DC Mayor Muriel Bowser's Career Academy Idea
Once again the administration of DC Mayor Muriel Elizabeth Bowser has impressed me. My fear is that, if they continue along their current trajectory of doing what poor and homeless DC residents need done in order to rejoin the work force and obtain housing, I might lose my touch when it comes to being confrontational with government officials. For eight and a half years (June 2006 thru December 2014) I found myself knocking heads with city officials from three administrations and with two mayors (having never met Tony Williams when he was mayor -- January 1999 to January 2007).
I'm left to wonder if "Mayor M.E." is somehow on the receiving end of a telepathic connection between her and myself, with me unwittingly feeding her my thoughts. Make no mistake: I've spoken and written to her on a few occasions. However, her administration is doing more of what I hoped for than I've even articulated to this latest turnover of government bureaucrats. Another possibility is that other advocates are coincidentally feeding "Mayor M.E."'s administration with ideas that I support.
I was recently told by Department Of Employment Services (DOES) Director Deborah Carroll that the mayor is conceiving a plan to create a DC Career Academy that will train DC residents for jobs in the different departments of DC Government -- everything from the Department of Public Works to the Department of General Services (maintaining government buildings) to the many city jobs that require a CDL license.
But I'll make no bones about the fact that Deborah Carroll wasn't always on the list of my 10 favorite DC Government employees or appointees. I've been appalled in the past by her inability and/or unwillingness to give straight answers to DC councilpersons while testifying at hearings about the functioning of the Department of Human Services (DHS) where she has twice served as interim director. That much about her seems to have changed, as has my opinion of her. but, as we say here in Washington, DC, "We have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies -- just permanent interests". It seems as though Deborah Carroll will serve my interests in the short term; so, we are developing a more cordial relationship now. It has also been said that those who remain friends for at least seven years will likely remain friends for life. I've reached that point with Dept. of Human Services Director Laura Zeilinger whom I've known since July 23rd 2007. There's hope for Deborah Carroll too, though things never got rocky between Laura and I.
Advocates and activists from various sectors of the social justice movement have demanded affordable housing and living-wage jobs for as long as I can remember. Then DC Government began in the fall of 2008 to use federal funds to house the disabled homeless, while allowing able-bodied homeless people with employment challenges to rot in shelter until they grow old and/or acquire a disability. Then the homeless advocates (who've traditionally done very little in tandem with those fighting to make or keep housing affordable for the not-yet-homeless) became even more splintered -- with some becoming gung-ho about funding for Permanent Supportive Housing for the disabled while others (like ME) maintain that we should split our attention and funding between the disabled and the A-bods. Then there was the December 2014 meeting of the DC Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (DC ICH) which was preceded by a discussion on homeless employment challenges. I got the sense that government giving us ear was no longer pro forma or a façade of caring, but rather a genuine interest in what the advocates in general and myself in particular have to say. When I found out around Christmas 2014 that Laura Zeilinger (who, unlike anyone else, used to make it a point to get back to the homeless with progress reports on comments they'd made at the previous ICH meeting) was appointed as director of DHS, I decided that I would make a comment at the February ICH meeting in which I ask her to revisit the comments made about homeless employment in December and to restart the practice of giving progress reports on what the homeless have asked for. Then the meeting got moved to March, as we went from bi-monthly meetings in 2014 to quarterly meetings in 2015. (ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt -- April 28th, 2014 to present -- places more faith and effort in the sub-committees than she does in the committee of the whole.) At any rate, things that my colleagues and I have said for approximately 10 years are finally being acted upon and even the things that we didn't think of or demand are now aligning in our favor. This is especially true about homeless employment, which brings me back to my friend Deborah Carroll.
When I heard that she was appointed as DOES director, it immediately occurred to me that she could become a valuable asset insomuch as she is now a human services/ employment hybrid. I wondered which qualities of hers would carry over into her new post; but, in keeping with my long-time manner, decided that I would inundate this cabinet member with my demands. It paid off.
With Ms. Carroll having been appointed several weeks after Mayor M.E. took office, I sent her the following e-mail on February 5th:
I told you in December that we could discuss your vision if you were retained by Mayor Bowser. Though you are no longer with DHS, my promise still holds true. With you now leading DOES, our paths will still cross; as I'm pretty heavy on the homeless employment piece. I believe that the District doesn't really want to enable homeless or low-income people to remain in DC or to find affordable housing. The gov and biz structure is set up to push poor folk out of the city.I also believe that the homeless employment issue is a big can of worms and that anyone who devotes themselves to addressing it will suffer many headaches as they follow its many tentacles into areas like discrimination, workers' rights, job-training issues etc. Nonetheless, I'll keep pushing the ticket until someone in the administration takes on this headache. I'll BE the headache until you commit yourself to taking on the headache of homeless employment. Would you like to meet and discuss homeless employment?????
She took up my offer to meet, though it wasn't the tense one-on-one that I initially thought it would be. As we arranged the meeting, we decided to bring other homelessness and employment stakeholders to the table. That meeting took place on Friday, March 13th, 2015.
I arrived at 1:28 for a 1:30 meeting, found that there were about 15 people at the conference table conducting a meeting that I was given the wrong time for and began to wonder if the "bum" steer was intentional. The conversation was about employment issues faced by homeless parents
whose average age range is 18 to 24 years old. Then, at 1:45 Ms. Carroll said, "Let's transition". She told me that I indeed had not been given a bum steer but that I walked in on the tail end of a different meeting
that ran past the scheduled end time. Cynicism reversed.
The 15-ish of us talked from 1:45 to approximately 2:20 about my concerns around homeless employment. The group gave me the lion's share of the time so that I could say what I had to say. In stark contrast to her council hearing mannerisms, Deborah Carroll interrupted me several times to say, "I can answer that". She then proceeded to give me straight, unambiguous and detailed answers. Surprise. Surprise.
At one point I told this room full of DC Government employees, "I like to think backwards; so, I should apply for a job with DC Government". After we all got a really good laugh, I explained that we should start our thinking with the goal of connecting people to both housing and jobs and think backwards to what needs to happen to get us there. We discussed other ideas pertaining to homeless employment which I'll
address in another blog post, this one having already obtained quite the ungodly length. FULL STOP.