Monday, April 25, 2016

Mayor Muriel Bowser, Fight NIMBY-ites with a Jobs Plan

I said late last year and earlier this year that, with 2016 being a seventh year, it would be a "Year of JOB-ilee" for the homeless; and, this is just what it is turning out to be. DC Government is hard at work implementing the piece of federal legislation known as the "Workforce Innovations and Opportunities Act" or "WIOA" which basically mandates that municipalities connect hard-to-employ people to jobs. That group, of course, includes the homeless. The website that bears my name and another website that my colleagues and I worked on with American University both speak to issues surrounding homeless employment. With the CCNV Shelter's future in limbo, much is being said about the need to connect its residents to employment -- a need that can be met even now and does not need to be connected to a shelter closure. But, while much is being said and done about homeless employment issues, there is at least one very important thing that is NOT being done:
As DC Mayor Muriel Bowser promotes her plan to replace the decrepit DC General Family Shelter with seven smaller shelters in all but one of the city's wards, she is promoting it as a better shelter system while failing to highlight the parts of her plan that would assist homeless parents in their efforts to find living-wage jobs.
While it's true that there are many forces opposing her plan, it stands to reason that presenting the plan as one that will "grow people beyond homelessness" (as former DHS director Clance Carter would say) is much more attreactive to the general public. I've even taken to using this metaphor:
If Satan and the administration of Hell were to decide that Hell (like Don King's hairdo) is too large and unmanageable, they might divide it into eight smaller sections. Even so, folk would still be in Hell.
A wise man once said, "If you're going through Hell, don't stop! Keep moving!" That thinking applies here. Homelessness is Hell. Homeless people don't need smaller, more manageable Hells. They need a way out. I'm guessing that some of the NIMBY-ites (the vocal minority) would become more accepting of the mayor's plan if its employment component was the leading edge -- if it were presented as a plan to connect people to jobs rather than a plan to improve shelter conditions. Some NIMBY-ites would simply be less inclined to oppose a plan that highlights employment efforts because it would expose them for the NIMBY-ites that they are. Let's face it: the bourgeoisie has had much practice at glossing over their hatred of the poor; but, presenting an idea that addresses their concerns and/or aligns with their stated principles forces them to either be satisfied or to be more direct about their true intentions. promoting a robust employment plan for homeless parents gets us there.

I should remind people that I have critiqued the city's efforts toward homeless employment insomuch as most of its efforts are focused on parents ages 18 to 24. The Bowser administration is also focused on connecting young criminals ages 18 to 24 to employment. What I know of the plan looks good to me. It's just that neither I nor any of the people I know who are at least 25 years old can ever fit into that group again. That said, when the Bowser administration talks to the public about the plan to replace DC General Family Shelter, they should put the employment piece front and center and even develop a title that includes something about employment (like Bill Clinton did with his "Welfare to Work" program -- despite any of its flaws).

Having belabored that point sufficiently, let me move on. I said that there are many forces opposing Mayor Bowser's plan. in addition to the NIMBY-ites/Bourgeoisie of Ward 3, there are the Ward 5 residents who impressed me as they presented better alternatives to the proposed shelter site for their ward. I really have to speak of them separately from the NIMBY-ites. Their reasons for opposing the mayor's plan are legitimate.

Then there is the cost. Even Dan Tangherlini -- who served as DC city administrator in which capacity he had to lead ICH meetings but now heads GSA -- has weighed in. A recent article that features him indicates that DC Government can cut the cost of replacing the family shelter in half by purchasing the proposed sites rather than leasing the five sites as the current plan calls for. (Two sites are already city-owned.) This will prove to be a major sticking point with the DC Council. I actually like Councilman David Grosso's idea of using Eminent Domain to just TAKE these properties from the developers (except in Ward 5), throw an envelope full of cash amounting to the fair market value for these properties at the developers and then create shelter at a much lower cost than the current plan calls for. Maybe David Grosso is that benevolent dictator that we need.

At this point, I've listed a few of the forces coming against DC Mayor Muriel Bowser as she aims to replace the family shelter. In short they are:

1 -- NIMBY-ites/Bourgeoisie (mainly in Ward 3)
2 -- DC Residents with legitimate reasons to oppose the plan (like in Ward 5)
3 --Cost (when compared to suitable alternatives)
4 -- The commendable frugality of the DC Council

However, I'm thinking that I should add at least one more item:

5 -- Public stupidity.

In my many speeches and in an occasional boisterous conversation on public transit, I like to talk about how stupid the general public can be. (That's probably the one point on which Ben Carson and I agree. He's a brain surgeon. He should know.) Without belaboring this topic, as it could fill a book, I'll say this much:

On the one hand, people say "NIMBY: Not in my back yard" when the government elects to place a shelter in their neighborhood.

On the other hand, people say "NITNA(U): Not in the next apartment (unit)" when the government is housing the homeless.

STUPID PEOPLE don't want homeless people living in a shelter near them. Neither do they want homeless people living in the next apartment. However, these housed people are too stupid to realize that the latter problem will never exist insomuch as, once the homeless are housed, they're not homeless anymore. These same housed people (the ones who were never homeless) are also too stupid to realize that being opposed to the homeless person obtaining shelter OR housing in that neighborhood exposes them as bourgeois haters of the poor -- as someone who just hates anyone who doesn't make six figures.

STUPID PEOPLE fail to realize that saying "NIMBY" is the same as saying "YISEBY: Yes in somebody else's back yard". They seem to want to do with the homeless what the U.S. Military-Congress does with POW's from the War Of.....err On Terror. The big difference is that we KNOW whose back yard the POW's are going to: Cuba's. NIMBY-ites make no attempt to figure out whose back yard the homeless will end up in.

I'll venture to guess that, after the city concentrates enough homeless shelters in one small area, it will be some of the same NIMBY-ites who complain that city officials have created SKID ROW -- which is pretty much what the area around DC General has become.

Let's not forget about the STUPID COPS in various municipalities who tell the homeless "You can't sleep here.....You can't sleep there in that park either.....You can't sleep on that sidewalk either....." Let's not forget that it was considered torture when U.S. soldiers deprived Iraqi POW's of sleep.

Long story short, any member of the public who chooses to weigh in on the matter of homelessness should be prepared to answer both of these questions:

1 -- How would you ensure that homeless people are able to have all of their immediate needs met (including shelter, food, clothing etc)???

2 -- How would you end homelessness???

THE END.

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Friday, April 8, 2016

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser Promote Homeless Employment B4 Family Shelters

I maintain my assertion that BENEVOLENT DICTATORSHIP is the only form of governance that effectively helps the working poor. (Maybe after Bernie Sanders becomes Hillary Clinton's vice president, he'll spend his last two years on the planet creating Wall Street regulations and social reforms that eliminate the need for the working poor to obtain food stamps and rental assistance.) The extreme NIMBY-ism that is reaching a boiling point in reaction to DC Mayor Muriel Bowser's plan to replace the DC General Family Shelter stands as a testament to my first point. The NIMBY-ists have gotten downright ugly, going so far as to do a mass walk-out on the mayor's administration as the admin held one of its many meetings since 2/11 about he mayor's plan. (These people went so far as to attend a March 17th hearing about the family shelter plan which was held at City Hall and complained while there about having not been given the opportunity to voice their concerns. Go figure.) The more suave -- and less rude -- residents of DC were able to formulate NIMBY-ish reasons that sounded somewhat legit, though any seasoned advocate could see right through the BS (and didn't need to have a BS to do it).

The poor don't need for their issues to be put to a public vote just so that an unsympathetic, ill-informed and oft irrational public can demand that government officials implement draconian policies. I believe the phrase for such a practice is "inverted totalitarianism". While some might ask why it is that the mayor is attempting to create emergency legislation that would allow her to move forward on her plan to replace an emergency shelter which came under extreme scrutiny after an 8-year old girl went missing from it, I say that the real question is, "Why do we put this or any matter concerning a public emergency to a public vote and a prolonged public input process??? Doesn't that contradict the nature of an emergency???". If I ever see a Ward 3 resident choking, I'm going to take a vote on who should perform the Heimlich maneuver before anyone is allowed to help them. We'll be able to house another homeless family soon thereafter. long story short, the homeless need a BENEVOLENT DICTATOR to work on their behalf.

I'm still holding out hope that Muriel Bowser (or a cabinet member who deals with homelessness) will become that BENEVOLENT DICTATOR that we need. Some of the mayor's behaviors which DC residents including Yours Truly have presented as negatives have begun to take on a positive air -- for me, anyway. Not giving ample notice about meetings concerning the proposed family shelter sites has probably reduced the number of NIMBY-ists who inundate the administration with their solution-free complaints down to a third or less of what it would have otherwise been. A perceived lack of transparency concerning how she chose the sites has, no doubt, impeded the ability of the more suave NIMBY-ists to formulate arguments that sound legit but which only serve as a front for an all-out hatred of the poor. Though I've suspected that the Bowser administration was waiting until six months or less before the planned closure of the CCNV Shelter to inform its residents (an idea which would have made it impossible to adequately address the employment challenges of able-bodied homeless people), I've now begun to tell the many homeless people who ask about the 1,350-bed shelter's future that the crises surrounding homeless families and a single males' shelter outside of which several murders have occurred since 2012 are forcing the mayor to put CCNV's future on the back burner. That said, I'll suspend judgment on Mayor Bowser's style and manner for now. I might need to make like a funny little presidential candidate and completely back-pedal on my comments about my perception of underhandedness on her part.

I recently highlighted what the mayor said about homeless during her 2016 State of the District Address (SODA) as having been a sensationalistic attempt to extort people into complying with her plan. She said:

"So we’re going to close DC General by opening up small, short-term family housing across the District. Beautiful and dignified places where families can thrive, and where little children can be little children.

But we cannot do it alone. The Council paved the way with a vote last fall, and we need your next vote to move us forward again.

I urge us not to be distracted by arguments based on fear…..or convenience….or apples and oranges comparisons that falsely represent the cost of lifting families out of homelessness.

Because make no mistake. If we fail to act – or if we do not move forward with one of the sites – we will not be able to close DC General. Not now, not any time soon, and maybe never.
While I'm not reversing that judgment, the more recent reactions to her plan by Wards 3 and 5 necessitate a revisiting of the reality of a plan that includes new construction being brought to fruition in less than 2.5 years. While the Ward 3 Bourgeoisie was just being downright nasty, Ward 5 residents brought forth some very legit reasons as to why the chosen site for that ward will not work -- and they presented alternatives. Even so, the mayor DID say that "If we do not move forward with [even] ONE of the sites – we will not be able to close DC General. Not now, not any time soon, and maybe never". and we now have at least TWO sites to which there might be enough opposition to put the plan for that site -- and for the closing of DC General Shelter AND for the construction of an Olympic village in the Hill East neighborhood by 2028 -- on hold. In lieu of this intensifying opposition, MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER needs to be reminded of HER OWN WORDS, take a good hard look at the probability of implementing her plan before her 2018 re-election bid -- and possibly change her plan significantly.

SOLUTION: Unlike the snobbish, NIMBY-ist Ward 3 Bourgeoisie, I like to present solutions. For the solution to this matter, we can pull from the words of people who (like me, a Ward 6 resident) attended the Ward 3 Family Shelter meeting on February 11th, some of whom asked LAURA ZEILINGER how homeless families were going to exit any of these yet-to-be-built shelters when some of the families had already been in the current shelter for over a year and some employment challenges take more than 90 days to address. (Though said in a hateful spirit, some of their arguments actually DO hold water.) The BOWSER ADMINISTRATION might do well to place greater emphasis on employment for homeless parents and singles even now. Then, even as they softened and euphemized the term "shelter" by calling it "temporary housing", they could eliminate the narrative of "moving homeless families into better shelters" and replace it with one that promotes "connecting the working poor to living-wage jobs and affordable housing". After all, it stands to reason that, if families that have been residing in the current shelter and in hotels for 90 days or more thus far haven't found living-wage employment already, then relocating to better shelters won't change that -- for the better, anyway. The general public might be more amenable to having the "working poor" move into their neighborhoods than they are to having people whom the Gray administration presented as "lazy and shiftless" moving into their neighborhoods. If the wealthy of Ward 3 were to reject even the working poor, then their hatred of the Proletariat and Broletariat would be further exposed -- and quite unquestionably and irreversibly, at that.

What's more is that, at the end of the [work]day, living-wage jobs would help the homeless (the majority of whom are able to work) to exit homelessness. I've suspected that public officials in all administrations since January 1999 (Williams: 1999 to 2007; Fenty: 2007 to 2011; Gray: 2011 to 2015; Bowser 2015 to present) were afraid that, if they addressed the employment and wage issues of the city's homeless, then that would begin a ripple effect wherein the housed poor might join the homeless in common cause and the low-income workers from nearby states whom the gentrifiers seek to keep out would flock to the District. Ironically, it is a renewed emphasis on living-wage jobs for the homeless and poor which may very well be what saves the mayor's plan for homeless families -- and her 2018 re-election bid. So, Mayor Muriel Bowser Promote Homeless Employment B4 Family Shelters

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Let's Work with Mayor Bowser to Decrease homelessness

It's wonderful that DC now has a mayor who is fully committed to making homelessness “rare, brief and non-recurring”. In 2003 and 2004 Tony Williams oversaw the creation of a 10-year plan to end homelessness – a plan that was discarded after three years. Adrian Fenty oversaw the creation of Permanent Supportive Housing for the elderly and disabled homeless. Vince Gray committed to addressing homelessness in the waning months of his administration, following the abduction of 8-year old Relisha Rudd from the family Shelter in March of 2014. In the meantime, the city has gone from having 5,757 homeless people in January of 2007 to having approximately 8,000 homeless people in DC proper now -- which shouldn't be confused with the 12,000 in DC Metro. (The foot count of DC's homeless wasn't done this year due to Snowstorm Jonas “Snowzilla”.) Howbeit, Mayor Muriel Bowser might just be the one to reverse the trend – though not without the help of the DC Council.

Mayor Bowser has retained Kristy Greenwalt as the director of the Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH). Kristy, who assumed her current post on April 28th, 2014, is the first director of an agency that has been meeting since June 2006. Kristy has overseen the creation of a 5-year plan which is slated to connect all of the city's current homeless to housing by the end of 2020 and which will lead to all newly-homeless people being connected to housing within 90 days. These represent awesome,though ambitious, goals.

Mayor Bowser has also brought back Laura Zeilinger who served as assistant director of the Dept. of Human Services under Fenty and has made her director of DHS. Evidenced by a recently-released audit that was done on DHS in 2014, Laura is working hard to rebuild the department and fix its many flaws. If the several women whom the mayor has appointed to direct departments that serve the poor, homeless and socioeconomically deprived are the mayor's “Poverty Dream Team”, then Laura Zeilinger is definitely the quarterback – and she often gets sacked by the media and mounting public pressure. She's a real champ.

The fact remains that Mayor Bowser has made significantly decreasing homelessness in DC – an effort that three men before didn't succeed at – into something of a pet project. Since it may come to define her first term, she's highly motivated to succeed – a truth which has its pros and cons. What's more is that the general public is becoming more politicized as the nuances of dealing with DC homelessness get played out in the public sphere – from the Amber alert posters of Relisha Rudd on buses and bus shelters to the media coverage of tent-city closures to the council and ward meetings about the mayor's plan to replace the DC General Family Shelter which, for the most part, replaced the DC Village Family Shelter – the former having increased its capacity from 115 units to 288 units in 2012 after the latter was closed in 2007.

It was a man who passed homeless people under a bridge each day on his way to work who decided to buy a few tents out of pocket. He then began a crowd-funding site through which he raised $24,000 and bought many more for the homeless in other locations around the city. This led to residents of the Foggy Bottom community taking notice of dozens of homeless people who'd been camped out near the Watergate hotel for years – but without tents until late 2015. Some of these residents contacted city officials in order to have the tent city dismantled. Since then, DC Government has begun a campaign to dismantle tent cities all over the city. The man who began it all, though he's not happy about the tent cities being dismantled, is glad that he was able to play a role in bringing attention to the issue of homelessness.

Members of the public have voiced their concerns at meetings which the Bowser administration held in various wards on February 11th, 2016 to promote her family shelter plan. They can also be seen testifying at the March 17thcouncil hearing on this matter. They can be heard raising many technical and logistical questions from the proposed shelter sites' cost to their proximity to bus lines and transit stations. (This post won't due justice to the many things people said. View the hearing.) But it was the residents of Ward 5 who really set the bar for the public's engagement in this process of remaking the family shelter system. Residents thought that the proposed site for the Ward 5 family shelter was not suitable for many reasons. However, they didn't stop there. They scouted around and found alternative sites, loaded them onto a website and sent the link along with a letter to city officials. This is a prime example of how we can avoid merely complaining about the doings of public officials and we can actually work together to make DC a better place.

It's worth noting that many homeless people have barriers to employment that won't be resolved within 90 days. This doesn't preclude the administration from housing them first and addressing their employment challenges later. After all, the designers of the city's Permanent Supportive Housing program said during the series of meetings between April and September of 2008 that the plan was to start out housing the most vulnerable homeless who have mental and physical disabilities and to eventually transition into also housing those who are able to work (A-bods). In either instance the city would use a “housing first” approach that places the person in housing and then addresses the issues that led to that person becoming homeless. With city officials scrambling to implement the federal law called the Workforce Innovations and opportunities Act (WIOA), this might be a good time to complete the transition to also housing the able-bodied homeless – a transition that began with the crisis response to the DC General Family Shelter situation but has yet to spill over into the singles' shelters.

It's imperative that we take note of the fact that DC homelessness is the result of a toxic mix of social ills – low wages, increasing rents, gentrification, a problem-ridden educational system etc. Some of the residents who experience these and other social ills never actually become homeless. Others take years after losing a job to finally enter shelter. But all DC residents should want cures to these ills and to the homelessness that often results from them. As many homeless advocates often say, “We're all just a paycheck away from becoming homeless”.

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