Monday, May 5, 2014

DC Mayor Vince Gray Uses Business Community to Push Homeless Out of Sight and Mind



DC Mayor Vince Gray is using DC's business improvement districts to move the homeless to parts of the city that are away from the attractions and away from all of the hustle and bustle. He might even be trying to move them out of town right before he gets booted out of office. I recently learned from a caseworker who has assisted homeless people for 27 years that at least some of the business improvement districts in Washington, DC are giving homeless people $50 to leave that BID's part of town, possibly going over the line into Maryland or Virginia. Mayors in various cities use BID's to do their dirty work. (I'm not surprised that a BID would do the bidding of the mayor, no pun intended.) It is apparently a trend.

As early as next week the aforementioned caseworker might connect me to a homeless recipient of such funding. This person wants to "sing like a canary" about how the business community is working to get the homeless "out of sight and out of mind" (for the mayor).

You might ask, "How did I make the connection between the BID's and the mayor so as to prove that they're in collusion with each other?" Well, it's really just a sneaky suspicion of mine. After all, several of Gray's campaign workers and one wealthy donor have been indicted. We've yet to prove that Gray knew about the illegal campaign contributions. As far as I'm concerned, Mayor Gray is either guilty of accepting illegal campaign contributions or of criminal negligence and ignorance due to the incompetent manner in which he ran his campaign. But he's guilty either way. Once again, we have the mayor being surrounded by people who are doing extremely controversial, if not illegal, things. Either Vince Gray is as crooked as a Chicago politician or he's as dumb as a rock. Or both.

I've been keenly aware of the primary purpose for and intent of the BID's for some years now. After all, it's in the name "BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT". it doesn't get any clearer than that. What a BID does for the homeless is, at best, secondary to what it does for businesses. A certain BID used to pay $450,000 per year into a day program that fed the homeless in the basement of a church six days per week and had a slew of other services as well. That church was torn down in 2007 and construction of the new church was completed about 2 years ago. However, the primary financier for the new building demanded, as a condition of receiving the financing, that no homeless services be located in the church's new building. How ironic that a church is not allowed to help the homeless!!!

That same BID wants to stop DC Government's Dept. of Human Services from having the homeless bused in from the far-flung shelters which are located on the outskirts of town and dropped off in the downtown area where the bulk of homeless services are located. One of the downtown shuttle bus stops was right next to the aforementioned homeless day program.

What's more is that there is discussion within the DC Council about creating additional BID's that cover Wards 7 and 8. These 2 wards are sometimes called "Ward 15" due to their similar demographics: high poverty rate, high unemployment, high illiteracy etc. They are the only 2 wards on "the other side of the river" as opposed to "the other side of the train tracks". The locals sometimes call Wards 7 and 8 "the final frontier" for gentrification -- a process which is now well under way there. The BID's are like occupying soldiers who move in and raise the flag after a land has been conquered. The city is trying to seal its victory over the poor by occupying Southeast Washington, DC with business improvement districts.

Instead of making a robust effort to help all of DC's poor families to do better for themselves, the mayor and his administration have taken to disparaging homeless families by, more or less, making them out to be lazy and shiftless. They've used this assessment as a reason to afford homeless families sub-standard living conditions in recreation centers where they sometimes didn't have access to showers for days on end, where kids had to take the bus for two hours one way to get to school, where only thin partitions with spaces between them separated families and where the lights were often kept on all night.

We can also factor in how DC Government and the DC Housing Authority are creating housing programs to replace shelter only to have the housing program to lose its funding and go belly-up soon after the shelter it replaced is closed or how the housing authority is tearing down public housing before they build the promised new units, leaving people with nowhere to go in the meantime. All of this contributes to the poor and homeless being gentrified out of DC.

I'm sometimes left to wonder whether various DC mayors give orders to the BID's or take orders from them. With the mayor serving as the front man for a corrupt but complex system, it's often impossible to determine whether he's implementing his own decisions or doing the dirty work of the business community. I'm left to assume that it's a little of each. "You scratch my back; I'll scratch yours." Next to government, the corporatists/capitalists are the second most powerful group in any segment of society. They are therefore the only group that government feels it must reckon with. But, if the masses would organize, we could change that.

All of this lends itself to why I like David Catania more than Muriel Bowser. I don't know what either of them plans to do for DC's homeless if they were to become mayor. But I do know that David Catania is smarter and has a lot more backbone. He would definitely be harder for the business community to buy off than Muriel Bowser would be. When you consider that he'd be the first White, gay and Independent mayor that DC has ever had, it seems that Mr. Catania can relate to the adversity faced by Black and poor Washingtonians much better than Muriel Bowser.

But, as you can see, there is a robust effort within DC Government to gentrify the poor and the homeless out of town. But there are so many moving parts that it is very difficult to pinpoint the mayor as the one handing down the orders and spearheading the process. Nonetheless, we can use what credible information we have in order to make a public indictment of the mayor and force the mayor to defend himself. Let's go for it.

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