Open Letter to Kristy Greenwalt The First Ever Director of DC's Inter-agency Council on Homeless (ICH)

First published on May 12th, 2014
Last updated on September 9th, 2016


Kristy Greenwalt began her job as the first-ever director of Washington, DC's Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH) on April 28th, 2014 -- just months after DC counted 7,748 homeless people (up from 6,859 in 2013). Though she is not to blame for the fact that DC calculated (without doing the canvassing/foot count) an increase to 8,350 homeless people in January 2016, I strongly suggest that she and any person working on ending homelessness should have or quickly develop the ability to wrap their heads around any and all grim realities of life -- especially if they earn six figures.....especially if the number of homeless people is INCREASING dramatically.

(also a header that should be the first paragraphs of the 5-year plan and get updated annually) 

  • Washington, DC's homeless population increased by 889 people from 6,859 in 2013 to 7,748.
  • After dropping by 450 people to 7,298 in 2015, it rose by 1,052 to 8,350 in 2016.
  • The special circumstances surrounding a presidential inauguration year (2017) can conceivably add to any increase in homeless people that might have already been underway.

Being as two consecutive annual increases of at least 825 people each would bring the nation's capital to the grim milestone of having 10,000 homeless people, it is incumbent upon the member agencies of the ICH to redouble their efforts to rein in any and all of the conditions that lead to a person becoming homeless and to exit people both quickly and efficiently from homelessness. Though the people working to decrease homelessness want [sic] -- apart from and in spite of any grim numerical milestone -- to continue to decrease homelessness until no one in shelter has been there for more than 90 days, our current approach toward 10,000 homeless people is bound to trigger much negative publicity and lead to the discouragement of all aforementioned workers.

Furthermore and most importantly, DC Mayor Muriel Elizabeth Bowser doesn't want to wear the label of "the mayor who oversaw the most dramatic increase in DC homelessness (numerically in DC and percentage-wise nationally)"; as, this could adversely affect her re-election bid. Should we not reach and bypass the 10,000 mark until some time between February 2018 and January 2019, there would be a decreased impact on Ms. Bowser's re-election bid; but, she would most likely face the "10,000 dilemma" in her second term -- if re-elected. The worst-case scenario is that she not be re-elected and a myriad of administrative and legislative changes slow and reverse what little bit of progress will have been made by the Bowser administration.

Below is the unadulterated (except for font) original post from 2014:

Dear Kristy Greenwalt,

I am extremely glad to have you as the first ever director of DC's Inter-agency Council on Homelessness. This body has existed since June 2006 and seen homelessness increase from 6,157 people in January of that year to over 7,000 people now (exact figures due on May 14th, 2014). in their defense, there was the economic downtown of 2008. Even so, they haven't gotten a handle on the problem in the more than five years since.

I'm sure that your experience with the USICH will enable you to do what others have not been able to do – decrease homelessness in DC. After all, the most effective housing programs that DC has had originated with the federal government. They include Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) and the System Transformation Initiative (STI). So, it stands to reason that a former federal employee is what we need.

Unfortunately, when the DC Council created your position, they only created funds for your position but didn't attach any resources. This wreaks of the half-heartedness with which the former administration funded the office of Leslie Steen, ostensibly so that she could oversee the creation of affordable housing. She left a year later due to having been given a job to do and then having had her hands tied behind her back. Welcome to DC, the land of lip service and token efforts.

I began advocating in June 2006. I witnessed the immense effort it took to get DC Government to create PSH for single, homeless adults who have mental illness, physical disabilities and other issues that make them vulnerable. I've also witnessed the three years of bad press and the even more intense advocacy that it took to get DC Government to assist homeless families. It was almost impossible for the government to say with straight faces that they wouldn't assist vulnerable adults. When it was the children who were vulnerable but their parents were not, it became slightly easier for the government to refuse them help. As a matter of fact, the Gray administration took to calling the heads of homeless households lazy, shiftless moochers. But we persisted and the administration finally gave in.

So, as we begin to focus more on connecting able-bodied and -minded homeless singles to living-wage jobs and affordable housing, I expect that we're in for the fight of our lives. Let's face it. City officials as a whole don't want to ensure that low-wage workers can afford to live in DC – even when they contribute to the life of the city through their employment. This is most definitely a moral dilemma. The mayor, in his State of the District addresses has said that we must attract high-income earners to the city in order to pay for social services; but, when the city's revenue increases he puts much of the surplus into the rainy-day fund and the advocates have to fight to get anything added to social services – the best (but least talked about) social service being a program that effectively connects people to living-wage jobs.

I'll assume that you like to “top-load” your agenda. That is to do the most difficult things first and get them out of the way. If so, then getting city officials to do more for able-bodied and -minded homeless singles who can and should work will be at or near the top of your to-do list. I've said periodically for years that, while the vulnerable homeless people will always be in some part of the Human Services system, those who can work would eventually be weaned off of the system once they are properly assisted. The “invulnerable homeless” would eventually begin (or simply continue) to work and pay taxes. They'd free up resources and alleviate some pressure on the system once housed or after they advance to better-paying jobs.

I believe that city officials know this but are afraid that making DC affordable to low-wage workers will attract tens of thousands of them to DC and reverse the trend toward making DC a “world-class city” i.e. a city for the wealthy and the well-to-do that the last three mayors have supported. City officials would much rather have these workers to bus in, make their eight hours and return to Prince George County which is often called “Ward 9” – to use them and refuse them. This is an under-pinning of DC's delivery of Human Services which you'll need to fight tooth and nail if you're going to get anywhere in this scandalous city.

But so much for local politics and the challenges of your new job. You've said a number of things that I really love. You're inclined to make a decision and move on it when the group can't arrive at a consensus. I love your centralist and decisive ways. You plan to change the way that homeless people are appointed to the ICH from the present system whereby the mayor appoints even the homeless ICH members to one where the homeless community decides who they want to represent them on the ICH – a democratic policy, by all means. (I'm sure that many people will recommend yours truly.) I guess that makes you a “democratic centralist” – a term used by my Marxist friends and I. (I'm not an atheist though.) You believe that people sometimes work hard at the wrong things and plan to get them working hard at the right things. I fully appreciate that. Make them think hard too, please.

When we discussed the changes that would be made in terms of homeless representation on the ICH, it became clear that you want those five positions to be taken more seriously by everyone – including the homeless reps and the homeless community as a whole. You want the reps to communicate with the homeless community between the bi-monthly ICH meetings and you plan to elicit the cooperation of homeless service providers so that the reps can make announcements and hold meetings at shelters and at homeless day programs. I raised the idea of paying the reps and you said that you were already considering that possibility. Great minds think alike.

In closing, I would like to reiterate how much I enjoy having you on board. I look forward to working closely with you. I'm one of many homeless advocates who have spoken off and on over the past three years about the need to become more proactive and less reactive. I'm one of the few who have followed through on this idea. 

That said, I figured that I should give you my analysis of local conditions and a few good ideas to help you get started rather than venting my displeasure at a gripe session several months hence. (I can't stand folk who only vent but can't plan their way out of a wet paper bag.) Here's to proactive planning and logical solutions to long-standing problems.

Your partner in real and logical solutions,
Eric Jonathan Sheptock 240-305-5255


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