DC Homeless Increase: Mayor Bowser, Focus on Living-wage Jobs!!!

On May 11th, 2016 I reviewed the stats for this blog and saw that it has become more popular in RUSSIA than it is in the United States. Maybe it's because Moscow, a city of approx. 13 million and the billionaire capital of the world has approx. 110,000 homeless people (.85% of population); while, Washington, DC, a city of 670,000 now has 8,350 homeless people (1.25% of population). The nation with the most billionaires in the world can make the case that its capital has a smaller homeless problem percentage-wise than the capital of the wealthiest(?) nation in the world which also happens to be the most powerful -- treatment of the homeless notwithstanding. Maybe Vladimir Putin (whom I really like) is building his case against President Obama or President Hillary Clinton and planning for a human rights showdown (which I'd love to watch, though Iran's Press TV has already started the ball rolling on that issue). Maybe this blog is being used to teach Russians English while informing them about the flaws in the American system. Whatever the reason, I'm glad the world is watching.

Now they have more to watch -- literally. Washington, DC's homeless population has increased from 7,298 in January 2015 to 8,350 in January 2016 and could pass the grave milestone of 10,000 during the administration of DC Mayor Muriel Bowser who has made addressing homelessness her pet project -- saying that she'll make homelessness "rare, brief and non-recurring" by the end of 2020 (with her first term ending on January 2nd, 2019). Her administration had better redouble its efforts to decrease homelessness so that the issue that has come to define Bowser's first term doesn't become the reason for her joining the ranks of the two one-term mayors that preceded her -- with her being the protege of Adrian Fenty (2007 to 2011) who was followed by Vince Gray (2011 to 2015). Unfortunately,The next full council meeting of the DC Inter-agency Council on Homelessness takes place on June 14th during which I'll be working the polls for the DC Democratic/Statehood-Green primary. I won't be able to witness the tension that unfolds at the first quarterly meeting since the numbers were published. Then again, if the June 2014 ICH Full Council meeting is any indication, this group of well-paid homeless service providers might be so nonchalant as not to even discuss the increase. (The number of homeless had increased by 13% from 6,859 in 2013 to 7,748 in 2014.) In all other years since the ICH began meeting in June 2006 the group has discussed the numbers (which take them four months to tally) at the next full meeting and talked about what was driving the increase or decrease. DC actually began counting the homeless in 2001 in which year it had 7,058 homeless people (1.23% of its population which stood at 575,000 that year).

It's worth noting that, while Moscow may very well have a bigger problem with unprovoked acts of violence being committed against the homeless, DC has had its share of mayors with draconian policies. DC also has no shortage of NIMBY-ers who more than make up for both the current lack of a draconian mayor and the decreased violence against the homeless. (RUSSIA, American democracy is not all that it's cracked up to be. It often manifests as "inverted totalitarianism".)

The current administration has indicated that it believes the most recent increase in homeless people is the result of former-mayor Gray's draconian policies having discouraged needy people from applying for shelter; while, Mayor Muriel Bowser's policies have encouraged these people to come out of the woodwork and ask for what they need. Taken together, this means two things:

1 -- We MUST look at the system as a whole: the legislature, the government and public opinion (even if it's just the vocal minority which is encouraging the chief executive to adopt policies that adversely affect the poor). Governments in this country (including both in DC) have adopted plans for addressing homelessness which their respective legislatures have failed to adequately fund. Juvenile delinquents across the country have beaten and killed homeless people for no apparent reason. Well-to-do people have raised their voices in opposition to plans that are intended to help the homeless. The overall atmosphere in DC is obviously not conducive to ending homelessness -- cost of living aside, for now.

2 -- Apart from the functionality or dysfunction of an administration, we can't seem to establish any continuity across administrations for decreasing homelessness. This is true for the federal and local governments -- making two-terms presidents a plus (at least when they are as bro-gressive as Obama). What progress WAS made during Fenty was lost during Gray. Now Bowser is trying to bounce back to where Fenty left off -- which might take until early 2019 when Hillary Clinton taps her as vice president following the death of Bernie Sanders.

The stats that were released on May 11th indicate that the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population is still families with small children (which has been true for at least six years). With the feds having begun in earnest in the early 2000's to house the mentally and physically disabled homeless and the DC Government having bought into this program in 2008, I believe it's high time that DC Government began devoting the majority of its housing resources to assisting the able-bodied homeless. After all, more than 90% of homeless parents are able-bodied (even if many of them are poorly-educated). The local system as a whole -- legislature, government, business community, general public and non-profit-industrial complex -- has proven to have an aversion to adopting policies and practices that connect the able-bodied homeless to living-wage jobs. Being the cynic and realist that I am, I believe this happens for two reasons:

1 -- The local machine in its entirety wants to draw in high-income people (like Moscow has already done). The local system is geared toward attracting big business and good-paying jobs which those who attended local schools are not qualified to fill (though Mayor Bowser has an employment initiative that essentially replaces the trade schools that DC closed in 1975).

2 -- Able-bodied homeless people are not the cash cows that disabled homeless people are. That is to say that the disabled homeless will go from a government/non-profit-run shelter to a government/non-profit-run housing program; while, able-bodied homeless people will exit the system altogether once assisted with their employment challenges. The non-profits stand to receive a lot of government money for those who remain within the system. I believe the term for such folk is "poverty pimp". Go figure.

Fortunately, Mayor Bowser's commitment to addressing homelessness also serves to back her against the wall and make her fix a broken, scandalous system. (I love imperatives, mandates and dictates -- when they're directed at dysfunctional government.) If she doesn't do more to employ the homeless, she'll join the ranks of the only other female mayor the city has ever had -- Sharon Pratt-Kelly whose policies led to the city government going under federal oversight (i.e. the control board) -- and might solidify the local electorate's propensity for electing male mayors firmly in place. (I personally support equality between men and women.)

What's more is that all good ideas for decreasing DC homelessness come from the feds (and the homeless advocates who, like myself, have experienced homelessness). Permanent Supportive Housing was adopted by the feds and led to DC having a considerably smaller increase in homeless people than it would have otherwise had. Now there is the federal law called the Workforce Innovations and Opportunities Act or WIOA which mandates that local governments do better at connecting hard-to-employ people to jobs. having been signed by Obama in July 2014, it must be implemented by local governments by July 2016. (I'm involved in meetings around how DC Government will come into compliance within two months.) If the feds make enough laws that are intended to end homelessness, then DC will see its numbers drop. Keep hope alive.

In closing, Washingtonians have Mayor Bowser's own words, the most recent one-year increase in homeless people and a federal mandate to hold over the mayor's head and to back her against the political wall. She said less than a week after taking office that she plans to run again and her plans for ending homelessness extend beyond her current term. Failing at her pet project could be political suicide, though it would be the broader messages about her management style and not her failures to the city's poor which would cause most people to vote against her -- her lack of transparency concerning how she chose sites for the smaller family shelters; her efforts to minimize public input (which I partially agree with her on); possible contract steering and now her nasty attitude toward a dissenting politician, just to name a few.  The tension is mounting. I almost expect her to attend the June ICH meeting and lay into people really hard about how they must do better. Too bad I won't be there to speak to her like she spoke to Council Chairman Mendelson. STAY TUNED.


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