Eric Sheptock's Exit From Homelessness: Can He Push City to Improve???

I might be out of the CCNV Shelter and out of homelessness altogether within a month; but, I know not to count my chicken wings before they're fried...err to count my chickens before they're hatched. However, it could prove to be a bitter-sweet deal insomuch as I might forfeit any opportunity I might've had to enter housing that is created when the CCNV Shelter whose future I helped build conversation around is closed -- a process that might start in 2020 or so and be completed by December 2023.

[City Officials met with shelter residents on April 27th, 2016 and said that no closure is planned. However, the homeless have expressed doubt about such statements in lieu of the construction of five buildings across the road. With Capitol Crossing slated to be finished in 2025 and the developer aiming for a 2023 finish, the current city administration (2015 to 2019) need not worry themselves with closing CCNV yet. After all, the parking lot and the land under the shelter are currently worth about $80M -- a value that will increase sharply when the 2.2M sq. ft., $1.3B project across the road is completed.

BTW, two women's shelters totaling 200 beds were relocated from the CCNV building to Chinatown and the building's 250 hypothermia-season beds are also closed, decreasing the buildings census from a 1,350-person max to approx. 900 now. DC Central Kitchen (one of three non-shelter services in the building) is considering moving to Crummell School in NE DC.]

I surely don't plan to remain at the shelter for another four to seven years just so that I can benefit from an effort that I was part of. In that respect, I'm not forfeiting much -- if anything. It's the anticipated "improvements" in people's attitudes toward me that make it bitter-sweet. I've had pleasant conversation with perfect strangers who then ask what I do for a living. In spite of our first 15-20 minutes having been pleasant and them having had no apprehensions about me, they take two steps back when they find out that I'm homeless. Their whole demeanor changes and all of our pleasant conversation doesn't count for anything. They find an excuse to leave abruptly. Whether it was due to them thinking I was creating all of that conversation as a lead-in to a request for money or as part of a set-up whereby to rob them is beyond me. I don't do either.

That said, I don't want to hear anything that resembles a person having "greater respect" for me after I'm out of shelter. That's especially true for those whom I've known for a long time -- service providers and fellow advocates alike. Were anyone to suggest that they think more highly of me once I'm out of CCNV, I'd be tempted to have them count their sheep so I can "smack the FLOCK out of them". I'm the same man whether I'm housed or homeless (for better or for worse).

The story of my exit goes as such: I used to work at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, FL (May 1988 to Feb. 1994). I was a freight handler who drove a small train similar to those used at airports to load baggage on planes. I drove out trash and dirty linen and drove in new supplies and clean linen. I also emptied the trash and linen chutes and burned amputated body parts along with other blood and guts in the incinerator until it was torn down in 1992 and we began shipping our contaminated trash to Deland, FL. With truth often being stranger than fiction, I'll say that my attempt to help a female employee who I'd figured out was the victim of repeated sexual violation led to me walking off of that job on February 14th, 1994 (the day before my 25th birthday). I'm now eligible for a modest retirement lump sum -- enough to get me out of homelessness for six months anyway.

Fortunately, I didn't have to leave my brain on the kitchen counter when I exited my last rental in Gainesville. Therefore, I still have my ability to manage my affairs (business and marital). I've already begun to seek out social services that will allow me to stretch the money beyond six months while guaranteeing that I'll increase my income during that same time period and will be able to maintain the rental indefinitely. Knowing that I have this money coming has me in planning mode. In spite of having had several bouts with homelessness over the past 22 years (and several other jobs), my brain is still fully intact and functional -- minus the 2.5% that my biological mother chipped off when I was eight months old. (I did five years in foster care and then got adopted by Caucasians, rendering me an "Oreo".)

As far as I know, there is no city program that will assist with rent beyond 18 months. Rapid Rehousing will assist for up to 18 months and an applicant must have a sure path to stability in order to even qualify for assistance. The federal version of Rapid Rehousing was only available to those who had become homeless as a result of the then-recent economic downturn and who would not need assistance beyond 18 months. The local program (which borrows the same name but is an altogether different animal) doesn't require that an applicant be newly-homeless; but, DOES require that they have a sure path forward. As soon as I can guarantee that I'll be able to maintain the rental after the lump sum is gone, I plan to pack the remainder of my belongings (having moved some to storage in early May) and to hightail it out of CCNV. How I create the guarantee of a steady income depends on the combination of what more I learn about city services if and when my calls are returned and what day labor or other odd jobs I am able to get connected to. (I currently do odd jobs and occasional speaking engagements.) BTW, I've begun pricing rentals.

All of this news, of course, begs the question: "What about the advocacy that I've done since mid-June 2006???" The short answer is: "I don't plan to quit". To be quite honest, I'll do my best to use my exit from homelessness as a way to pressure the city into creating similar opportunities for other high-functioning homeless people. If I can take MY money and use it responsibly (it being considerably less than the $10,000-plus that the city spends annually on EACH homeless individual), then it stands to reason that others can do the same. It might behoove DC Government to pay six months' rent in SRO's (single room occupancies) for a select few homeless people who exhibit the ability to manage their affairs and who remain compliant with individual programs that are designed by case management and geared toward increasing the person's income so as to keep them out of shelter indefinitely.

After all, local service providers will tell you quite unabashedly that, while it costs less to house a family or a disabled individual than it does to shelter them, it actually costs less to shelter an able-bodied individual than it does to house them. Maybe if we can present an alternative for single A-bods that counters the cost logic, then the city will make the shift it promised over the summer of 2008 that it would eventually make. As DC constructed its local version of Permanent Supportive Housing from April to September 2008, it was said that they would start by focusing on housing the "most vulnerable" homeless who have mental and physical disabilities. The Fenty administration said that there would be a shift in future years to also assisting the "least vulnerable" homeless with their living-wage employment challenges. (Some of the administrators from 2008 are still around.) In lieu of the fact that it's been almost eight years and of WIOA it's about time we made that shift. Maybe my exit from homelessness will prove to be permanent and serve as the springboard for how to effectively assist other homeless singles. I'll do my best to ensure both.


Manny Lamont said…
Hey Eric,

Not sure if you read this recent WAPO article on how Sarasota, FL is handling their issues with the homeless population there:

It's something that I have been aware of taking place in various cities including DC for sometime now. Criminalizing homelessness. However I expect this to go into hyper drive considering the next administration, and the general fact that more austerity measures will come to bear.
Eric Sheptock said…
DC doesn't have those draconian laws of other cities but could in 10 yrs as older advicates from 1980's die. I'm aware of trend elsewhere. We need a movement.

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