Friday, May 27, 2016

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.

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Mayor Bowser: Go with DC Council's Family Shelter Plan!!! (Pt 2)

The previous blog post was in response to DC Mayor Muriel Bowser's angry outburst toward Council Chairman Phil Mendelson on May 17th, 2016; an on-line letter she wrote to her constituents soon thereafter and her ongoing displays of hyperbole and sensationalism (bordering on demagoguery). There is so much to say about her particular (wo)managerial style and how she can do better that I had to do this continuation.

MOTIVES: Let me remind you (as I did in the previous post) that the DC General Family Shelter was proposed as the site for the Olympic Village had DC won the 2024 Olympic bid.

CONTINUED from May 19th post:

On March 22nd during her (SODA) State Of the District Address for which you can find the entire transcript HERE she said the following (about halfway through her speech):
"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."
In her online letter on May 19th she said:
"That means years of families having no choice but to stay in an old, dilapidated place that does not live up to the ethical and moral values of our city."
 Hmm. Mayor Bowser seems to be really gung-ho about closing DC General Family Shelter and opening several smaller "SHELTERS where families can THRIVE and CHILDREN can be CHILDREN" (for a short time, of course). Why is she not saying much about the 1,000-plus families that are in hotels in DC and Maryland on the city's dime??? I'm guessing that it's because they aren't in the way of an Olympic village or another major development. Just my guess.

Why is there no robust conversation about the affordable housing or living-wage job options that these families will have once they've been moved into new shelters??? For all the vices of the Ward 3 Bourgeoisie, they did ask at least one very relevant question which went something like this:

"How will families who are moved into the shelter obtain employment within 90 days, as the plan calls for, when some employment challenges take more than 90 days to address???"

The answer they got from Human Services was that it is the job of DOES (Dept. Of Employment services) to address that. I can't argue with that response from a cabinet member, though the mayor should have an answer for us -- but doesn't. Let's hope she's not taking this one from Fenty's playbook insomuch as he did a half-baked job by appointing Leslie Steen as the head of an affordable housing task force and then tied her hands behind her back so that she couldn't get the job done. We still have an affordable housing crisis years later. The council's plan may very well get us above and beyond such government dysfunction even if they and the mayor don't work well together.

Honestly, I'm left to wonder if the mayor and certain administration officials can work well with ANYONE, let alone the DC Council and if they are actually interested in connecting homeless parents or individuals to living-wage jobs. During my ICH nomination hearing in November 2015 I explained that I am currently focused on learning the fate of the CCNV Shelter and on homeless employment. More recently an administration official indicated that she (and possibly others) were reluctant to have me on the ICH. A different administration official told me (with attitude) that she thought THIS VIDEO in which I express concerns about further gentrification in DC was inappropriate. Everyone else I've spoken to disagrees with her.
These and other issues, when taken together, are proof positive that Muriel Bowser is a not-so-benevolent dictator who seeks to advance gentrifying policies under the guise of wanting to assist approx. 300 of DC's 1,300 or so homeless families -- emptying DC General for Hill East/Reservation 13/Olympic Village construction. 
Anyone who opposes Mayor Bowser -- the DC Council or Yours Truly -- is in for it. Unfortunately, I do indeed react when antagonized enough; and,that has given the administration leverage for keeping me off of the ICH (though I'll still attend meetings). Besides, the things that I do that scare them I do while not on the "wicked ItCH". go figure.

Part 1 HERE again


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Muriel Bowser, Go with the Council's Family Shelter Plan. Beats the Hell Out of Yours!!! (Pt 1)

Part 1 -- Below
Part 2: HERE

On May 17th, 2016 as Kentucky and Oregon held their presidential primaries, a couple of incumbent politicians in Washington, DC had a rather nasty spat in a hallway in the Wilson Building (City Hall). The most notable moment was when Mayor Muriel E. Bowser shouted at Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and called him a "f**king liar". A reporter was nearby recording all of it.

[For my ever-increasing number of Russian readers, I should point out that I eliminated the "uc" in what is an American curse word -- also known as an expletive. That explanation also begins to convey the gravity of the situation; as, public outbursts of anger are looked down upon in America -- especially when they come from politicians.]

Most people that I've spoken to since that day (and the author of the previous hyper-linked article) believe that Ms. Bowser is upset that the council has taken away her ability to line the pockets of her wealthy developer friends who stood to make exorbitant profits by leasing several buildings to the city for about 20 years each, after which the city would not own the buildings for which they will have paid five to ten times the market value of the buildings in rent.

At least one person believes that it is a matter of administrative embarrassment. That is to say that Mayor Bowser presented herself as a champion of the city's homeless families and promised them a better way forward. She then won the mayoral election and began to pull her administration together around this promise. On February 11th, 2016 her administration held meetings in various wards of the city so as to inform the public about her plan for replacing the decrepit DC General Family Shelter with seven smaller shelters by the fall of 2018. Now 16 months into her term and having made the promise while campaigning, Bowser's plan still has some apparent flaws (apparent to anyone who didn't help craft it anyway) and the DC Council is fixing those flaws. Contract steering aside, the mayor has plenty of reason to feel embarrassed right about now.

Add to that the fact that Muriel Bowser met with the International Olympic Committee so as to try and bring the 2024 Olympics to  DC. She failed but might try for the 2028 Olympics. The city floated the idea of building the Olympic village on the site of the DC General Hospital-turned--shelter. Neither will I let people forget that the hospital was dilapidated when closed but good enough for the homeless -- according to the Williams administration anyway. Now the same class of people who were thrown into a building that was not fit for human habitation or healthcare might get pushed out by a one-time sporting event which uses government dollars that could have gone toward social uplift of the poor to instead construct a sporting complex that will only collect dust after a few weeks in use. (This tragedy-in-the-making might be reconsidered in 2018 after many more well-to-do people who are disconnected from the struggles of the poor move to DC and change the voting dynamic.)

So, Mayor Bowser has a few reasons for wanting to close the DC General Family Shelter and the public's cries for its closure that began in the spring of 2014 following the abduction and murder of Relisha Rudd who resided at the shelter with her family have just given the mayor a good-sounding reason to close it. That is not to say that she doesn't care for homeless parents and their children on some level. She loves holding babies and being photographed with them. Her social uplift agenda favors those who are young enough to have been her children -- 24 and under. However, I AM saying that she's putting forth the reason that is most appealing to the public while hoping that they'll forget about her other motives for the planned closure.

It's worth noting that, irrespective of Mayor Bowser's motives for replacing the DC General Shelter, her efforts have made homelessness more of a political issue than it has been in this city since the death of Homeless Advocate Mitch Snyder in 1990. Her obscene outburst was just the icing on the cake -- serving to make the public discourse about poverty just a little "sweeter".

Now let's put her outburst in perspective. Muriel Bowser is the "Captain Planet" of DC mayors. After all, she had several former mayors on her transition team and is turning out to be "their foul-ups combined". She is far from the only local politician to fly into a fit of rage while operating in their official capacity, though she might be the first to do it in front of a reporter who was recording at the time. Here response to the incident???

This unapologetic letter to her on-line followers (who, for the obvious reason, would much rather take their chances following her on-line than from within arm's reach):

Dear Washingtonians,
Homeless families deserve shelter that is safe and dignified. And this February, I put forward a comprehensive plan to close DC General - by creating short-term family housing across the District.  The sites were selected based on size, location, access to transportation, and an ability to relocate homeless families to clean, safe, and dignified facilities by 2018.
This week, Chairman Mendelson and the DC Council passed a bill that includes alternate sites in several Wards.  While I am pleased to see the Council finally take action, I am concerned that their proposal delays the closure of DC General beyond 2018 and may include restrictions that jeopardize the entire program.  That means years of families having no choice but to stay in an old, dilapidated place that does not live up to the ethical and moral values of our city. 
To boot, the Council passed the legislation without hearing one word of input from District residents.  After all the Chairman’s talk about the need to listen to the community, he came up with this scheme in the dark of night, without allowing for one single day for public debate.
 We will work with the Council to minimize the delay, and give families who experience homelessness the dignity and hope they deserve.

[Fouled Up Chick, Keeping Instability, Not Governing]

Now to tear into her about her latest display of hyperbole and dishonest insinuations:

1 -- Her plan was not comprehensive and I have a city council to prove it. So, I won't belabor that point.

2 -- Is it me or has anyone else noticed that she is now calling homeless shelters "short-term housing"??? The new name emphasizes the fact that shelters are not meant to be long-term residences. It also comes off to me as window-dressing that is meant to suppress the images that people have had of shelters as city-run slum dwellings that are, in many ways, worse than Public Housing.

3 -- The sites were selected based on.....location??? What the Hell does that mean??? I'm just guessing that every site is at a "location". I can be wrong occasionally; but, I'm pretty sure that I'm right about this one. That statement tells me nothing -- which is right in line with Bowser's mannerisms.

4 -- The sites were selected based on.....access to transportation??? Well, if you're a five-year old trying to travel from the proposed Ward 5 site to a strip club, all you need to do is follow the trail of used condoms a few short yards from the shelter exit to the club's doors. On the other hand, you have one city bus within two blocks and the next closest route ends two miles away, though the bus repair depot emits exhaust particulates from right across the road. You're three miles from the nearest subway station and don't have many other amenities within a reasonable walking distance -- unless you want to count a nearby KFC, Checkers's Restaurant and the Days Inn from which many of the would-be-occupants can carry their few belongings if they were to move into the proposed site.

5 -- Bowser is "pleased to see the council finally taking action". Now, that's a not-so-subtle political jab by one mayor at an entire council of 13. I'm supposing this insinuation won't do much to create good will between her and the council. Additionally, I recall the council having made homelessness a matter for the committee of the whole in early 2015, it having been a single council person's committee before that. I blogged soon thereafter about the competition that would emerge between the council and the administration. Damn, I'm good!!!

6 -- Bowser said in a fit of hyperbolic BS:

"That means years of families having no choice but to stay in an old, dilapidated place that does not live up to the ethical and moral values of our city."

Hmm. Click HERE and HERE. I'll stop there for now.

7 -- As for this bunch of baloney:

"To boot, the Council passed the legislation without hearing one word of input from District residents.  After all the Chairman’s talk about the need to listen to the community, he came up with this scheme in the dark of night, without allowing for one single day for public debate."

...she must not think that the many meetings and hearings that her administration and the council had leading up to this latest version of the plan actually counts as public input. The council's most recent plan takes all of the public input hereto now into consideration.....

To be continued. Part 2: HERE


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

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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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What Good Is Our Advocacy for the Poor and Homeless Doing???

"We the advocates can do better at making government do better by the poor who want to do better for themselves."

I was asked on April 20th, 2016 by someone in DC Government [PARAPHRASED]:

"Eric, why do you think it is that some recent hearings that pertain to issues being fought for by the Fairbudget Coalition and related groups around poverty and homelessness are not well-attended???"

I posed this question to a staff member of the Fairbudget Coalition along with some of my thoughts on the matter and got a rather interesting reply. Then the Fairbudget Coalition had its monthly meeting on May 4th and different attendees mentioned ways in which they believe that our advocacy is either weakening or has never been strong to begin with.

It's worth noting that the government employee didn't refer to the Fairbudget Coalition by name. However, since FBC is the biggest and strongest advocacy group fighting for the poor of Washington, DC, I decided to address the aforementioned question to them and to use them as a reference point for this topic.

Before I get into the more volatile discussions that were raised at the May 4th meeting, I'll list the reasons for low hearing attendance that I set forth in my initial e-mail on the topic, followed by the list of reasons that were sent to me in response:

From me (Eric Sheptock):

1 -- People aren't getting the word (reading e-mails about advocacy events in time).

2 -- Folk just have really busy schedules and can't make it to DC Council hearings.

3 -- There's a reason for which they don't figure it to be worth their time to attend hearings.

4 -- An FBC meeting attendee said during the March meeting that any mayor's first budget is usually pretty progressive; but, all budgets thereafter are often quite unfavorable. That might explain a sharp drop in hearing attendance; as, folk may feel that they've accomplished all of the progressive goals that they can accomplish with this mayor who took office in 2015.

5 -- Being the old hand that I am at advocacy (hell-ebrating 10 long, hard years in mid-June), I know that the advocates used to remind each other of the victories we'd won through direct action and that would serve to boost morale for the next go-'round. I don't see much of that happening anymore.

6 -- I've heard different people say that they thought the budget engagement sessions [during which Mayor Muriel Bowser allowed the general public to weigh in through guided discussions on the budget she was drafting] were one big farce. As a matter of fact, they said it at the March FBC meeting. This might offer some insight into how people are relating to the Bowser administration, with the mayor's honeymoon being over now. They felt that the forums created a facade of public input which only served as a cover for a system of "inverted totalitarianism" wherein a matter is put to a vote in a way that guarantees that the will of the chief executive or a small cadre will prevail under the guise of democracy. It's not to be confused with its kissin' cousin "Bourgeois Democracy" which promotes the will of the wealthy minority and of those who control large sums of money over the will of the masses.


7 -- I'll mention an idea that I know I've mentioned in the past which is: We shouldn't end our budget season engagement after money is handed off to the various departments; but, we at FBC should have committees that correspond with the DC Council committees and/or DC Government departments and should further engage at the next level so as to help guide policy and how money and resources move within a deputy mayor's cluster or within a department.

8 -- Something that I've thought about often for many years now is the need to have and to advocate from a concrete social theory such as Marxism, Socialism or even Communism. After all, the GOP-revered Ronald Reagan used Keynesianism (Trickle-down Theory) as the basis for his Reaganomics and his legacy is not completely unraveled. That said, multiple people have told me since mid-April 2016 that they see the need for advocates and service providers to stop just "putting out fires" and to work proactively from a broad but well-defined vision of what society should be like. Maybe we just need to begin a Marxist study group and develop our social theory as a way of reinvigorating people.


9 -- I tell people in my many speeches and conversations that getting mad at government and storming out of the Wilson Building (City Hall) with a supposed "threat" not to return doesn't bring us any closer to the system we want. It makes it easier for crooked politicians and their cronies to do what they do and get away with it. Staying involved in some way, shape, form or fashion is the only thing that MIGHT get what we want which is for everyone to have what they need. When we walk away, people in power cover their mouths as they laugh us to scorn.

10 -- In closing, I maintain that a benevolent dictatorship such as the one that Hugo Chavez once considered creating is the only form of governance that works well for the poor; and, capitalism is an oppressive, though not monolithic, system.

A certain person responded with:

Hey Eric, 

1 -- I, myself, have been feeling (and I think this feeling may be shared by others), that hearing's haven't been feeling like a productive use of time or all that effective. I've still been testifying and attending, but it's incredibly time consuming for only getting 3 minutes to actually speak, and it's getting more and more difficult to get community members to feel like it's a productive use of their time.

2 -- Often, we hear that they have really negative experiences, especially when Councilmembers ask them questions, and in the end, it's really not clear if their input made any meaningful difference. 

3 -- I do think we need to reassess our strategy to figure out the most strategic and effective use of our time and resources (and I agree that we need to do a much better job at tracking and following the money).

*****End of edited/abbreviated e-mail thread*****
*****Beginning of comments from May 4th meeting*****

On May 4th a certain Aaron who often attends meetings (and asked that I DO use his name in this post) spoke passionately about the fact that there were approximately 25 White non-profit personnel in the room and only three Black people including himself. He mentioned how that, in spite of the fact that most or all of the homeless families at the DC General Family Shelter are Black, most of those speaking up about the issue are White. Aaron asked, "If Black people were to fill the meeting room, would they be heard???".

(I responded by telling him that we have to FORCE people to hear us.) Aaron made other relevant points about how there is more than just an income disparity between Blacks and Whites -- that there is a disparity in terms of how often the opinions of either race are heard and taken seriously. (I would add that, while Blacks are the poorest race in this country percentage-wise, there are actually more poor Whites.)

A female attendee mentioned how "risk-averse" many of the advocates seem to be. She pointed out that the non-profit for which she works has often taken the lead on matters that others might find risky for personal reasons and/or in terms of their non-profit's funding sources -- the latter of which is often government. With her sitting right next to me, I pointed out that I am not risk averse. I don't work for a government-funded non-profit and I have nothing to lose.

I sometimes question the motives of certain non-profits. In addition to the fact that many non-profits stand to lose funding if they were to oppose the government, there is the fact that non-profits can use the disabled homeless population as cash cows in ways that they can't use the able-bodied homeless. The disabled will go from using shelters and other programs for the homeless to being placed in Permanent Supportive Housing complete with case management from a non-profit. The able-bodied homeless, if connected to living-wage jobs and affordable housing, will no longer be under the auspices of any non-profit. I'd have to assume that the non-profits have known this for a long time. It begins to explain why there is more energy in the advocacy community around housing for the disabled than there is for affordable housing and living-wage jobs to assist the able-bodied. It is also the reason that I have begun to focus my energy on the issues of A-bods -- especially those at the CCNV Shelter.
So much for the non-profits. The topic of stupid questions from council was also raised on May 4th. DC Councilmembers have been known to ask directors of different departments of DC Government if these directors agree with the mayor's budget. in lieu of the fact that these directors stand to lose their six-figure jobs, it would be counter-intuitive for them to state their disagreement -- making the question from a councilmember a stupid one. Councilmembers have also asked single mothers who were testifying about their need for social services where the father of the children was -- thus showing no regard for how the mother might not choose to divulge that part of her story to the public during a televised hearing. While I'm doubtful that such stupid questions are the reason for a decrease in hearing attendance, the stupidity and dysfunction of government should be documented and dealt with.

Yours Truly said that we should hold the mayor to her word concerning the creation of a path to middle class for the city's poor and concerning her administration's 5-year plan to end all current homelessness in the city -- making homelessness "rare, brief and non-recurring". Many meeting attendees are highly doubtful that the mayor will succeed in either respect. The city's poor have more obstacles to obtaining living-wage employment than the administration has admitted to or planned to overcome thus far. That's not to speak of the fact that the DC Council would need to fund the creation of 2,000 units of housing for the homeless annually (minus those who self-resolve); but, are only funding one-fourth to one-third of that. The administration has devised a plan that the council has agreed to but fails to fully fund. Go figure.

It is with this in mind that I asked FBC if they think we should shame the government into doing better by getting an article in the Washington Post about how the council should put its money where its mouth is. I told people that I really don't mind being mean and went so far as to promise to use my mean streak to help FBC begin this difficult conversation in earnest: the conversation about how we the advocates can do better at making government do better by the poor who want to do better for themselves.

Since I've planned for a couple of weeks now to convene a May 15th meeting of DC homeless advocates so that we can get on the same page about a number of issues, we now have just a little bit more to talk about. But I'll domy best to ensure that we do much more than just talk. We'll discuss the aforementioned issues and many more and chart a path forward that forces government to do better by its poor constituents. STAY TUNED.

Eric Sheptock's Cell: 240-305-5255

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