers were turned away from an over-crowded shelter with their infants and toddlers in tow and given tokens to ride the bus all night. (The buses stop between 2 and 5 AM.) One particular boy who was born onFebruary 10th spent his first month of life homeless as his mother slept with him in her storage unit, the Greyhound station and the stairwell of an unsecured apartment building. I too mentioned the insufficient political will to end homelessness, as I had the day before. At both hearings I mentioned Shirley Contracting which has begun a large 10-year building project right across the road from the shelter and only made a token effort to hire homeless people. I'm left to wonder if they've made any more of an effort to hire other Washingtonians.

I left the hearing at about 1:20 PM to go to an interview with an American University student who wanted to know about the phenomenon whereby homeless people are made to feelinvisible. Along with one other man, I told her about how the general public often tries not to notice a homeless person. I told her of how homeless parents often sleep in the bushes of various parks for fear that if they apply for shelter, the shelter is full and they are honest about not having anywhere to sleep indoors, then theirchildren will be taken away. This causes homeless parents to want to become “invisible”. I also told her about FEMA camps that are being erected in various cities, ostensibly in preparation for a disaster, and are being used as homeless shelters where a homeless person must go and is not allowed to leave without an escort in a van.

Then it was on to the radio station where I was one of three people on an hour-long show that centered around the book by my good friend, former Cleveland resident and current American University professor Dan Kerr called “DerelictParadise”. His book addresses poverty pimping from an academic standpoint. It shows the connection between the cheap labor afforded by day labor halls, the race to the bottom in terms of wages and the increase in homelessness since 1945. Dan, a Caucasian, beat me to the punch by being the first to mention that “urban renewal” is actually”negro removal”. (I really WAS getting ready to say that in my next comment when he said it. Great minds think alike.) It was here at WPFW 89.3 FM during the show with Garland Nixon from 6 to 7PM on October 3rd, 2014 that I mentioned the indictment of Shirley Contracting for the third time in two days (all three times having been taped and made available in the public domain.) The indictment is as follows:

In late August or early September 2014 Shirley Contracting which is a subsidiary of Clark Construction began work on a 10-year project near the 200 block of E Street NW in Washington, DC. There is a shelter building which holds up to 1,350 of the city's 8,000+ homeless people which is located diagonally across the road on the southeast corner of the same intersection. It contains three separate shelters, a clinic, a drug program and a kitchen that feeds 5,000 poor people per day and is collectively known as the Federal City Shelter. The CCNV (Community for Creative Non-Violence) is one of those shelters in the building with 950 of the beds. There are probably 300 people in that building who are fully capable of doing construction labor. There may be upwards of 100 who have skills in the construction trades.

Washington, DC has what are called “First Source Laws” which mandate that employers make a good-faith effort to ensure that at least 51% of their employees are DC residents. After they make a good-faith effort to hire DC residents, they are allowed to hire people from outside of DC. The following amounts to what I suspect was a token effort to hire DC residents and one which uses homeless people in ways that the homeless might not be aware.

I was told by a man who, along with his co-workers, comes from the Academy of Sciences during his lunch break to help homeless people write resumes and apply on-line for jobs that Shirley Contracting had indeed contacted the shelter administration to inform them that the company was hiring. This friend had been led to believe that the company wanted to hire a large number of people from the shelter. The shelter administration did not make it their business to convey this information to all residents, though I have no complaint about the man who told me.

I went to the company's website, sent them a message expressing my desire to discuss them hiring homeless people, made a flier with their contact info along with what I'd been told and posted those fliers at the shelter. On or around September 10th I called Shirley Contracting. I was put through to a certain Carrie Carr-Maina (703-550-1127) and explained my understanding of the matter. She seemed rather friendly, for what that's worth to you. (She works in HR.) She said that, while she doesn't know who from her company contacted the shelter, she thinks that they might have simply told the shelter that Shirley is hiring but doubts that they stated a desire to hire any homeless people. She emphasized that anyone may apply. She explained that the application can be done on-line or in person at the office in Lorton Virginia which is beyond where the transit system goes and considerably difficult to get to – especially if you are a homeless person of limited means. (It stands to reason that the interview would be in Lorton even if one were to apply on-line.) Ms. Carr-Maina suggested getting a van and bringing 10 people out to apply in Lorton. She also told me that Shirley Contracting would be participating in a job fair at the Washington Convention Center on September 24th.

On September 23rd I called Carrie Carr-Maina to confirm that she would be at the job fair the next day. She said she would but then asked me if I'd seen her e-mail. I hadn't. She then proceeded to tell me that I was publishing bad information about Shirley Contracting that included the idea that the companywould transport homeless people to Lorton for the interview. I asked her when she sent it and she said the 15th. I thought that a mentally ill homeless advocate whom I know may have made his own version of my flier and sent it out in the name of SHARC, the advocate group that I chaired beginning at the group's inception in April 2011. When I went back and read the e-mail, it had a faxed copy of my flier and a company flier along with a message from Carrie about the large amount of human resources that were wasted dealing with people who were calling in based on bad information. My flier said nothing about the company having offered to ride homeless people to the office in Lorton.

During this conversation I asked her about the claim by a certain homeless man that Shirley Conracting was hiring through the Local 657 labor union for construction and general labor. She said, “No”. She also told me that many other Shirley jobs were coming to a close and that those workers would be transferred to the site near the shelter, leaving very few jobs for the homeless to obtain.

I received a text from a different number (702-358-0411) on September 23rd which said that the job fair was at the Doubletree Hotel in Crystal City. The number belongs to what appears to be an identity protection firm in Las Vegas named “Level 3 VoIP”. I'm left to wonder why anybody from Las Vegas is contacting me, with me having no connections there. I didn't actually see the text until the morning of the 24th. I'd hung fliers directing people to the Washington Convention days earlier. I now had to write what I thought was the proper address on the fliers by hand. But it was too late. Some people had already made their way to the Convention Center.

I wrote this entire experience off as water under the bridge and decided that I would still do all that I could to connect homeless people to the jobs across the street from the shelter. I printed the company flier that Carrie had sent me, which had very scant information about the company's job offerings. Then I went to the hearing about the shelter's future on October 2nd. During my testimony, I mentioned the irony of it being so hard for homeless people to get the job across the street. I highlighted that there was an affordable housing issue on one side of the road and a living-wage issue on the other side of the road. What I would hear another man testify about moments later would cause the plot to thicken.

The last man to testify was new to advocacy. He made an indictment of the system as a whole and talked about how DC is being given to the wealthy and the well-to-do. Then he mentioned his experience dealing with Shirley Contracting. He'd initially been told that the job fair was in Crystal City. He claims that it actually took place in Pentagon City. At that moment I realized that I wasn't the only one to be given the run-around by Shirley Contracting and that it wasn't a matter of my own carelessness. I made sure to mention my updated assessment at the October 3rd hearing and during my October 3rd broadcast.

I've brought this matter up during several of my in-person conversations (as opposed to radio broadcasts). My friends and associates agree with me that, if Shirley has a project which will net them $1.3 billion and which will last for 10 years, they should have to establish a DC office or a mere office trailer on the job site where Washingtonians can apply and interview. We also agree that Shirley just used the homeless. Irrespective of their homeless status, the 1,350 people at the Federal City Shelter are DC residents. Shirley could, in theory, call the shelter director to say that they are hiring and then put that down as having reached out to over 1,000 DC residents about prospective employment with the company. Not only would it bring them closer to reaching the bare minimum of DC residents so as to justify them looking outside of the city for employees, in accordance with the First Source Laws. It might also bring them closer to satisfying some federal law that mandates that they reach out to depressed communities and other disadvantaged groups – such as “Equal Opportunity Laws”.

We can't let this token effort pass as a satisfaction of either law. Let's strengthen either law so as to require Shirley Contracting to establish a DC-based employment office and to visit the shelter and talk directly to groups of prospective employees at the shelter across the road. Let's take it a step further by strictly defining the real employment opportunities that they must offer and the reasonable accommodations that they must make to enable homeless people to obtain employment at the site across the road. They should also have to help them make it through until their first check – namely with cash advances against their hours worked. They should have to do this last thing for at least two weeks and, at most, five or six weeks. I've picked a fight with Shirley. Who will join that fight?????


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