Friday, September 30, 2016

Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump: Whetted Wit vs Wanton Ways

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have now held the first of three presidential debates. This means that those suffering from "election stress disorder" will soon find relief after hearing Mr. Trump's senseless rants for over 15 months as he eliminated 16 other GOP candidates (most of whom were more qualified than he is to become president). Then again, they might jump from the frying pan into the fire by having even more.....MUCH more to worry about if Trump were to win. Sadly, a Trump victory is not completely unrealistic given the fact that the candidates are in a virtual tie less than six weeks before election day. Though Mr. Trump gave his best performance to-date on September 26th (which isn't saying much),  he still got "Trumped" by Secretary Clinton. However, political scientists don't think that the debates will move the needle of public opinion -- no matter how well Hillary Clinton does or how poorly Donald Trump does. (Let's hope they're wrong.)

All of this begs the question: What can we do to keep what may be our first severely mentally ill candidate (since the 1960's maybe???) from getting his hands on the nuclear football??? Should Blacks and other groups who fear that Donald Trump will trample on and/or try to revoke their rights join forces with those who fear that his foreign policies will further destabilize the Middle East and the world??? Should we then march together as people did in 1964 to prevent civil rights opponent Barry Goldwater from becoming president???

Truth be told, while Mr. Goldwater passed for crazy in 1964, he'd only be considered slightly controversial by today's standard -- especially when compared to Trump. Senator Goldwater, in spite of his decades of political experience, didn't become president, though I'm not sure whether to attribute that to him having been an establishment politician like Hillary Clinton or him having seemed as crazy to the people of his day as Trump seems to current generations. Even so, his platform has made its way into present-day politics, laws and policies in one way or another. It may have also been the marches against Mitt Romney (who, like Barry Goldwater, was less dangerous than Trump) which effectively stopped his advance toward the oval office. (Marches may prove to be useful tactics after all.)

As we consider the "terror" of a Trump presidency, it's important to remember what got us here in the first place. That is, what got us to a place where the GOP candidate is a loose cannon and the Democratic candidate can't seem to develop a measurable lead on him. As Mr. Trump blames his microphone for making him seem to have had a cold; blames Ms. Clinton for the less-than-strategic military failures of the Iraq War under Bush 43; and (CORRECTLY!!!) blames Republicans for economic problems (but hopes to be able to blame Democrats soon), we who have our heads screwed on straight need to blame the GOP for not doing more to stop a crazed maniac from running away with the party ticket and causing the party as a whole to lose credibility with the American public and the entire world population. (But let's not get caught up in a blame game sans solutions; as, that's not what we need from our elected officials.....or each other.)

Republicans are probably regretting having gotten Donald Trump to sign a loyalty pledge in September 2015 and wishing they'd just let him go on his merry way back then. They, no doubt, lament their inability to rein him in during a meeting with party leaders. The party's threat to cut off its cash flow to the billionaire fell flat, as any sensible person would have expected it to. Through it all, the party that took both houses in the November 2014 mid-term elections has proven itself unable to stop one basket case. Go figure. Now it's up to the same voting public that handed Mr. Trump the nomination (which the party couldn't prevent at its convention) to wax fickle and turn the tables by shifting, within a relatively short time span, from "waving their palm branches" to "calling for his crucifixion" -- in a manner of speaking.

Further complicating any attempt to alter public opinion before November 8th is the apparent "dumbing down of America". There's little hope that Americans who bought into George W. Bush's fear-mongering after the 9/11 attacks and who choose to ignore the fact that his response to the same actually made the world less safe will suddenly have a moment of clarity; realize that Hitler was considered a hero before he became a horror; and, take steps to prevent such history from repeating itself. Americans (like the other 96% of the world population) want to feel safe; but, seem to give little or no thought to how many innocent civilians are killed in other countries in order for us to achieve that security. Let's not forget that fearful Americans were quite eager to see the Japanese, Italians and Germans who were living in this country during World War II get arrested and interned on account of their nationalities as per orders of our longest-serving president.

How soon we forget!!! Unfortunately and somewhat irreversibly, a sizable portion of Americans will buy into Trump's demagoguery in the hopes that he'll make America as "great as it was during slavery and Jim Crow [sic].

Ignorance breeds fear. The fearful give the leader absolute power to protect them. This absolute power corrupts absolutely. The people fear the leader whom they once looked to for protection.

Now I'm not so sure that "men are from Mars and women are from Venus" (the planets having been named for the mythological god of war and goddess of love, respectively); but, this I know: If Elon Musk or a future owner of SpaceX successfully establishes a Mars colony, I want Donald Trump and his fateful followers to be its first inhabitants. But that's not reality -- not even for Trump. A bit closer to reality is the possibility that Americans will heed the statements of dozens of national security experts and Republican politicians who've come out against Trump. Then again, it might be his extreme misogyny that makes him "the biggest loser" this fall. That hope assumes that most or all American voters -- especially women -- who dislike his wanton ways will vote on or before November 8th.

In all fairness, I must say that Trump isn't all bad -- just 99%. He denounced the way in which American corporations offshore and outsource their jobs to other countries some of which allow child labor, sweat shops, unsafe working conditions and other cost-reducing crimes; but, he couldn't explain to debate moderator Lester Holt how he would bring those corporations back to the U.S. While I laud Mr. Trump for recognizing the problems created by exporting jobs, his lack of a plan for combating or reversing such corporate practices coupled with his very real and actually feasible promise to repatriate undocumented people adds up to him sending people back to their countries of origin where the jobs have gone to anyway. In any instance, he'd be decreasing the unemployment rate of other countries by ensuring that everyone in these households is able to get a job -- as long as they're at least five years old.

Meanwhile back on the home front, the U.S. unemployment rate would likely rise while wages remain stagnant. The only silver lining in all of this is that Americans' buying power might rise slightly.  Unfortunately, it's because we'd be purchasing even more of our products from countries that promote cheap labor and allow mistreatment of workers.

A Trump administration would likely be unable to get Congress to adopt the 16% import tariff that he said should be imposed on goods that are produced in other countries and subsequently sold in the U.S. by these American-based corporations. That money could then be used to provide social services to long-term unemployed Americans like the 3.5 million who experience homelessness annually. This will provide a safety net to the Americans whom Trump deliberately pushes off of the cliff as he causes the next economic downturn or housing crisis -- the one he's probably rooting for even now.

Given how unlikely it is that this tariff would ever materialize, it's all but certain that American poverty would deepen and crimes of survival would increase. No worries; Trump to the rescue. He'd make Stop-and-Frisk (which is NOT unconstitutional) a national policing policy. So long as police don't racially profile people and they only use the practice when they have reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed, this practice is indeed allowable. The Devil is in the details. However, it stands to reason that, taken together with the disproportionate number of Blacks in prison, the well-publicized and frequently protested shootings by police of unarmed Black men and the fact that Blacks experience poverty at a higher percentage than other races in the country, adding the practice of randomly frisking Blacks nationwide would become the straw that breaks the camel's back and spurs the revolution that's brewing.

On September 26th the candidates discussed racial tensions. But they did so in the context of how police treat Blacks. Neither articulated a plan that would improve the lives of low-wage Black workers -- many of whom must go to prison to get a trade because they can't afford college.

Come to think of it, the first Clinton-Trump debate did more to put Trump's faults on display than it did to convey the plans of either candidate. This fact was accentuated in the debate's final moments as Ms. Clinton and moderator Lester Holt took Trump's assertion that she doesn't have a "presidential look" and turned it on him. Holt insisted that Trump DID in fact reference Ms. Clinton's looks -- not her stamina -- in a recent statement, but to no avail. Trump flip-flopped, as usual, inserting the word "stamina" instead. Ms. Clinton used Trump's statements to segway into a diatribe on his well-known misogyny and she capitalized on his disparaging statements about former Miss Universe Alicia Machado. This move by the secretary in the final moments of the debate may have been the most awesome display of whetted wit ever -- especially since the final moments are likely to be the most memorable.

Now to revisit the question of how we can stop Trump. He has already given us a preview of the second debate by letting us know that he -- being thrice married himself and keeping company with other public figures who've famously had extramarital affairs -- will capitalize on the affairs of Bill Clinton who is not running for office. In so doing the usually unpredictable candidate has given the woman whom he criticized for "staying home" as she was "preparing to become president" a sneak peak at his playbook. She's sure to use that to her advantage -- and the world's, for that matter. At the end of the day, it might not be necessary to mobilize and march. It might not be necessary for Clinton to respond to everything Donald says. It might not be necessary to worry about an imminent Trump presidency or even to have a Plan B (like what his mother should've had one fateful morning in 1945). It might only be necessary to push the Donald's buttons and then let him talk himself into a(nother) hole. I think Ms. Clinton understands this. That said, it DOES remain necessary to vote on or before November 8th. I hope you do.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Communication Breakdown & the Solution: Kristy Greenwalt's ItCH vs Homeless Advocates

While thinking to myself recently about what I would discuss with DC ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt if she were to accept my invitation to treat her to lunch in October and to mend fences, I began to consider the following question:

"What qualities does having an ICH director add to the process that weren't present during the nearly eight years that this body existed without a director???"

The DC ItCH (inter-agency Council on Homeless) held its first meeting in June 2006 (the month I began advocating). It was held in the One Judiciary Square Building (441 4th St NW DC). As per DC Law, it was chaired by the city administrator who at that time was Robert Bobb. Since then we've been through city administrators Dan Tangherlini (who went on to direct GSA), Neil Albert (who now directs Downtown BID) and Allen Lew (who oversaw the construction of the Convention Center and Nationals' Park both of which displaced low-income people). Rashad Young is now DC's city administrator under Mayor Muriel Bowser.

I didn't get much of an opportunity to get to know Mr. Bobb before Mayor Tony Williams left office in January 2007 and Mayor Adrian Fenty brought on his successor. Neil Albert is, in my opinion the best of the four whom I've had sufficient opportunity to get to know. Mr. Albert had a penchant for getting immediate answers. If anyone -- even a homeless person -- mentioned a problem with a program that was run by DC Government or any of its contractors, CA Albert would call the program director on the carpet immediately. He was also swift to enact practical solutions to problems that other administrators take forever to address. He didn't suffer from "analysis paralysis" by any stretch of the imagination and he connected well with anyone and everyone, from what I can tell. (Those whom he called on the carpet might not have been all that fond of him.)

That said, it is not the job of the city administrator to focus his (or her) energy totally and completely on addressing poverty and homelessness. In past administrations the member agencies of the ICH have found ways to work together as the number of homeless people swung through modest decreases and astronomical increases for eight years -- going from 6,157 in January 2006 up to 8,350 in 2016. The ICH has served to slow the increase in homeless people but failed to actually decrease it. That brings us back to the question:

"What qualities does having an ICH director add to the process that weren't present during the nearly eight years that this body existed without a director???"

In trying to answer that question, we can consider the three aforementioned categories:

  • Ability to decrease DC's homeless population
  • Penchant for immediate, practical solutions, as opposed to analysis paralysis
  • Ability to connect well with all types of people -- especially the homeless

Homelessness continues to rise in DC -- both before and during Kristy Greenwalt. Everybody fails in that respect. (That was almost too easy.)

I've never seen anyone in DC Government besides Neil Albert make a call to the responsible party while the group I had come with was still in their office, discuss a solution in our presence, hang up the phone and explain to our group how he'd just solved a long-standing problem in five minutes or less -- as soon as it was brought to his attention. I've never seen any other city administrator call a program director on the carpet during an ICH meeting and ask for an immediate response to the problem that was articulated by a homeless person. All others either say that they'll "get back to you" (which they don't always do) or they do their best to suppress a topic that they don't care to address (especially if it involves a government administrator or program staff having wronged a homeless person). From what I can tell, no one in the current ICH nor any agency contracted by DC Government to serve the homeless has a penchant for immediate and practical solutions. Analysis paralysis runs rampant -- as does gentrification.

One reason that the ICH doesn't implement immediate solutions to the simpler problems and has yet to yield any measurable results for the longer term problems is that they have ceased and desisted from engaging the advocates who have experienced homelessness in any meaningful communication. The ICH has become quite matriarchal in nature -- "Mother knows best".

The DC ICH held a quarterly meeting on September 13th, 2016. While it was dominated with administrative updates that didn't seem to interest local homeless advocates at all (myself included), the meeting was punctuated with messages about an apparent communication breakdown that has manifested in the smaller committee meetings as well.

Before the meeting started, a fellow advocate asked me if a labor law known as "WIOA" was part of a homeless services act known as the "H.E.A.R.T.H. Act". I explained that HEARTH was signed by Obama on May 20th, 2009, that WIOA was signed by him on July 22nd, 2014 and that the two were separate. He asked if it was high time for us to get into DC Government and the ICH and insist that they move more swiftly to implement WIOA. I explained that, after WIOA was signed into law, it was up to Congress to fund it; it was up to the U.S. Dept. of Labor to implement it nationally; it was up to the DC Council to provide any necessary local funding; then the ICH can act. I explained that, until everyone else has gotten all their ducks in a row, there's n point in hammering the ICH or DOES.

During the meeting, a homeless advocate who the government determined to be polished enough in his mannerisms (which they don't think Yours Truly is) told the group that he needed them to translate their bureaucratic, administrative talk into plain and simple English. He said, "you're sitting here talking about different programs and funding mechanisms. When I go out and speak to my homeless constituents, what can I say this means for them??? How many of them will get housing???" Kristy Greenwalt explained that for three of the five programs that were discussed, the talk was about continued funding for housing programs that were already full. She said that one of the programs discussed was changing its format and that only one of the programs was actually new. (I think it amounted to a net gain of 100 housing units for DC's almost 9,000 homeless people, assuming we've gained a few hundred since January.)

There was a second public comment period at the end of the September 13th ICH meeting -- something that has been a rarity for the past year and a half. Having spoken during the first comment period, I also stood up during the latter one and thanked Kristy for affording an answer to the advocate who was at the table. I also explained that the homeless advocates need to have opportunities to set the agenda and discuss matters that are not part of the government's over-structured agenda. With several homeless people and advocates having mentioned matters that fall squarely into the lap of DCHA Director Adrianne Todman during the first comment period, I pointed across the room to her during the second comment period (having wondered why she sat there quietly instead of offering an immediate response). She graciously responded to people's concerns once they knew who she was.

The ICH has a committee format. Kristy Greenwalt made it clear early on that she believes that more gets accomplished within the smaller committees than gets accomplished in the larger quarterly meetings of the full council. In spite of having said in early 2014 that she would make centralized decisions in the absence of any decisiveness from the group, she has allowed this body to function in a decentralized manner since she started as its director on April 28th, 2014. This decentralized format doesn't work well for the homeless. It probably does more than any other policy or practice to create a breakdown in communication.

In some respects the thinking of the homeless is more organized than that of government. My admonition that Kristy and her ItCH begin the thought process with the grim and sobering reality that DC could reach 10,000 homeless people during what might be Muriel Bowser's only term as mayor if she doesn't play her cards right is about more than just choosing to focus on the negative. It's also about being a realist and having an organized way of thinking that gives all people working to end homelessness a point of reference that they can use to determine if our shared goal is being met.

Simply put, if DC had 8,350 homeless people in January 2016 (which it did) and another 3,650 people are projectedto fall into homelessness during the remaining four years of the plan, then the city must house an average of 3,000 people per year in order to meet its goal -- doing the "balloon payments" that they've talked about doing if they should house less than that in the first years of the plan. Each full council meeting and every committee meeting should begin with an explanation of how much closer the matters being discussed in that meeting will bring us toward satisfying the annual goal. The person leading each meeting should speak as though they were referencing an organizational chart that shows how that day's efforts fit into the big picture. (It wouldn't hurt to actually have an organizational chart that everyone can see.)

Like the advocate at the table who asked that the administrative-ish be translated into everyday English, other advocates are attempting to take the disparate conversations that the ICH has about programs, policies and initiatives and to "pin the tail on the bureaucratic [donkey]". We're left to wonder if ICH members from the government and the non-profit community are deliberately trying to blind-fold us so as to make it pointless for us to attend meetings. I'm inclined to believe that this is their intent, seeing that there have been recent ICH committee meetings where I was the only "homeless homeless advocate" who was present. Others have gotten fed up with college-educated people talking over their heads. Kristy needs to make it a common practice to "translate" what's being said, as opposed to the one-off occasion of September 13th. (Maybe we the advocates should invite numerous Spanish-speaking homeless people to meetings, talk out of turn and say, "No ingles" when told to be quiet.)

In light of the three bullet points, it would seem that fostering better communication between the homeless and the ICH (bullet three) is an idea that can be implemented swiftly (bullet two) and might even lead to a more comprehensive plan for decreasing homelessness -- making it "rare, brief and non-recurring" (bullet one). Apart from what the ICH already did before April 28th, 2014, the added quality that its first and only director has brought is a more disparate way of thinking that is so maligned with the organized thinking of the homeless that it is pushing the advocates away -- apparently the desired outcome of certain key players. Let's not give them what they want.

In closing, it's worth noting that one administration staffer got it right. Knowing of my interest in employment for able-bodied homeless people, she has made herself available so that I can get all of the information that I need on this issue straight from the source. Furthermore, I've developed a working relationship with DC Government's Dept. of Employment Services and hope to have some good news to divulge to the homeless community beginning in six to 12 months. Patience is not one of my virtues; but, I'll "wait reluctantly" so long as there is a realistic hope of success in the short term (a year or less). After all, when DOES begins to roll out programs that it is currently designing, this department might end up leading the charge on ending homelessness. A January point-in-time count of 9,000+ homeless people would likely put the mayor on edge and cause her to invest a higher percentage of the city's homelessness-ending dollars into ABAWDS and a lower percentage into PSH and related programs. One can only hope. But, while waiting and hoping, let's work on that communication, Kristy.

Kristy, I'll say it again like I did in a text that you didn't respond to: "I'd like to treat you to lunch in October when I have more good news to convey concerning homeless employment. Then, we can mend fences, talk openly and honestly about past and present points of disagreement, foster better communication between the homeless and the ICH and discuss an all-around better way of confronting homelessness. (I've noticed how you acknowledge your insurmountable challenges like low wages and expensive housing. I see some progress and the chance to work things out.) I'll be contacting you one-on-one soon.

P.S. -- Thousands have seen this.


Homeless Men Thwart A Terror Attack; Trump Revives FDR Internment Rationale

Though the media tends not to disclose the socioeconomic status of criminals who are not homeless, they almost always discuss when the perpetrator of a crime is homeless -- even when the crime committed is not directly related to their homelessness. (Sadly, Americans who assert that poverty breeds crime are more interested in locking up the poor criminals than they are in employing petty criminals after the fact or addressing poverty in blanket form before the fact. Think solutions.) This practice by the media of mentioning someone's homeless status (especially if it's a violent crime) does much to contribute negatively to societal biases and stereotypes concerning the homeless. While the media does indeed cover stories of homeless people being attacked as they sleep outside, the general public seems only to remember the stories of homeless people committing crimes and to forget about the many cases in which homeless people are victimized by housed people (often wayward adolescents ages 15 to 23).

Then there is that occasional story of a homeless man like Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax who was stabbed while rescuing a woman who was being robbed -- only to then be left to die while dozens of passers-by ignored him as he bled to death or lie there dead. If you spend enough time using social media, you might run across stories like that of a homeless man who stopped to assist a freezing adolescent whom thousands of people had walked past and expressed no concern for -- only to eventually find out that the boy was being watched from a distance by family members who were doing a social experiment to see who would care.

Now it's "homeless man (err 'men') to the rescue once again". We have homeless men helping to thwart terror attacks. Two homeless men hanging out near a train station in Elizabeth, NJ (the city where I got adopted by the Sheptocks in 1975 at six years old) found what turned out to be pipe bombs in a trash can -- a fact that has only received brief mention in articles that are bound to increase xenophobia and distrust of Muslims (or "Moslems" where I come from). The image of two homeless men digging through a trash can in a train station, finding bombs, saving lives and being given short shrift by the media creates in my mind a strange confluence of circumstances. When you consider the circumstances that led to Ahmad Khan Rahami being "radicalized", that only adds to this strange confluence -- a topic that must be teased out and talked about.

The next time you see a homeless person digging through a trash can, you might not be so quick to mock them or talk trash about them (no pun intended). You might instead question whether or not they're saving lives or even speculate as to why Homeland Security doesn't employ them as "bomb gestapos". When this person exits the trash can, you might even offer to buy them a meal in lieu of their apparent usefulness -- a gesture you should have considered even before the "Rahami Rampage". I expect that travelers won't find the homeless people in airports, train stations or bus terminals to be so repulsive anymore. I also suppose that Middle Easterners who like to keep up with Donald Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric will read articles about the NYC bombing, notice the line about these two homeless men and exclaim, "They have homeless people in America???!!!".

Given the facts that we've learned thus far about the bomber, it would seem that he was angry about how the U.S. military has decimated his country of origin -- only to find Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan after starting wars in two other countries and destabilizing the entire region with money that would have been better spent assisting poor Americans whose plight just gives "terrorists" more fodder for their war on the American government. We know that Ahmad Khan Rahami made multiple months-long trips to his native Afghanistan and to Pakistan since 2014. We don't have any clear indication that he was in direct contact with any known terror group. It stands to reason that he was angered by the decimation he saw -- especially when it's coupled with the fact that many Afghans have absolutely no idea as to why the U.S. started raining ballistics down on them in late 2001. My guess is that Mr. Rahami was "radicalized" by the harm that the U.S. government has done to his homeland and came back to the U.S. to carry out some "homeland security". Now, before any of you xenophobes say that he should have just gone back to his homeland if he missed it so much, bear in mind that he doesn't have much of anything to go back to -- thanks to the U.S. military and its "bad intelligence" (otherwise known as "governmental stupidity"). In a sense, Mr. Rahami's situation is similar to that of the men who found the pipe bombs. One has no homeland and two have no homes; but, none of the three has a place to go back to.

As for the fact that many Afghans don't know why they were attacked beginning in 2001, I expect every Black American to relate to this matter. Why??? Philando Castile. Walter Scott. Eric Garner. Eric Harris. Alton Stering. Terrence Crutcher. A Black man can't even assist his autistic patient without being shot by a trigger-happy cop. These are cases where the Black person who was shot didn't see it coming; because, they'd done nothing to bring it on. (I purposefully avoided mentioning those who I'm not sure where innocent of a violent crime.) I'm left to wonder why more Black Americans haven't been "radicalized" against the American system, in light of the aforementioned as well as additional circumstances -- especially with the 50th anniversary of the Black Panthers taking place in October 2016. In any instance, the "Hands up; don't shoot" slogan has been turned on its head and rendered useless by the mounting number of instances in which a Black man HAD his hands up and got shot by cops anyway. Logic says that my chances of surviving ANY encounter with police -- even a traffic stop -- are greatly increased if I have MY gun at the ready. I'm waiting for this logic to catch on and spread like wildfire.

Then again, there is the troubled (and troubling) thinking of people like Donald Trump whose primary similarity to other Republicans is that he knows (to a small degree) what he's against but has absolutely no idea as to what he is for. He fits more snugly in "the party of 'No'" than he does in "the party of 'Let's go!!!'". It's a terrible indictment on the U.S. that Trump has gotten as far as he has in the polls and has gone on to become the GOP candidate. He's ridden the Ferris wheel of fear all the way to the top and gotten stuck (for a short time, hopefully). He's given fearful Americans the hope that he'll act impulsively on bad intelligence (governmental stupidity) so as to make xenophobia standard fare in America, to justify racial and religious profiling and promote more war for oil.

During his third term in 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt used antics that Donald Trump and other fearful Americans can appreciate. FDR had Japanese Americans rounded up and put in internment camps after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. Some 75 years later the best and longest-serving president this country has ever had is still ostracized for this particular decision, even though Americans in 1944 loved him enough to give him a fourth term during which he died. (Term limits began in 1951.) In addition to his final election, he also has in his defense that he was the Democrat who brought America out of the Great Depression that Republican President Herbert Hoover "sucked" us into.

The silver lining here is that Mr. "not-to-be-president" Trump is reaching across the political aisle so as to borrow from the Democratic playbook. The dark cloud is that he is only attempting to imitate the most contentious and disagreeable decisions made by his predecessors (whom he supposedly doesn't even read about). Who read to him about FDR's internment camps??? Donald, Jr???

By now, you the readers are probably taken aback by the way that I connect issues. You might go so far as to call it "a strange confluence of thoughts". This post has covered: homeless men finding pipe bombs and averting a disaster, a bomber whose homeland has been destroyed by our military, unarmed Black men whose lives have been destroyed by trigger-happy police for at least 50 years and counting, xenophobia in America for 75 years and counting and a man whom many people the world over hope doesn't become America's nut-case-in-chief. The flow should indicate that these issues are all connected. The bombs we dropped in countries that have done us no harm have now jumped back across the pond and landed in American trash cans where they are being found by the people whom the money we spent killing innocent civilians and their defenders actually SHOULD have been spent on. It's time to get off of the Ferris wheel of flaws and failures and to board the Ferris wheel of fixes and forgiveness. Finished.

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Monday, September 12, 2016

Government Accountability and Action: Get There in a GOOD Way

If we're going to get there anyway, we may as well get there in a GOOD way.

All of us can relate to this scenario: Someone asks that another do something for them; gets turned down; gets upset and gets what they originally asked for.

It's enough to make you wonder: Why didn't the latter person grant the request BEFORE the temper tantrum???

Sadly, this scenario plays itself out time and time again in the relationship between government and the public they are supposed to be serving. Advocates for various causes have, in times past, developed detailed agendas that included stepping up the pressure on government if and when government failed to make good on the requests of the people immediately following the first time that a request was made. They then transition from making a request at a calm meeting with a few advocates and politicians present into staging large rallies or protests at which the advocates make demands to the politicians and might create bad press for said politicians. Even so, government seems to always try to ignore the requests of their constituents who don't contribute financially to political campaigns. That is, until the people become rancorous enough.

Truth be told, government might be all the smarter for making this choice, being as the crowds often give up and go away if they get ignored long enough by government. After September 2007, the Iraq War protesters went away. By the beginning of 2012, the Occupy Wall Street Movement had disbanded, though some of its participants involved themselves in advocacy and activism in other ways. Shortly after DC's Franklin School Shelter was closed, the hundreds of concerned citizens who fought to keep it open rode off into the sunset, never to be seen or heard from again.

Beginning in 2010, non-profits began to invite homeless parents to the annual performance oversight hearings that the City Council holds for the various departments of DC Government; and, these parents would talk about the deplorable conditions at the shelter. The groups of homeless parents would then go away from June of one year until March of the following year when they'd complain again. It wasn't until an eight-year old girl was abducted from the family shelter in early 2014 (and is now presumed dead) that the public stepped up pressure of DC Government to improve conditions for the one-fifth of DC's homeless families that reside at the DC General Shelter, the city's development and gentrification plans notwithstanding. It stands to reason that, if enough children die from poverty-related circumstances, then the city government will effectively address the issues that we've known about for many decades.

The silver lining is that one-fifth or less of an ever-increasing number of homeless families in the city will move into better shelters by early 2019. The dark cloud is that these 270 families might be one-seventh of the total number of homeless families by then and -- you guessed it -- they'll still be homeless. So, speaking truth to power will have improved the situations of 270 families, though not in the way that one might hope. Had the deplorable conditions at the family shelter been adequately addressed beginning in 2010, we might already have seven smaller shelters; Relisha Rudd might still be alive; Vince Gray might still be mayor (not that I liked him); and, the DC General campus might have already been built over as a subdivision or an Olympic Village. In light of the shelter replacement plan, we can rightly say, "[Since] we're going to get there anyway, we [should have gotten] there in a GOOD way".

Now to go from considering a family shelter to considering a singles shelter. In mid-October I was called by the director of the DC Inter-agency Council on Homelessness. She was concerned about a blog post of mine in which I'd juxtaposed various facts that seemed to be pointing to an impending closure of the CCNV Shelter. I listed more than a half dozen reasons for believing that the Bowser administration was going to wait until less than six months before the closure to alert its homeless residents -- as was the case with Franklin School Shelter during the Fenty administration. Kristy said to me, "Eric, if you're going to be on the ICH, you have to be careful what you say about the mayor". I complied with her request by changing a couple of phrases to reflect the fact that I was merely speculating. (I had to delete the original post after pasting it into a new frame, as that's the only way to change the title. It now appears as my November 10, 2015 post.) I'm not a homeless representative on the ICH, in spite of this compliance. Long story.

As government began to tell me that my guess was wrong, I began to tell the homeless and my other associates the same. Their response was always, "If the government is saying that your prediction is NOT the truth, then what IS the truth???" I prodded government for answers for several more months. Then, on February 3rd, 2016 I attended a meeting of one of the ICH committees. A certain woman explained how she and the non-profit for which she works get inundated with questions from the public every time that the DC budget is released. I used her story to then explain how the homeless are inundating ME with questions about the future of the CCNV Shelter. Kristy promised to hold a meeting at the shelter. I prodded her every couple of weeks -- like I did with then-Councilman Jim Graham from March 13th, 2013 until June 27th, 2013 when he held the CCNV hearing that he'd promised me. The meeting took place on April 27th, 2016. When she called me in October 2015, she could have promised THEN to have a meeting at the shelter. We might have had the shelter meeting four months sooner; there might have been less tension between her and myself; I might have seen that I could get answers from the administration without going rogue; and, I might be on the ICH where I can be reined in to some degree. If we're going to get there anyway, we may as well get there in a GOOD way.

On May 27th, 2015 I attended an ICH committee meeting at which Dallas Williams of DC Government's Dept. of Human Services said that the John L. Young and Open Door Women's Shelters on either end of the CCNV/Federal City Shelter building would be combined and relocate to DC's Chinatown by November 2015. The following day, women from Open Door told me that he'd visited the shelter the previous evening to "encourage" those who were 62 and older to enter into one of the city's housing programs. The affected women and I began to wonder why he didn't mention the impending closure to THEM hours after he'd mentioned it in a government meeting earlier that same day.

In early July 2015 I called the woman who ran both of these shelters so as to discuss the situation of a homeless woman who'd been unfairly ejected from John Young. During the call, the director accused me of accusing her of withholding information from the women under her care. (The women had drawn the conclusion, apart from anything that I personally said, that Director Johnson knew about the relocation plan and was holding out on them.) Director Johnson referenced an e-mail that I'd sent in which I wondered about the aforementioned matter of why Mr. Williams held out on them. After a brief back-and-forth in which she doubled down on her accusation, she said, "Mr. Sheptock, I'll read the e-mail again; and, if you're right, I'll call you with an apology". She got the woman back into the shelter that night. I got that apology two days later.

Director Johnson told me that she hadn't been told about the plans as of July 2015 and that she would call DHS for confirmation. She got it. The shelters relocated in April 2016. New Hope Ministries for which Ms. Johnson worked, didn't get the contract to run the new site. The homeless have countless reasons to believe that government is withholding information concerning the future of services until the last minute. Homeless people have an even more cynical view of government than the general public. If we're going to [find out about changes in service delivery] anyway, we may as well [find out] in a GOOD way.

The 2014 Point-in-Time count revealed that DC's homeless population had risen from 6,859 in 2013 to 7,748 in 2014. I attended the then-bi-monthly (now quarterly) Full ICH meeting in June 2014 -- with the numbers from the January count having been released in May. At the end of the meeting, I told the room how that I found it appalling that the group hadn't done its usual report-out about the PIT count following a 13% one-year increase in homeless people. Then I said, "You're failing at decreasing homelessness". Then-City Administrator Allen Lew replied, "We're not failing. We're working on it". I sat down. As indicated in my previous blog post, DC could have 10,000 by 2018 or 2019. All things considered, the city will need to eventually decrease its focus on the disabled homeless and focus more on those who are ready, willing and able to work. If we're going to [start addressing the need for living-wage jobs and affordable housing] anyway, we may as well [start doing that] in a GOOD way.....and BEFORE Mayor Bowser gets credit for bringing DC to the grim milestone of having 10,000 homeless people.

By now, you're probably wondering what more I have to say about SOLUTIONS to homeless such as employment and the creation of affordable housing. I'll forgo addressing affordable housing for now, in part because NOTHING is "affordable" if one lacks income. As far as employment is concerned, my colleagues and I have harped for almost 10 years about the need to connect able-bodied homeless people to living-wage jobs. In July 2014, Obama signed legislation that I hoped would FORCE DC Government to shift some of its resources toward satisfying this legislation by July 2016. I'm still hoping and working with the administration to reach this goal. Progress is being made, even if it's not as swift as one might hope.

I began to make videos whose intent was to ensure that DC Government continues to make progress on homeless employment. These videos were posted on-line and e-mailed to government. A government staffer contacted me about my much-publicized requests. She updated me concerning the process for addressing homeless employment. She "engaged" me in multiple phone calls, has e-mailed pertinent information to me and has opened up a strong line of communication by encouraging me to call her with any questions that I might have. She understands that I want answers and constant progress on a matter that I've spent 10 years pushing for. I understand HER concerns and have told her to call me with any of her needs or concerns. SHE got it right. She knows that if [the advocates are going to get answers and action on homeless employment] anyway, we may as well get [them] in a GOOD way.

"If we're going to get there anyway, we may as well get there in a GOOD way."

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Friday, September 9, 2016

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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