Give 'er HADES: Innundate Muriel Bowser with the Demands of the Poor

Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser's Transition Team Contact Info:
(202) 434-0079

I contacted the Bowser transition team today and will reconnect with them tomorrow when the person who will work on homelessness is expected to do their first day on the job. I'll update via this blog and social media.

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As I look at the injustices that are perpetrated upon poor people in this country and around the world, I often ask myself, “Where is the outrage???”. Capitalism is a hurtful system that permeates the world and sears the consciences of politicians, businesspeople and the well-to-do. It makes them callous to the needs of those who beg at their feet and want only to consume their crumbs. Yet most people who hear or read the stories don't make it their business to confront the evil forces of capitalism.

Budapest, Hungary has outlawed homelessness (without offering the necessary supports). At an ever-increasing rate since 2006 (the year I began advocating), U.S. cities have been outlawing the feeding of homeless people in public spaces, arresting homeless people for sleeping on sidewalks or in parks (even when they lack a safe alternative) and stiffening penalties for relieving oneself in public. While that last item is a hard one to argue against, all of the aforementioned activities have to do with satisfying human needs. Other countries are looking at how the U.S. treats its poor.

A recent story about a 90-year old man and two ministers who were jailed in Ft.Lauderdale, FL for feeding homeless people is being read all over the world. You might remember that two dozen Food not Bombs workers were jailed in Orlando, FL a few years ago for feeding more than 25 homeless people in Lake Eola Park. The bankrupt city of Detroit has, in recent months, turned off the water of thousands of poor residents – many of them put out of work by the economic crisis of 2008 and the more recent loss of jobs to new technology.

Oddly enough, the republicans who will have majorities in both houses of the 114th Congress come January 2015 are known to pull the rug out from under people by cutting social service funding. I can appreciate the idea of them encouraging able-bodied people to get jobs. However, technology is replacing many middle- and high-income jobs while the jobs that are being created pay at or near minimum wage. A democratic congress will support social services unless and until they create enough jobs; while a republican congress will cut off people's sustenance without any regard for how they'll survive. We'll soon have the latter. I've long hoped that government would either ensure that people can find all of the sustenance that we need or take so much of it away that we'll be forced to realize their intent and to fight them – to have a revolution. (Maybe as a step in that direction poor people all over the country will organize events in which dozens of them steal items from a single store simultaneously.)

In September 2014 the office of DC Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan argued in the DC court of appeals that the local government had no obligation to provide heat or water to homeless families (with small children) who are using city shelters. It strikes me as counter-intuitive to offer life-saving shelter and then to withhold other life-saving amenities life heat and water. I'm almost afraid to raise that argument with DC Government insomuch as they're more likely to close the family shelter as a way of eliminating this counter-intuitiveness than they are to provide heat and water. I ask again, “Where is the outrage???”

I often preface my cynical, pessimistic views of DC Government with this short anecdote: During the summer of 2010 I was part of a tent city that was constructed in protest of former mayor Adrian Fenty due to him having broken his promise to build affordable housing on Parcel 42 at the intersection of 7th, R and Rhode Island in NW Washington, DC. Then-Councilman Michael Brown visited the site. He said, “It doesn't make sense for me to make housing affordable to those who make less than $35,000 per year. Even if they could afford the housing, everything else in DC is so expensive that they still couldn't afford to live here”. Michael Brown was straight-forward and honest. He's no longer on the council. Go figure. It stands to reason that the mayor, most of the council's 13 members and many of those who work for DC Government think the same way but don't say it lest they go the way of Michael Brown.

That story helps to illustrate what homeless and housing advocates are up against as we push for an end to homelessness. Add to this the fact that the DC Council has created weak rent control laws that have allowed the average rent to creep...err jump up to $1,500 per month. They allowed affordability covenants that the city signed with 45 apartment complexes to expire simultaneously, causing those rents to jump from $1,000 to $1,600 per month. This will greatly increase the cost to DC Government for maintaining the housing of its most vulnerable constituents and slow the rate at which others are assisted. Long story short, DC Government is not making a good-faith effort to ensure that poor residents – especially those who work in DC – can afford to remain.

I'm continually bothered by the complacency of DC's Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH), with many of its members making at or around $100,000 per year. They've ostensibly been trying to end homelessness since they first met in June 2006. It's increased by almost 50% since they started. They are not financially incentivized to actually succeed. Even so, I'll let Kristy Greenwalt who became the body's first director on April 28th, 2014 continue to do her thing and see what results she renders. I'll also recommend that mayor-elect Bowser retain Ms. Greenwalt. This could happen as soon as November 14th (the day after this post was written).

Given the attitudes of people in power on local, national and international fronts, it's easy to see why I feel the need to be mean or even to break the law. After all, not all laws are righteous – especially when they forbid life-sustaining activities or excuse an emergency shelter from providing basic human necessities to its residents. There's a level of stupidity or callousness that just makes various legislators and other public officials worthy of an all-out smack-fest in which they each get smacked around by dozens of the constituents whom they've denied basic necessities to.

But for now I'll just recommend that we lay into the incoming Bowser administration with our demands for addressing poverty and homelessness. We need to give those in government a fate worse than death – HADES. Government has mismanaged the funds and affairs of the general public. They've passed a complex amalgamation of laws that cater to other capitalists and codify mistreatment of the poor. They now state those very laws and the effects of the free market as the reasons for which they can't accommodate the needy. We need to apply ever-increasing pressure to government unless and until they find ways of reversing the damage that their institution has done down through the ages. We don't need to be nice or merciful. We need to be ever harder and meaner unless and until they succeed at meeting all of our demands.

It is with this idea of giving the incoming mayor HADES that I decided that I'll focus on getting DC Government to connect the able-bodied homeless to living-wage jobs and affordable housing. I expect everything about the effort to be extremely difficult. First and foremost is the notion that DC Government wants to attract middle- and high-income workers while allowing the poor to go to Hell in a hand-basket. (DC Government will be hard-pressed to disprove this assertion of mine.) Advocates for the homeless had a relatively difficult time getting Adrian Fenty to create Permanent Supportive Housing for disabled homeless singles. We had a longer and harder fight getting Vince Gray to commit to creating better shelter for homeless families. I expect to have to fight Muriel Bowser all the way through her first term and possibly into a second before she does anything to connect able-bodied singles to living-wage jobs and affordable housing. But we can't count on her doing a second term. We need to greatly intensify the pressure in order to have our demands met during her first (and most likely, ONLY) term.

Additional circumstances that make such an undertaking difficult include the minimum wage which will reach and remain at $11.50 per hour in July 2016 while the cost of living requires that a full-time worker make about $30 per hour in DC. Add to this the fact that DC is an education usurper insomuch as less than half of students have graduated from high school in recent years while 68% of jobs in this city require an education beyond high school. 90% of those in the local workforce (many from elsewhere) have diplomas, while only 64% of the workforce can read functionally. All things considered, DC jobs require more of an education than is offered to the locals, necessitating the influx of educated people from elsewhere. DC usurps the education that other jurisdictions offer their residents. I'd love to see Bowser wrangle with this issue.

I was involved with Fenty's transition team in December 2006. I saw a level of involvement by the homeless that I haven't seen since. (There was pizza.) his transition period overlapped with the four inugural meetings of the ICH. There was much energy around ending homelessness. Eight years later we have more homeless people. Even so, I would do it all over again; because, giving up amounts to forsaking the poor. I'd rather give the Bowser administration HADES and increase the pressure, thus forcing them to end homelessness.

NOTE: Danielle Greene and I made the round to all of the DC Council offices on Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 beginning at 2 PM. It was the first week of “Worker Wednesdays” in which I hope to have an ever-increasing number of people to apply pressure to DC Government to address the employment issues of low-income residents. While there, we ran into at least a couple of other lone advocates which included former at-large candidate Eugene Puryear. We'll return on Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 at 2 PM. ALL ARE WELCOME.

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