I Love DC Mayor Muriel Bowser('s Plan for Ending Homelessness)
Quite frankly, I think that the Bowser administration is doing better than the council (headed by Phil Mendelson) when it comes to addressing homelessness. Muriel Bowser hit the ground running when she took office. She used Miriams's Kitchen as a backdrop when announcing her cabinet appointments for positions that are related to homelessness. (Oddly enough, “Homeless Czar(ina)” Kristy Greenwalt wasn't present.) Since taking office, the mayor has moved Deborah Carroll from being interim director of the Department of Human Services (DHS) to being director of the Department Of Employment Services (DOES). I'm holding out hope that Ms. Carroll, who has already responded well to my request for a meeting about homeless employment, will continue to please me by forcing a continuous and robust public conversation around this topic and will impress me with what she actually “DOES”.
While I won't completely rehash all of the compliments that I gave Mayor Bowser in the previous blog post, I'll say that she is incorporating concepts that I've talked about for several years now. She has given the public a general idea of how she plans to proceed when it comes to ending homelessness, with details to come later. I applaud her for that. The council, on the other hand, continues to hold hearings during which they gather input on how to proceed. The administration will get there “lickety split” while the council is still “packing its sh*t” (for those of you who know the joke). Though I plan to testify at a council hearing about homelessness (having been unable to do so at the first one), I am more enthused about working with the very accessible administration. After all, the mayor can move on her decisions without having to get buy-in from 12 other elected officials (minus the two currently vacant seats which could leave us with a majority female council once filled in April).
It seems to me that the mayor is incorporating a concept that I thought, spoke and wrote about long ago by making the end of homelessness in Washington, DC her “pet octopus” – a core issue with tentacles that extend into other areas and afford her an infinite and ever-metamorphosing agenda. One tentacle has already taken her fully into the affordable housing arena. Efforts are underway to stretch another tentacle into the living-wage job arena. Before all is said and done(?), she'll venture into the areas of domestic violence, medical bankruptcy and untreated mental illness – as all are causes of homelessness. (Heavy drinking and illicit drug use are the sixth and seventh biggest reasons for homelessness in this country, even if news reports make it seem like the majority of homeless people are substance abusers. Nothing could be further from the truth.) We've got a septapus so far. I'm sure we'll find an eighth tentacle soon.
During the January 30th, 2015 hearing on homelessness, Inter-agency Council on Homelessness Director/ Homeless Czarina Kristy Greenwalt told the council that there is a need to capture people living in poverty BEFORE they become homeless. The administration as a whole has gone on the record as wanting to implement preventive measures. I've told people over the years that ending homelessness is like fixing a leaking water supply line insomuch as you would turn the water off and stop the flow before you mop up the mess. I'm glad Bowser and her “Dream Team” get it.
The Department of Human Services, under the direction of my long-time friend Laura Zeilinger, is building a concept which they're temporarily calling “Flow Housing”. (They're taking suggestions for a better name.) Flow Housing will serve people who will always be poor and will need unending financial support while they live and work in DC. (Such programs for the working poor are corporate subsidies for employers who under-pay their workers, not hand-outs to lazy moochers. But we need them anyway.) This effort by DHS hearkens back to conversation that I had with Laura in her former life as deputy director of DHS under former mayor Fenty before going to the USICH. At that time, I told her that we need to focus on making homeless people completely self-sufficient such that they don't need any type of subsidy. I knew that my suggestion would be difficult, if not impossible, to fulfill. She took the bait and said what I expected as she told me that many people would always need some level of support. Now that she's back in DC government, she's acting on that understanding with her creation of “Flow housing”. Good job.
While past administrations have focused on providing deplorable shelters with poorly-trained staff and have moved as slowly as possible to create affordable housing, Mayor Bowser has articulated plans that include both suitable shelter in the immediate and affordable housing in the not-so-distant future. After all, someone with spaghetti for brains could figure out that any plan to end homelessness would have to include the creation of housing that can be afforded by the homeless. Mayor Muriel Bowser gets it.
Many people, including the media, want to know my opinion of Mayor Bowser's plan to end homelessness – especially her plans for homeless families. Well, here it is. I LOVE IT!!! Some people are calling into question Ms. Bowser's decision not to use $600,000 that the previous mayor set aside for new case managers at the family shelter for that purpose. They believe that, if she doesn't use it to hire additional case managers, she ought to use it to retrain the existing case managers. While it's true that the case managers can be quite unprofessional, I believe that Ms. Bowser made the right decision.
The mayor plans to hire four “housing navigators” who will assist homeless families and individuals at finding the most suitable housing. A few years ago, DHS admitted to having so many case managers and so few housing units that everyone – service providers and homeless people alike – was frustrated. People were being made to see case managers who told them that there was no housing available for them. Why bother?! That's what I call “case non-management” – bringing someone into your office just to tell them that you can't help them. The mayor is putting housing – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – ahead of improving or increasing case management. Hoorah.
Unbeknownst to her, I've often argued that we should focus on creating a large number of affordable units and living-wage jobs for the homeless; let the high-functioning homeless run for them; and then, offer case management and a taken-by-the-hand approach to those who are left, as they have deeper issues. I've said that, if we create and enforce rights that prevent high-functioning homeless people from being discriminated against in their searches for jobs and housing, then as many as 60% of the homeless would get THEMSELVES out of homelessness. (Many homeless service providers would become unnecessary and unemployed in one fell swoop – all the more reason to do it.) It makes no sense to ask each individual homeless person what they need or to require them to participate in case management before we have sufficient stock of what we know are the most widely-shared needs of the group – affordable housing and living-wage jobs. If we have these things in store first, then the case managers can actually help their clients who visit the office. Howbeit, her logical plan to focus on connecting homeless people to affordable housing doesn't preclude her from using the $600,000 to retrain case managers. It doesn't have to be “either-or”. It can be “both-and”.
In closing, I'll say what you've probably guessed by this point: I LOVE DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (so far). It's not due to her being a woman, though I am infamous for loving women as much as I do. She has gotten off to a really great start. I don't know if she's driven by her desire to out-do the last three male mayors who “tried” and failed to end homelessness, fear that I would be as hard on her as I was on mayors Fenty and Gray or a genuine desire to end homelessness and to enable people of all economic strata to live in DC. It could be two or all three. No matter the reason(s), I love what she's doing. Like I told Ms. Bowser at the Homeless Point-In-Time Count, “Let's keep it that way”. If DC Mayor Muriel Bowser is reading this, I'd have you to know: “WildThing, I [know] I love you”.
There are 20 years that don't make a day; then, there's that day that makes 20 years.
The news of her plans for the homeless is an awesome birthday gift for me. February 15th, 2015 (my 46th birthday) is also 46 days after Eric Jonathan Sheptock Day. I'll spend at least some of the day enjoying the fact that the city's poor and homeless will find some relief under this mayor.