Thursday, November 20, 2014

Eric Jonathan Sheptock Day & DC Mayor Muriel Bowser

On November 18th, 2014 the DC Council presented me with a resolution declaring December 31st, 2014 to be Eric Jonathan Sheptock Day in the District of Columbia. During the presentation, people were all smiles as we exchanged pleasantries. However, I used the occasion to address some serious business too by letting mayor-elect Muriel Bowser know that I'd like to work with her to address homelessness -- through the creation of affordable housing and living-wage jobs for the homeless. I also made it clear that we have at least time-and-a-half as many homeless people as we had when city officials "committed" themselves to decreasing homelessness and that we, therefore, have our work cut out for us.

I'm not sure what drove the DC Council to pick December 31st as Eric Jonathan Sheptock Day but that date is significant in several ways. It is 46 days before my 46th birthday which falls on 2/15 of 2(0)15. So there is a little numerical symmetry going on there. But more importantly, it is the date by which DC Government's 10-year plan to end homelessness was supposed to have ended homelessness in the city. In June of 2006 the DC Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH) held its first meeting. Five months prior we counted 6,157 homeless people. (I couldn't find info electronically for how many homeless people there were in DC in 2004.) The 10-year plan was scrapped in 2007 due to three years of not meeting benchmarks. (More recently the New Communities affordable housing group gave up on its mission. There's a lot of giving up on the poor going on in DC these days.) We're sure to count nearly 9,000 homeless people in January. The numbers won't be published until May. That said, December 31st, 2014 is symbolic of DC Government's failures toward the poor.

I seek to change that. So, let me say here as I said during the presentation that I DO work with others. I'm not alone in my efforts. However, without sufficient political will to decrease homelessness and poverty in DC, we advocates are just shouting our demands for naught. That's why I've already begun to make inroads into the Bowser administration by publicly declaring my desire to work with her. Hopefully she'll be willing to recognize and learn from the city's failed efforts to decrease homeless and poverty and she'll then invest all of the necessary resources in a successful effort.

In one sense, such a commitment would make it easy for her to develop her legacy early on; as, the effort to end homelessness has tentacles that would take her into areas like affordable housing,living-wage jobs, domestic violence, medical bankruptcy, mental illness, inadequate education, lack of job training, adolescent homosexuality, the shortcomings of foster care and other areas. She could start with a willingness to end homelessness and end up with a plan for the city as a whole.

in another sense, such a commitment would make her job extremely difficult. She'd have to bump heads with the free-market economy in order to demand that homeless people receive living wages and affordable housing -- forcing employers to pay more and landlords to charge less. Ms. Bowser would also need to combat employer discrimination against the homeless. These and other efforts related to decreasing and ending homelessness and poverty would put her at odds with many capitalists.

That said, I'm working on getting a meeting with her. Despite my having noticed patterns in local governance that make me skeptical that we'll ever get adequate supports for the poor of DC (many of whom work and contribute to the life of the city), I'm willing to lay aside any presuppositions and to give Ms. Bowser a chance based on her own merits -- to see her as the "woman apart" which she claims to be. I hope to have the meeting arranged by the end of next week. Let's see what happens.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

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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Friday, November 7, 2014

Understanding Politics: The 2015-17 Republican lake of Fire

During the October 21st ICH (Inter-agency Council on Homeless) meeting Kristy Greenwalt, the first actual director the body has had in its eight and a half year history, mentioned how nobody owns the system and went on to say that we basically have to learn to build relationships and play nicely in the sandbox. While I love her and her approach, building relationships is not my strong suit. Articulating a strong sense of principle that aggressively compels people to something because it's moral and/or sensible is. Both sets of mannerisms are necessary. I've been type-cast as the “bad cop” or the “pit bull on a short leash” for much of my eight and a half years of advocacy. Being nice hasn't worked well for me in the past.

That said, I knew that there was potential for Kristy and I to build a strong relationship when, during her introductory meetings just prior to assuming her post, she said that she WILL make a decision in the absence of consensus. I'm still holding out hope that she'll centralize power and make the body that is charged with ending homelessness in DC effective. But first she needs to be asked to stay by mayor-elect Muriel Bowser.

This past Wednesday a close friend and ally in homeless advocacy told me that he didn't understand politics. Though I could've said a mouthful, I decided to keep it brief, knowing that I couldn't adequately address the topic in the few minutes we had until we reached our destination and delved into other business. However, I DID say that politics are built largely on ignorance insomuch as politicians make promises that they aren't sure they be able to keep and the voting public buys into the promises. Both groups should bear in mind that an elected politician must go through a legislature of 13 to 535 people in order to get a new law passed. The voting public has little or no idea as to how to make a principled choice and the candidates prey on that ignorance. And WHY do we have an electoral college???

I would submit that the general public – voting and non-voting – should use some basic rationale and apply everyday morals to how they vote or politic. One of the first things that I noticed about Barack Obama in January 2009 was that he had what I'll call a non-agenda. He was going to reverse various Bush-era policies. He eventually developed some semblance of a proactive agenda as he pushed for healthcare reform. But his has been a legacy of putting out fires. He's also got a bit of a personality cult thing going on – which will probably define his legacy unless he actually accomplishes something notable in his last two years. Basic rationale should've caused people to realize that simply being AGAINST what someone else has done or is doing – whether on the campaign trail or in office -- does NOT constitute a PLAN. They should've realized that by February 1st, 2009. I did. They should also realize that not voting doesn't mean that they won't be at the other end of the unfavorable policies which elected officials implement.

In the summer of 2010 I was one of many people who developed a tent city on a vacant lot in Washington, DC. It was in protest to former mayor Adrian Fenty having not made good on his promise to build affordable housing on Parcel 42. he broke a number of promises and lost his re-election bid that year. The vice of breaking promises no doubt played into his loss. He should have known that many elections – rightly or wrongly – are built on promises and that failing to keep campaign promises decreases a candidate's chances for re-election. The voting public showed him.

In 2011 the advocacy group SHARC (Shelter, Housing And Respectful Change) formed in order to inform poor people about impending cuts to the budgets for various social services and the negative impacts that these cuts would have on them. Some of the poor people whom we attempted to engage in self-advocacy thought that city officials were just “crying 'Wolf!'” again. Other felt that city officials wouldn't heed our cries. Some SHARC meetings had more emotion than reason. Most of the reasonable people left. But SHARC is one of several advocacy groups that had its heyday during a crisis and then fell apart once the crisis was averted and/or the demands were met. That said, political involvement by the general public only works if there is a sustained effort (as opposed to a campaign), if there is more rationale than emotion among those fighting for change and if people aren't discouraged from advocating or politicking due to politicians and other public officials being unresponsive.

Though I have indicated that I'm not particularly happy with Obama's performance and said that being AGAINST someone or their ideas does NOT constitute a PLAN, I joined the chorus of social justice advocates who came out AGAINST MITT ROMNEY in 2012. All of a sudden, Obama looked like the lesser of two evils. Due in part to a news report about Obama telling Putin that he'd be at greater liberty to discuss certain matters after his re-election, I held out hope that Obama would drop the hammer on Congress in his second term and drive them like the benevolent dictator that the lower/working class needs him to be. He has failed irreversibly. That said, we need a president who is proactive, aggressive and concerned about ALL Americans, not just the wealthy and well-to-do. We need to ensure that we don't vote for someone based on color, gender or personable manner again. Voters need to know what types of people can get the job done and what types can't. After all, we meet both types in our day-to-day activities anyway.

I spent 2013 watching and waiting for Obama to realize that he didn't need to be nice anymore since he can't be re-elected anymore. His kindness hasn't bid well for his party either. So, if party concerns kept him kind, then his rationale is falling short in more ways than I imagined possible for a U.S. president. (In the spirit of continuity, I often attend my church's Bible study and remind other attendees that God is quite the dictator; He squashes His opposition and he has a place where evil men when burn for eternity – THE LAKE OF FIRE.)

In January 2013 I took it upon myself to file a FOIA (Freedom Of Information Act) request with the feds so as to get information about the property rights for the 1,350-bed Federal City Shelter and begin the public conversation about its future. That process has progressed dramatically in the past 22 months. I bring that up to make the point that, when advocating and politicking, you can't always speak in terms of abstract concepts or principles. Sometimes you need to bring specific projects or present specific applications of those principles. Many local advocates speak about the need for affordable housing and living-wage jobs. Some of us bring concrete ideas for legislators to act on.

I've spent much of 2014 expressing my hope that David Catania would win his bid for mayor and become a benevolent dictator who would force DC Government to function well. He lost. Nonetheless, my continuity in the matter of (benevolent) dictatorship remains unabated. As for his democratic opponent, her having won the primary with less votes than Fenty (whose protege she is) lost with four years ago stands as a testament to the ineffectiveness of abstaining from politics and failing to vote. Such tactics just enable a candidate to win office with less votes – after promising to please or even fooling less people.

I knew some time ago that the last two years of all two-term U.S. presidents since the 1950's have always been marked by a majority of the congressional seats in both houses going to the other party – not that of the president – a phenomenon known as “the six-year itch”. With republicans lacking enough senate seats to make them veto-proof, one doesn't need to crystal ball to see that the next two years will be full of votes, vetoes and vindictiveness. However, you might need some spiritual discernment to foresee the political whining that Obama will do throughout 2015 and the revolution that will most likely occur in 2016. I look forward to the latter and pray that I live to see it through to its eventual end. (I'll be 46 in February with the average life expectancy for a homeless person being 52 years.)

That brings us to the “Republican Lake of Fire” that I've referenced a couple of times in recent blog posts. One would rightly assume that one of the ideas behind that phrase is the constant war-mongering of the “party of 'No'”. Many parts of the world have been set aflame by this party. Though I don't fully agree with their perceived sense of principle, I completely understand that one must have an aggressive edge in order to make obstinate people do what they should. Republicans have a fiery, do-or-die way about themselves. It can be a good thing when applied properly.

While they have limited ability to push matters of good principle on the nation and the world, republicans are terrible at process. Irrespective of their unfavorable capitalist flavor, it is hard to argue with the notion that anyone who CAN work SHOULD WORK. However, the repubs seem to think that just pulling the rug out from under people will make them get jobs and hold their own. The GOP fails to adequately address the challenges people have finding or keeping jobs -- like technology taking some jobs away PERMANENTLY.

Democrats are more likely to afford people the personal freedoms that they want such as the right to smoke marijuana. They tend not to hold such demands up to a moral measuring stick. Democrats are also better at adopting humane processes for weaning people off of social services. To the extent that they are unable to create jobs, democrats are less likely – though not completely unlikely – to decrease social service dollars.

All things considered, it would seem that the majority of those who voted in 2014 were hoping for some hardcore governance with a tinge of aggressively-enforced principle. We know that they are dissatisfied with Obama. But I'm guessing that most people didn't imagine that the GOP would be handed such a mandate or the Hell that Obama is bound to go through come January 2015. That brings me back to the “Lake of Fire”.

I'm a firm believer that the various spiritual occurrences mentioned in the Book of Revelation – the four horsemen, Hades, the seven seals etc. – are categories of phenomena, not singular events. I also believe that we have seen and will continue to see various precursors to the “main events” associated with each of these occurrences. Whereas the Lake of Fire mentioned in Revelation is a place of eternal torment for evil men, I'm convinced that God turneth the tide of an election cycle whithersoever He chooseth and that He has turned the tide of the 2014 election cycle against Barack Obama for being too damn sweet, among other things. Obama will be surrounded by a congressional Lake of Fire for his last two years in office. He deserves all the trouble he gets. Pull up a seat and watch him burn.


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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Obama the Failure: We Needed a Benevolent Dictator. You'll Burn in the "Republican lake of Fire"

So the republicans took the senate and kept the house, though they aren't veto-proof. President Obama is in for a lot of headaches during his final two years in office. But he brought in on himself with weak leadership and his non-agenda which consisted largely of reversing Bush-era policies: closing Guantanamo Prison, reversing middle- and upper-class tax cuts, ending war-mongering etc.

While the repubs are indeed "the party of 'No'", the latest president and vice president to come from their numbers had an agenda -- right, wrong or indifferent. Outside of reversing Bush-era policies, Obama dreamed that he might eliminate partisan bickering and congressional dysfunction. While I won't discuss what I think are the reasons for his failure in this blog post, it is clear that he failed.

I foresee Obama spending most or all of 2015 whining about the cards he's been dealt and most or all of 2016 putting down a literal American revolution. He'll feel like a devil in a republican Lake of Fire. (There's more truth to that simile than you might realize.) For his failure to be the benevolent dictator that this country needs, I'll love watching him suffer. He should've gone hard much sooner.

As for local DC politics,I've pasted a slightly edited e-mail below. I sent this to hundreds of my contacts yesterday.....

I hate to say it but life just got harder with the election win of Muriel (or shall I say "More o' Hell"?) Bowser. Though I'm with the Statehood Green Party, I would have preferred David Catania for mayor. I've told many people that he is famously mean and that we need the likes of Catania to force DC Government to think more and to function better. I'm very familiar with the ignorance of the Dept. of Human Services and would assume that the ignorance is system-wide. (I have anecdotal evidence of ignorance in other departments that touch Human Services in some way.) Given what I know about Fenty whose protege "More o' Hell" Bowser is, the ignorance and dysfunction will continue. And without Clarence Carter (who was somewhat capable of the necessary meanness that makes people think) as the DHS director, that mayoral, system-wide stupidity that MoH Bowser promises to bring can't be rectified at the cabinet level.

I had high hopes that Catania would use his mean streak to make the business community back the f**k up and let them know that he's here for everybody, not just the gentrifiers -- that he will ensure that economic growth doesn't squeeze out poor residents. Those hopes have been dashed for the next four years. My statement assumes that the stress of the job, much of which will be brought by yours truly, doesn't kill MoH Bowser and spur a special election. Maybe she'll get caught up in a scandal and be indicted. Let's hope. (Never before have I actually hoped for a scandal; but, I'm terrified by her win.) I'll make it my business to give her MY Hell from the very start (maybe as soon as Wednesday, November 12th, 2014). She and her council chief of staff Joy Holland received this message, BTW.

On the morning of November 5th as I entered a Starbucks, a homeless vendor of the Street Sense newspaper who was familiar with my views approached me to tell me the bad news about the MoH Bowser win. He also said that she is meeting with developers already. Pity. This is all the more reason to move forward with my "Worker Wednesdays" idea mentioned in my October 26th. 2014 blog post and hyperlinked into my e-mail signature.

I was disappointed that neither Graylan Hagler nor Eugene Puryear won the at-large council seats. Unlike with the mayoral race, it seems that DC voted for the candidate that they were most familiar with in most other races. (That was NOT the case in Ward 1.) I seems that DC is not ready to think outside of the "two screwed-up party" box.

David Catania is a formerly-repubican Independent who broke ranks with the party due to its dysfunction and lack of real moral fiber. He would not have been beholden to a party had he won. He is gay, which I'm indifferent to. Nonetheless, he could have been more of a champion for the LGBT community if he had won. He might have been the city's first White mayor, another matter that I'm indifferent to but which rounds out the list of characteristics that he has which no other DC mayor has ever had: not beholden to a party, non-Dumbocratic, gay and White. Damn, he lost!!!!!

Our advocacy just got harder. We'll need to redouble our efforts to assert the right of the poor to live in DC and of ALL the homeless to obtain housing here. Our only real hope lies within Kristy Greenwalt, the director of the ICH. She is responsive to the needs and requests (demands) of the poor. Let's collectively recommend her to Bowser. (If Bowser hires Kristy, I might change how I feel about Bowser and see her as that "woman apart" that she claims to be. If so, I'll publish that statement widely.)

Of lesser consequence but still important is that Bowser not retain Allen Lew as city addsinistrator. he lorded over the construction of the Nationals stadium and the Convention Center which displaced and priced out many poor people. Now he chairs the body that is charged with decreasing homelessness which went from 6,546 people in January 2011 when he took the position to almost 9,000 now in a city of 650,000. He also pissed me off at the June 17th, 2014 ICH meeting when he euphemised my statement about the ICH failing. He said, "We're not failing. We're facing bigger challenges". I thought at that moment about how he needed to be smacked -- for starters anyway.

In closing, I voted in flavor of Initiative 71 to legalize (Senorita) Marijuana in "El Distrito". After all, why lock folk up for smoking weed if and when they aren't harming or infringing upon the rights of others??? It passed. Yeah!!!!!

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