Fund Homeless Employment Strategies

The following was a testimony I prepared for DC Mayor Muriel Bowser's Budget “hearing” on February 23rd, 2015. It turns out that the event was actually a roundtable discussion with dozens of tables and hundreds of people brainstorming about what the mayor's budget priorities should be. That said, I never read my testimony to government personnel while being televised like I would at an actual hearing. No worries; as, you get to read it here and now.

At the risk of evoking thoughts about my notorious love of women and/or inspiring a lesser charge of infatuation with Muriel Bowser (infatuation usually being associated with females), I'll say that the mayor has made yet another brownie point with me. Let's be clear: I came to DC on July 31st, 2005; experienced the last 17 months of the Tony Williams administration; but, I never met the man. I met Adrian Fenty during the summer of 2006 while he was campaigning for mayor – having served as such from January 2007 to January 2011. He and I have gone nose-to-nose a couple of times. Then there was Mayor Vince Gray who avoided me like the plague. Fact of the matter is that, while having two people or items in a series gives you the space to compare or contrast them, it takes at least three people or items to establish a pattern or trend and to be able to predict what's coming next. With Ms. Bowser being the third sitting DC mayor that I've dealt with, I have now reached a place where I can discuss the patterns or trends that I see from one mayor to the next. So, you can table the aforementioned accusations unless and until I fail to crack down on Muriel Bowser for any missteps that she might take concerning the District's poor.

I noticed weeks ago that Muriel doesn't maintain a security detail in her immediate presence like her two male predecessors did. I guess that if you don't plan to piss people off, you don't need to prepare for their retaliation. (That's a good lesson for the president, Congress and the feds.) But that's not why she's made yet another brownie point with me. It is because of her early engagement with the public so as to gather their input on what her policies should be.

Adrian Fenty was infamously arrogant and wasn't big on public engagement. On April 6th, 2008 he sent several administration officials to the Franklin School Shelter to “TELL” its 300 men what would be done to them and their shelter. Vince Gray held his “One City Summit” on February 11th, 2012 to the tune of $600,000 (and hours before the death of Whitney Houston). He never followed through on what 2,000 DC residents said was most important to them. Had he done so, we'd have much more affordable housing, many more living-wage jobs and a much better educational system – just for starters.

In what I would have to assume is an attempt to avoid “analysis paralysis”, Mayor Muriel created four positions for the “housing navigators” mentioned in the previous blog post. They'll be actively connecting homeless people to housing while the administration puts together a more robust plan for addressing homelessness – triage then long-term treatment. In keeping with her avoidance of analysis paralysis and in direct contrast to the 13 months it took Gray to put together a “meaningful” public forum, Mayor Muriel has held at least two public forums hardly a month-and-a-half into her administration. (And I'm sure it didn't cost $600,000 or $300 per participant to organize.) Another point made in a previous blog post is that the council too is gathering input for a plan to address homelessness; though, in contrast, they are not implementing any form of “triage” in the meantime. The council is more like than the mayor to suffer (and cause others to suffer) from analysis paralysis.

I sometimes wonder if there is a telepathic connection between Mayor Muriel and myself; as, she is doing almost everything that I was hoping for. I'd told people that, if she didn't meet with the homeless and/or their advocates by April 1st, I would lay into her hard. She's more than satisfied that demand, with me having never articulated it to her. I'll now give her until July 1st to partially implement a plan for homeless families and until October 1st to begin planning around employment for able-bodied homeless people. If she meets both benchmarks, I'll know that either we do have such a connection or she simply reads my blog for advice. Either one is welcome news, though the former opens up more possibilities -- and creates more questions.
That said.....

Fund Homeless Employment Strategies

Hello. My name is Eric Jonathan Sheptock and I've advocated for the homeless since June 2006. While on the council, Ms. Bowser was a signatore on the resolution that declared December 31st, 2014 to be Eric Jonathan Sheptock Day in Washington, DC. That said, she's familiar with my work – pro bono “WORK”.

As a seasoned homeless advocate, I would say that “WORK” is the operative word here. Though some would argue that not enough has been done for the most vulnerable homeless who can't work, I firmly believe that a portion of the Human Services and Employment Services budgets should be devoted to connecting able-bodied homeless people to living-wage jobs and affordable housing.

I have said in my blog and to my fellow homeless advocates that I love what Mayor Bowser is doing in terms of homelessness. She's hit the ground running and made ending homelessness (which three male mayors before her ostensibly “tried” to do) her pet project. Even while on the council, she stated her support for Permanent Supportive Housing which assists the mentally and physically disabled homeless. However, no administration to-date has made a robust effort to connect homeless or low-income workers to living-wage jobs. I'd have to conclude that previous mayors going back as far as Tony Williams would much rather see those who can't make six figures leave DC. But cities don't function without janitors, cab drivers and stock boys. Low-wage workers of the world, ARISE!!!

If we get homeless A-bods working and weaned off of the system, that leaves more resources to assist the permanently disabled. But farbeit from me to suggest that we ignore our most vulnerable citizens. We should assist all sub-populations of the homeless community at acquiring housing simultaneously – families, single A-bods and the disabled. Maybe we should devote a third of all available “exit strategy” funds (as opposed to shelter and feeding funds) to getting each sub-population housed.

I know that I haven't given any concrete dollar amounts concerning “homeless employment and exit strategy” funds; however, I will soon be meeting with Bowser administration officials to discuss a detailed plan for connecting homeless people to employment. I am also a co-leader in a project that involves interviewing homeless people about their employment challenges. That said, additional plans, figures and information are forthcoming in the near future.

Thank you for your time.


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