Worker Wednesdays in 2015: MEANLY FORCE DC Mayor to Employ the homeless

Of late I've thought a lot about and said a lot about the need to be mean and forceful in order to get government and others to do what poor people need done in order to afford to live. And while I have talked for my full eight years of homeless advocacy about what able-bodied homeless people need in order to find meaningful employment (with the last five years being well-documented on-line), I recently decided that homeless employment is ALL that I'll focus on. At the October 21st meeting of DC's Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH) I announced that decision and explained that there are many people speaking up for other sub-populations of the homeless community.

I also said that we should get the homeless working before they reach retirement age. That statement actually drew a little laughter, speaking of which, there were several times during that meeting that well-paid people broke out into laughter. Some of the homeless and formerly homeless people were actually offended by the light-hearted spirit of those whom we sometimes refer to as “poverty pimps”. Just days earlier I was taken aback by a photo of a Mike Brown protest in which the Blacks looked worried or angry while the Caucasian sympathizers were all smiles. Thanks for the sympathy ; but, mourn with those who mourn. Don't be happy-go-lucky around the mournful. (Read Proverbs.)

This morning I went to my second breakfast of the day at Asbury United Methodist Church at the corner of 11th and K Streets in Northwest DC. They feed on the fourth Sunday of each month beginning around 9:30 AM and closing down between 10:30 and 11. The crowd was especially large today. All of the nearly 200 seats were filled with about 50 people (myself included) standing around the wall. I'd never seen it that full in the several years that I've attended fourth-Sunday breakfast there. I also noticed that, like I stated at my regular church a few blocks away just over a month ago, there were considerably more Hispanics in attendance. (Yo amo a los Hispanicos y puedo hablar poquito espanol.)

While there, I spoke to a couple of the women who volunteer there each month about both concerns. One was a good friend named Carlotta James whose youthful appearance belies her nearly 60 years of age and whose husband Jesse James also volunteers there. The other was a woman in her 70's named Sandra who does the introduction and instructs the often loud group on rules and procedures. Sandra commands a lot of respect and doesn't care if you think of her as a “mean old lady”. I like her style. When I mentioned the number of people in the room and the threat of a visit from the fire marshal, Sandra (who doesn't answer to “Sandy”) said, “That's what we need. I want them to come”. I guess she wants to bring attention to the burgeoning homeless population in any which way she can. I told her about the increased number of Hispanics and the need to instruct people in Spanish to which she said that she used to know some Spanish due to having been married to a Panamanian and that she had, of late, considered brushing up on it for the stated reason. My final point to her, with Carlotta having returned to work at this point, was that I am sometimes accused of being too mean to government officials as I press them for solutions to homelessness. Sandra said quite matter-of-factly that “Sometimes you need to be that way in order to get things done”. Needless to say – though I'll say it anyway – I love Sandra. (I also love Carlotta.) Sandra is wise enough to know that meanness is often necessary. That's probably the understatement of the millennium.

It's not hard to make the case for why advocates for the poor need to be mean. The late but still-renowned homeless advocate Mitch Snyder is on record as having said, in so many words, that advocates for the poor have to be mean and aggressive in order to force the powers that be to notice and address the issue of poverty; because, government would rather do the bidding of the wealthy and the well-to-do. After all, capitalism is a tyrannical system that permeates the world. But it's not as monolithic as one might think. We just need to be organized and have a lot of fight.

Former one-term mayor Adrian Fenty was in his second year when he implemented Permanent Supportive Housing in 2008. That program was initially funded with federal money and by the end of 2010 had housed about 2,000 mentally- and/or physically-disabled homeless people. It took 15 months of prodding him before he announced the effort on April 1st, 2008 with the first people being housed in early September of that year.

Current one-term mayor Vince Gray is in his fourth year, having lost the Democratic primary on April 1st, 2014. In March of this year, after 38 months of prodding and the abduction of an 8-year old girl from the family shelter, Mayor Gray announced a plan to house 500 families in 100 days beginning on April 1st. The plan was partially successful. On October 14th, 2014 he issued a plan to replace the 288-room DC General Family Shelter (of which 40 units are condemned) with six apartment buildings that would contain a total of 300 temporary units for homeless families. This plan is set to be fully implemented by November 2015, ten months after he leaves office, making it unenforceable and tenuous.

Adrian Fenty used what I refer to as “the facade of caring” to justify the closure of the DC Village Family Shelter in October 2007 and the Franklin School Shelter in September 2008 as he told the general public that either facility was “unfit for human habitation” and led them to believe that the housing programs which he implemented in connection with each shelter closure would provide ample housing. Both programs have had funding problems and the current mayor has not fully invested in either. Fenty also failed to tell the general public that, while there were 6,044 homeless people eight months before Franklin closed, there were 6,539 homeless people in January 2010. Even with so many people being housed, the government couldn't keep pace with the increase in homelessness. With Franklin being closed, we now have more homeless people than we had when it was open. We counted 7,748 this past January, up from 6,859 last year. (That's an increase of 889 or 12.9% in one year.)

Mayor Gray used starkly different tactics. He painted a picture for the general public of homeless parents whose average age range is 18 to 24 years old as being a bunch of lazy, shiftless moochers who just want to game the system. He got others in his administration to sing the same song. His deputy mayor of health and human services Beatriz “BB” Otero made the grave error of sending a memo with a message to that effect out to many homeless advocates. I still have it saved on the laptop from which I'm presently blogging and I periodically remind people of her words.

All of this brings to mind two patterns that should be of utter importance to all DC-based homeless advocates. It took about two and a half times as long to get Gray to make a robust effort to house homeless families as it took to get his predecessor to make a robust effort to house disabled homeless singles. At this rate, the next mayor can be expected to make a robust effort to help another sub-population of the homeless beginning in his (hopefully) or her 95th month, which puts us at November 2022 or later. With the last two mayors having done just one term, this means we might never get there.

The second pattern has to do with exactly what sub-populations we're talking about and what seemingly-humane reasons mayor can conjure up for ignoring or under-serving them. Local homeless service providers have a bit of a fixation on the “vulnerability index”. The “V.I.” affords service providers with a tool for determining which homeless people get housed first and which ones can be allowed to linger in shelter or on the streets. DC's last two mayors have applied the underlying principles of the V.I. In their own ways. Fenty knew that he couldn't, with a straight face, refuse to help the mentally- or physically-disabled homeless adults; as they are fully vulnerable. Gray knew that, while 20-ish homeless parents without mental or physical issues are not vulnerable, their small children are. Gray pushed harder and longer against the tide of advocacy on their behalf but eventually caved. Able-bodied homeless singles (those without dependent spouses or children) are clearly the least vulnerable – yea even totally invulnerable. The next mayor might go so far as to utterly refuse to help able-bodied homeless singles all the way through his or her first term and, if re-elected, well into the second term. Have I told you that the last two mayors each did only one term???
Rents have steadily risen in Washington, DC over the past 10 to 15 years. I moved here in 2005. Currently the average rent sits at $1,500 per month which requires that one make about $30 per hour if working full time. Some years ago, DC Government signed dozens of affordability covenants with landlords across the city. All of them are expiring simultaneously. Rents are jumping from $1,000 to $1,600 per month all at once. People who are halfway through their year-long leases are being given two-months' notice of the 60% increase. There is bound to be a wave of evictions in April, as landlords may not evict during inclement weather. Furthermore, the cost of DC Government maintaining the housing of the formerly-homeless people in their housing programs could soon increase by 60% or result in 38% of those people returning to homelessness. (With rents jumping to eight-fifths or 160% of what they used to be, the same pot of government money will house only five-eighths or 62.5% of what it used to house.) I predict that DC will have at least 11,000 homeless people by January 2016 and 15,000 by 2020 if nothing changes. DC Government should aim to house at least 3,000 homeless people total for each of the next five years with most of them being connected to living-wage jobs and eventually weaned off of the system.

I should add that the average life expectancy for a homeless person was recently raised from 50 to 52 years. In any instance, I have less than seven years of life left. (If I don't quit smoking AGAIN, my time might be considerably shorter than that.) But whenever I meet my maker, this particular blog post can be used to state my position on how the homeless advocates should proceed. Never let it be said that anyone attributed an idea to me that I didn't support during my life -- the way they do with MLK, Jr., Mitch Snyder and Jesus Christ. I don't support anyone being nice to a capitalistic government that primarily does the bidding of the wealthy at the expense of the poor. I support meanness and revolution that forces the wealthy and their governments to adequately and comprehensively assist and employ the poor. I also would like to return to work – but not without a major victory on the homeless advocacy front. Let's see what comes first: me obtaining a living-wage job and affordable housing or death. (I'll be 52 in 2021 if I see it.)

All things considered, we need to reverse the pattern whereby it has taken longer to procure a robust effort by the mayor to assist the homeless. We need to see if we can get a major announcement by April 1st, 2016 from the mayor-elect to employ at least 2,000 homeless singles and house at least 1,000 others each year and have the plan implemented within six months thereafter. We should have future prevention built into the plan. But that will require relentless prodding no matter who wins.

The famously mean David Catania seems to be better-suited for satisfying this goal than Muriel Bowser. I love his mean streak. A sweet mayor won't be able to combat the pervasive business interests that are gentrifying Washington, DC at an ever-increasing rate. It is with this in mind that I plan to type up a plan for connecting homeless singles to employment and presenting that plan to the 14 offices of the mayor and the DC Council beginning in early 2015 or even on Wednesday, November 5th. I'll try to do it at the same time on “Worker Wednesday” each week. I'll announce it on-line. Hopefully many will join me. Though none go with me, I still will prod the mayor.


Anonymous said…
It's more likely that the who ever wins the election will continue the fine tradition of ignoring DC's poorer residents and homeless for the monied interests with the developers and the yuppies.
marc said…
hello I am a high class Madame Gipson and I was wondering if you would not mind telling me the passages of your life

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