Friday, December 30, 2016

Michelle Obama, Hopelessness and Hope

Michelle Obama recently told Oprah Winfrey that America is entering a period of hopelessness and we have reasons to agree and to disagree. However, as a Black man, I will boldly say that we should avoid wallowing in pity while sitting on the dock of the bay and waiting on the world to change (even though it has a nice rhythm to it). We must force change. Before we can do that, we must know what we are changing, what we are changing it from and what we are changing it to. Otherwise we're hopelessly stupid and lacking any notable ability to do any critical thinking. That leads nicely into my first set of observations.

In 2008 Barack Obama ran for president on a campaign promise of "hope and change". The mere vagueness of his campaign slogan and those of other politicians at all levels of government is a sign that those in power are either hopelessly stupid and impotent or hopelessly evil -- like a "political epicurean paradox". As if to play a cruel joke on America, the supposed "god-emperor" who ran his campaign around the slogan of "making America great again" (i.e. bringing the hope and change we were already supposed to have by now) responded to Michelle Obama's vague statement with an even longer volley of vague values that he'll vie for.

The voting (...err registered) public, which is well over 100 million strong, is no better in that they fall for the same trick time and time again, which makes it unnecessary for some 50,000 elected officials at the state and federal levels to step up their game, which means that these politicians don't need to think hard or to keep Americans' best interest at heart by reason of a critically thinking voter base looking over their shoulders. Our public officials slowly but surely downgrade the quality of their governance which decreases the public's trust in government which decreases voter turnout which makes it easier for government to further downgrade the quality of their governance. This, of course, leaves American's hoping for better governance -- whatever that means to your particular party or faction. We are caught in a hopeless and vicious cycle of low engagement and high enragement.

It's not just the first lady and the voting public that feel a sense of hopelessness. Even those in power feel it. Secretary of State John Kerry recently talked about the hopelessness of there ever being peace in the Middle East -- a decades-long and yet unsuccessful effort. It joins the ranks of the war on drugs, the war on terror and the war on poverty -- each of which created more of what they ostensibly sought to eliminate. It stands to reason that wars on intelligence, good governance, affordable housing, housing-wage jobs and other necessities would create an abundance of those very things. War is profitable...as long as we fight AGAINST the good we want. (Maybe the epiphany that is manifesting here is that we should stop all wars. Hmmm.)

I'm left to wonder if similar logic would work at the local level. After all, DC Government tried to end homelessness for 8,253 people in 2004 and calculated 8,350 such people in 2016 -- having realized recently that they may have missed at least 330 people during the January count. (I'll soon float the idea that they actually try to CREATE homelessness and see if their propensity for screwing things up persists.)

Though there is a seemingly infinitely long list of problems that can make people feel hopeless, the time I have to write this blog post is quite finite. I'll therefore get to some of the reasons as to why I disagree with Michelle Obama. First and foremost is the obvious conclusion that you only continue to hope for that which you've yet to obtain. Many voters hoped for positive change in 2008, only to have those hopes dashed. Then they returned to the polls in 2016 still hoping for something better. A large enough minority of voters gave us Donald Trump. See, when their hopes were thwarted, they shifted that hope to the other major party. Then the Clinton supporters hoped that the electoral college would save us from Trump. That hope too was dashed to pieces. Now we're hoping for a successful revolution wherein the "heroes" would be the lucky ones if we were to lose. You see, hope is like matter in that it is never actually destroyed, but merely changes form. (Actually this is more true of hope than of mass; as, the theory and the reliability of Wikipedia have been called into question.)

If you don't recall learning about the Conservation of Mass theory, it may be that you are the victim of a hopelessly delinquent educational system or you were sending tweets to someone you were hopelessly in love with when the teacher was teaching it. But there's still hope for you; because, hope only changes form.

Another reason for disagreeing with Michelle Obama is that achievement of one's goals is more to be desired than to hope endlessly for something and never have it realized. The founding fathers gave us the right to approach government for redress of grievances and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Neither guarantees that our goals will actually be achieved. That should leave us hoping that achievement will become the focus of our next revolution. Michelle and Barack should not stop at hope, but rather promote successful achievement of our national goals.

That brings me to the final set of considerations. We must force change. Before we can do that, we must know what we are changing, what we are changing it from and what we are changing it to. I won't attempt to lay out a vision for America here and now, as that would take more than a single blog post. No worries. As it turns out, the topic of what government should do for its constituents is a vast one; but, what it succeeds at doing for its people is a very short one. Government, in spite of its other successes and failures, always serves as a target for the disgruntled citizens of a nation to blame for all long-term societal failings and as a slave to be whipped by the same lest it resolve said matters. If the U.S. Government hadn't lost the final remnant of its moral high ground (while retaining its militarism) during the Cheney administration and had it not become almost totally impotent during Obama, then it would still be logical for us to demand that the government do something good for its people. In lieu of Trump's apparent madness and the lingering possibility that the only thing he'll accomplish during his term is to make the federal government fully irrelevant both internationally and intra-nationally, it would seem that our goals need only be to remove the empty suits and dresses from Capitol and replace them with.....an actual government. (While you're in DC replacing the empty suits on the Hill with an actual government, please do the same with the empty dresses of DC Government as well.)

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser: Increase the ICH's Speed and Effectiveness (an open letter)

Dearest Mayor Muriel Bowser:

What I initially thought (as I wrote my Dec 20th post) would be a five-post series of open letters to you and anyone who might do a Google search so as to judge your performance as mayor has turned into at least a seven-post series with the addition of the previous post about ICH communication and this one (which will have a portion that delves further into the communication issue). I also plan to write about:

1 -- the perception of hopelessness that Michelle Obama recently articulated, what it means for the poor and homeless and how people's perception of me and other advocates can play a role in forcing positive change,

2 -- a KRISTY GREENWALT timeline: what we/I hoped for both before and when her position was created by the council, how her relationship with myself and other advocates has (d)evolved, how you might "fix" her and how her replacement might improve upon her performance

3 -- how and why you might avoid or advance your political suicide between now and June 2018, given the fact that your agenda on homelessness will factor largely into that score (thanks largely to Yours Truly).

NOTE: One or more of those posts will say something about the developing potential for an SLM scenario. Simply put, I was asked  few months ago to modify a certain behavior of mine that I was told by a DC Government employee might lead to another high earner losing her job. Seeing that I might actually have that much power, I'm testing the limits of my friendship/relationship with the requester (and other employees) and of my ability to force a government that has failed to adequately address homelessness since 2004 to develop and implement an effective plan for ending long-term homelessness and to redefine poverty such that everyone is guaranteed their most basic necessities.

I'll see what it's worth to various well-paid employees of yours (and to YOU) for me not to point out their flaws.....anymore. I'll see if it's worth giving me a $100K job as one of your employees as a way to rein me in so that I don't do.....THIS. It's ironic that, even as DC being a sanctuary city can lead to a loss of social service funding, so also me continuing to find meaningful relationships only from outside of the ICH's paid membership can be the reason that the ICH is forced to do better. (Some of my friends and associates hate to see me get close to any PAID woman associated with the ICH; because, they prefer to see me "go hard" -- no pun intended. Just an FYI.) That said.....

.....Dearest Mayor Muriel Bowser:

Here are parts of an e-mail I sent earlier today concerning the relationship between the ICH and the advocates:

"I recognize that u r making SOME effort 2 recognize the concerns of us advocates. Thnx. Here's some quick insight. 
On 2/6/07 Mike McFadden, Patty Fugere, David Pirtle, Rommel McBride and I met with Deputy-Mayor-turned-city-administrator Neil Albert. We explained that Franklin School Shelter was an emergency but not hypothermia shelter. It closed at 7 AM [every morning, despite the weather]. That morning men stood in single-digit temps while waiting for a shuttle to NY Ave shelter for the day. Neil made a 3-min call (to whom I don't know). When he got off of the phone, Franklin was a hypothermia shelter [where the men could remain all day if it was freezing and not have to transfer to another shelter during the daytime].
The men got put out in the 7th during a freeze. I told staff about the mtg. They said they'd call to inquire. The staff came out [and hollered across the street] to Franklin Park where I was waiting and invited myself and others back in. On the 8th they didn't put us out. Franklin remained a hypo shelter thru that winter and winter if 07/08 [closing for good on 9/26/08, due largely to the advocacy of the Downtown BID which the ever-awesome Neil Albert now directs].
There was complete follow-thru on what the advocates said. It wasn't a game by gov and ngo's 2 c what little they can get away with doing in terms of responding 2 advocates-- if they can avoid giving the FULL RESPONSES they give others in the gov/ngo world.

On 9/13 A Todman was @ ICH mtg but didn't respond to 2 commenters who spoke on DCHA matters.
When I called her out, she talked about some scam that had nothing to do with comnenters' concerns.
Other gov and ngo ppl have similar game.
All gov/ngo ppl should not only: 
1 -- let the advocates comment (while hoping that will be ALL we do) but also.....
2 -- give IMMEDIATE RESPONSES (like Laura Z did on 12/13)
3 -- make necessary calls and take actions that address the matter at hand (like Neil Albert did)
4 -- take any necessary corrective and follow-up actions (like Franklin staff did).
I'm not as hard 2 plz as it might seem -- unless the person's got game & they make an advocate have 2 make 3 requests 2 get what others would get in 1 exchange:
1 -- a chance 2 comment
2 -- a verbal response
3 -- action."

I obviously think much about the effectiveness of the advocates and then-City-Administrator Neil Albert in 2007. It takes forever to get anything done anymore -- whether it has to do with maintaining the homeless or with ending homelessness. Your administration puts more into hiding and euphemizing its flaws than it puts into fixing those flaws. (That's why I'll be mean in 17.) Kristy knows that people sometimes work hard at the wrong things; but, even she fails to see some of the most blatant ways in which that's true. I can help.

To increase the speed and effectiveness of the ICH, you can:

1 -- pay Neil Albert handsomely to return to DC Government (possibly as ICH director)

2 -- mandate that the ICH create another committee that focuses on communication (especially between the ICH on one hand and the homeless and their unpaid advocates on the other)

3 -- make Eric Sheptock into your homeless liaison who answers directly to the mayor.

(It may interest you to know that in late November 2016 I attended an ICH committee meeting where Kristy asked what other committees we might need to create. A week or so later I was in another committee meeting where her employee responded to my aforementioned committee suggestion by saying, "Oh no! We don't need another committee! We have too many already." You might recall that in 2008 I caught Mayor Fenty and DHS Director Carter saying mutually exclusive things about the Franklin School Shelter and got that discrepancy into a local paper. Just an FYI.)

In any instance, I might have found a pressure point or two that I can use to make your administration do more and work more quickly to end ALL homelessness. We'll soon see.....

.....I'll be mean in 17.

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Monday, December 26, 2016

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser: Improve ICH Communication (an open letter)

Dearest Mayor Muriel Bowser:

In my previous post I visited the matters of how DC's Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH) grades its performance vs how the public perceives what the media says about homelessness and of what this could mean for your 2018 re-election bid (especially if the DC primary comes AFTER the mid-May article about the homeless census). To be sure, you know a thing or two about the way in which the general public understands what it is told by politicians and the media -- how that, no matter how accurately a politician, reporter (in some cases) or subject matter expert explains a matter, the truth is lost through several communication turnovers as people try to remember and regurgitate what they heard or read. Even so, Aristotle and others have written about the "wisdom of the crowd" -- the principle whereby numerous incorrect guesses (of things like the weight of an ox at a country fair) average out within a percentage point of the correct answer.  Granted, these are not mutually exclusive conclusions; as, one has to do with guessing a fixed fact; while, the other has to do with understanding circumstances and truths that are constantly changing and multi-layered. That said, you'll be counting on the wisdom of the crowd in 2018 while hoping that they don't buy into any negative critiques of you by the media.

Now that I've impressed upon you (and all of the readers of this blog post) the utter importance of effective communication and gotten you to consider the wisdom of the crowd, I'll explain other matters of communication which, if not rectified immediately, will amount to your political suicide in early 2018 -- with the DC Democratic primary (which occurred in April of 2014 and June of 2016) being DC's de facto general election. Though I won't belabor the topic as I did in the previous post, I'll say that your political promise to address homelessness (mainly for families) is extremely tangential. Concern over the abduction of eight-year old Relisha Rudd has blossomed into the following concerns: safety at the DC General Family Shelter, maintenance at the same, NIMBY-ism and elitist attitudes of most wards, employment (mainly for heads of households), stress on the social services system, the failures of the system since 2004 to end DC homelessness, steering contracts for replacement shelters to developer-donor friends, a possible under-priced disposition of DC General Hospital to developers in early 2019 and the furtherance of gentrification. Five of the nine listed concerns fall within the ICH's purview -- the other four having to do with developers, gentrification and public attitudes toward the poor. As it turns out, the outcome of this pivotal political issue of homelessness rests -- for the most part -- on the shoulders of KRISTY GREENWALT.

The best and worst news here is that improving the communication techniques of the ICH in early 2017 can serve as a springboard for other improvements and for a second Bowser term. (I arrived in DC in 2005; and, no DC mayor has been re-elected since 2002, though the sitting mayor has always tried.) Mayor Bowser, my personal interactions with Kristy Greenwalt and the ICH concerning the matter of communication can be traced back to an October 2015 phone conversation in which she asked me to edit a blog post which I re-posted with edits on November 10th, though there were teachable moments on March 9th and May 10th of 2016. Then there is this e-mail thread which began in mid-September 2016. Over the past 14 months we've moved from me being censored by Kristy in October 2015 to me being incensed by her ways seven months later (via phone) to me now writing about various ICH communication matters at the conclusion of this 14-month period. In any instance, it can be said that communication has been an issue in both directions -- Kristy to me and vice versa. It's also been an issue for the ICH as a whole. One of the most telling signs that they have communication issues is the oft-stated fact that the ICH fails to get the word out about what it has succeeded at -- when it has followed through on the stated concerns of its member agencies and of the homeless themselves. It stands to reason that those who can't get the word out about what they've done well have issues with all forms of communication.

I'm happy to report that a solution to this matter is in the works. On December 13th, 2016 I reminded Laura Zeilinger of something that she used to do as assistant director of DHS which needs to be done again. She would attend the then bi-monthly meetings of the ICH. If the homeless mentioned concerns at the April meeting, Laura would return in June with a report of what had been done to address those concerns. Laura promised to assign that duty to someone. I trust that she'll follow through.

With the first concern having to do with publicizing ICH successes, the next has to do with having success in the first place. I've sat through countless ICH committee meetings during which attendees discussed the trouble that homeless service providers have finding homeless people whom they've had prior contact with and whose housing has become available. If we can't find people so as to get them into their housing, then there won't be any successes to report. This is a pivotal function of the ICH. I've offered a couple of solutions.

At a meeting a couple of months ago, as service providers discussed this long-standing problem, they mentioned how that some homeless people take as many as 200 days to find and house. Assuming that as much as $4,000 in caseworker pay goes into finding such people, I suggested that homeless people be offered $10 transit cards or McDonald's cards each time they visit the caseworker (maybe only using this idea when the person will likely be housed in less than six months). Kristy's words to me (verbatim) were, "Eric, those cards cost money". After that meeting, a Miriam's Kitchen employee flagged me down outside and said he'd follow up on that idea which he'd heard me mention in multiple meetings.

During an ICH committee meeting in early December 2016 we discussed the matter yet again. Someone suggested that housing reps attend the monthly town hall meetings that various shelters have and that they tell any shelter resident who wants to know whether or not their housing has become available. It was quickly determined that all 400 residents at some shelters would line up to find out about their housing and that idea was killed. I then suggested that the housing rep attend the town halls and call out the names of the five people whose housing has become available. Attendees stated their disagreement, stating concerns over privacy. I explained that simply saying in a group setting that someone's housing has become available doesn't amount to giving out their address. They persisted.

After the meeting was over I remembered that, during the last two weeks that Franklin School Shelter was open (9/12/08 to 9/26/08) there were people from DHS and Catholic Charities standing near the exit each morning. As the shelter residents exited in the morning, if a service provider saw someone whose housing had become available (having had photos with the paperwork), they called that person's name out and told him to remain and to enter the cafeteria to be signed up for housing. On December 21st, 2016 I explained the Franklin closing to another Miriam's Kitchen employee who first suggested that privacy laws might have changed. When I said that I wanted to learn about those laws, he mentioned trauma-informed care. Trauma-informed care, from what I can tell, is a relatively new school of thought that I've heard very little about over the past year. This Miriam's employee said that "experts" have determined that someone having their named called out in a crowd can traumatize them. Upon further discussion, we determined that this new privacy policy is, in fact, a voluntary practice -- not a new law. That said, you as mayor might elect not to recognize this "TIC" practice and o instead do what will get the homeless housed most quickly. That's not to say that a female employee of Miriam's Kitchen shouldn't lean over the shoulder of a homeless man whom she knows to whisper in his ear that his housing has become available. She should feel free to do that.

As for the shelter town hall meetings, they aren't just good places to catch up with prospective housing recipients. On any given night, we know that the majority of shelter residents will not receive housing. They, therefore, are concerned with shelter conditions and might want to know about a wide range of issues that affect them. In 2014 the ICH discussed the possibility of paying stipends to the homeless advocates who regularly attend meetings and who correspond between the ICH and the shelter residents. That conversation died on the vine. (I'm fertilizing the vine by giving it a lot of **it.)

Finally, for this post, I'll say that the viability of the previous idea is called into question when one considers the tense and dysfunctional relationships that exist between the homeless and the ICH-affiliated homeless service providers. Some of the homeless and formerly homeless sense that we are being given short shrift by the service providers who seem to do all they can to dismiss our concerns -- unless we are so persistent that it forces them to respond. An advocate who made it onto the ICH told me that he feels that his position is just pro forma and it gives the ICH a token effort that can be used to say that the homeless are part of the process. Rather than enumerate the many underlying concerns in this area, suffice it to say that an ICH that can't develop meaningful relationships with the long-term advocates won't soon navigate he exceedingly more vast chasm between service providers and the non-advocating homeless. The homeless people who don't regularly advocate have not been pacified and assuaged by the repetitive excuses of government and thereby left in a state of silent dissatisfaction or with a feeling of having been defeated by the failing system that they once sought to help fix. The homeless who don't advocate are a much tougher crowd than us regular advocates. In any instance, I'll stop there for now on an issue that might take a novel to address.

Please fix. Thank you, Mayor Bowser.

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Friday, December 23, 2016

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser: Further Improve the Inter-agency Council on Homelessness' Math (an open letter)

"I know people are working hard; but, sometimes we work hard at the wrong things."
[such as manipulating numbers and definitions]

DC ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt [minus bracketed words] in early 2014
(I wonder if she recalls saying that.)

Dearest Mayor Muriel Bowser:

In my previous blog post I commended the fact that you, unlike any other politician that I'm aware of, have made addressing homelessness into your pet project -- a truth that means that what you do as mayor and what I do as a homeless advocate are quite inextricably connected. But the fact remains that you can't devote all of your time to your pet project; nor can you possibly keep up with every single happening of the DC Inter-agency Council on Homelessness. Additionally, it stands to reason that your administration will always paint a positive picture of their efforts -- a picture that gets turned on its head if and when the media blitz that always follows the mid-May release of the results of the January Point-in-Time Homeless Enumeration indicate that there was an astronomical increase in the number of homeless people in Washington, DC over the last year. Such was the case in 2014 (up by 889) and in 2016 (up by 1,052). I understand that the media doesn't always report matters accurately; as, they must, by their very nature, be jack of all trades and master of none -- reporting on countless issues that they may have spent an hour a piece learning about. (I've been burned by the media too.) The inherent value of the media is that it informs a pragmatic public with short attention spans about what matters to the public, even if a report only scratches the surface of a multi-layered issue -- with some of us then digging deeper by way of Google.

It is this same public that votes politicians like yourself into office (and that will find this blog post via Google). It is this same public that will critique your administration in 2018 as you run for re-election. With DC having supposedly had 8,350 homeless people in January 2016; with there having been two recent counts that revealed increases of almost 900 and over 1,000 homeless people; and with there being two more counts during your first term, it is conceivable that the mid-May articles in 2017 or 2018 will read: "Mayor Who Will Make Homelessness 'Rare, Brief and Non-recurring' Sees it Rise Past 10,000 People on Her Watch" -- a point I made in an updated open letter to ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt in September 2016. (I'm not sure if she's read it.)

I also pointed out in my previous post that, during the December 2016 quarterly full council meeting, the ICH said that there were at least 330 homeless youth that were not counted in January. The adjusted total is more like 8,680. The news of this under-count came less than a week before news of various municipalities under-counting their homeless populations. Some of these uncounted homeless school kids may also be among those whose grades are being falsified by teachers so that the teachers themselves don't get failing grades and lose their jobs. (Some of the most pronounced indicators that our education system is failing: We are stupid enough to expect the police to police themselves, the homeless shelter staff to pass written grievances filed against them by homeless residents up the chain of command and for various failing agencies to self-report their failures to their higher ups.)

This raises some questions about transparency and accountability -- with even that of YOU and YOUR administration having been called into question earlier this year, Mayor Bowser. But that's a topic for another day (maybe two posts after this one). For now, let's just look at:

1 -- how the ICH grades itself,

2 -- how its grading and performance can be improved and

3 -- how the general public understands what it is fed concerning your progress on decreasing homelessness.

During a recent ICH committee meeting, Kristy Greenwalt thought hat I was taking her statement about her not wanting to count people who apply for but don't receive homeless services among the recipients of homeless services as me thinking that she sought to do away with homelessness prevention measures; and, she proceeded to stop me mid-sentence. That was not the case. I understood her to want to separate the homeless people with unmet needs from those who are actually cared for by the system (and to possibly count the former group in a different file). That portion of the conversation was essentially about deflating the figures so as to paint a picture of progress. It's ironic that, with your administration having denigrated the previous one for having created draconian policies that limited families' access to shelter and led to an explosion in those presenting at shelters during your term, that you and your administration would now choose to deflate the numbers and limit access to shelter. In any instance, Kristy and I don't agree about what numbers matter the most when talking about how many people are homeless and how the full scope of the problem.

Then there's the fact that the DC ICH, along with other government agencies and NGO's across the country, has spent countless hours defining and redefining the term "homeless" as well as other terms which Merriam-Webster and all people with a working knowledge of the English language figure to have very basic and easily understood meanings. Narrowing the definition allows state and local governments to subtract people who still don't have homes from the total number of homeless people that they report having in their respective jurisdictions. This, of course, makes these governments eligible for more federal dollars -- and as inclined to falsification of records as the failing schools are. (Maybe the former or present school chancellor has an idea as to how we might transfer the improvements in DC schools to the ICH.)

I'm not saying that DC has devolved to a place of intentional false reporting yet or that the under-count of homeless youth this year was on purpose. Fortunately, DC is conflicted in the matter of funding for homeless services. Whereas DC Government would lose federal dollars for not decreasing homelessness, the volunteers who canvass the city every January are instructed to encourage homeless people to stand up and be counted by telling them that the funding from the DC Council for homeless services will be proportionate to the number of homeless people we count. If that doesn't work, we offer them granola bars and McDonald's gift cards -- the latter helping to reduce the homeless population via clogged arteries. The conflict is, therefore, between hoping that we can report a high number and have our NGO's receive more local dollars or hoping we can report a low number and get more federal dollars. (The council is not conflicted. The NGO's are.) I'm not sure if the feds give more money per person housed or the city council gives more money per unhoused person.

While many in government and the non-profit community are debating definitions and how to count the homeless, other advocates and I sometimes remind government that they are paying attention to the wrong numbers. But it was a former director of DC Government's Department of Human Services (DHS) who put it best when, during a hearing, he stated that, "As we get five people out of the front door of the shelter, 10 more come in the back door". That simple but profound statement raises at least a couple of very complex questions:

1 -- How did these new shelter arrivals fall into homelessness???

2 -- How might we have foreseen the plight of these newly homeless people???

While the first of these two questions has many answers that can be grouped into a handful of categories that are not entirely the fault of government, the answers to the latter question point directly at the missteps of government -- more specifically the member agencies of the ICH (all of your well-paid bean counters). With 2009 having been the first full year of the economic downturn and many of the homeless not seeking shelter until the late fall, city officials can be forgiven for having insufficient and dilapidated family shelter during the winter of 2009-10. I forgive them for that. Then again, maybe I shouldn't, given the fact that local governments in and around Washington, DC knew as far back as January 2003 that a crisis of poverty that included dozens of DC families per month taking their federal vouchers and moving to Prince George's County for affordable housing. Furthermore, it's not hard to see why DC is approaching 10,000 homeless people when you consider that there are also:

 -- some 20,000 people who experience homelessness annually in DC,
 -- more than 40,000 people on the Housing Authority wait list and
 -- more than 100,000 rent-burdened families in DC.

We the advocates have suggested that government look at these other larger pools of disadvantaged people who are currently on the brink. They've yet to do that. But, as is sometimes said by administrators when we advocates mention these larger problems that feed into the homeless issue, it is outside of the ICH's purview to create affordable housing. With Mayor Fenty having given Leslie Steen an impossible mandate to form an affordable housing coalition -- but to do it without having any subpoena power, I personally have suggested several times since June 2006 that the ICH go beyond merely stating that something falls outside of their purview and to explain to you -- or any sitting mayor -- as well as the council and other power brokers. (I'm doing it with this blog post.) Let's not forget that no housing is affordable to any able-bodied person unless you  connect them to housing-wage (not just living wage) employment.  But, I also acknowledge that the current five-year plan which is going to house more people than there were at the onset of the failed 10-year plan does make mention of the housing wage of $28.25 per hr.

What we have here (in addition to a failure to communicate effectively) is a situation where the unpaid advocates have, in some cases, been advocating longer than some of the government employees and other homeless service providers have been at their jobs. In spite of this truth, some of the most profound advice of the unpaid advocates has been ignored, even as homelessness continues to increase. Meanwhile, the well-paid people haggle over definitions and manipulate numbers in order to paint a picture of progress. It's also worth noting that, with each passing year, the annual homeless reports get longer, become more decorative and are given longer titles that are becoming paragraphs unto themselves. Government and its contractors are getting better at not doing their jobs (in spite of us giving them free advice) and at comprising novel-length reports that make professional-sounding excuses that present their failures as positives or themselves as victims of circumstance -- the circumstance which it is their job to understand and surmount.

Before leaving the topic of government failures, I should point out that DC Government is currently placing homeless families in a hospital that was built in 1846 (23 years before Franklin School which served as a shelter from 2002 to 2008 and was shut down for -- among other reasons -- being dilapidated). City officials knew that both buildings were over 125 years old when each was first used as a homeless shelter -- DC General having first been used as a family shelter in 2005. So, while it's easy to justify opening a dilapidated building in the spur of the moment to be used as emergency shelter, it is inexcusable not to have developed an adequate alternative over eight years later -- before Relisha Rudd was kidnapped from the family shelter in 2014. (I understand that was the year before you took office as mayor, though you'd spent seven years on the DC Council and oversaw some matters relating to poverty.)

This brings us to the final matter for this post: how the pragmatic public perceives what they are fed by the media concerning homelessness. Being as it's pretty much impossible to pass through downtown DC without encountering many people whom one would assume to be homeless, the public -- locals and tourists -- can help but be aware of the existence of homeless people in our nation's capital. Not all 9,000 homeless Washingtonians are located downtown; but, the sampling that IS seems to grow in proportion to the citywide homeless population -- giving locals a way in which to gauge government's progress at decreasing homelessness. I do an occasional radio show about homelessness and have been told by callers during the shows as well as by friends afterward that I explain the matter well and thereby afford them ample understanding of the matter. But there is always that mid-May media blitz following the release of the numbers from the January count. My guess is that the general public is moved by the total number of homeless people as well as the news that a shelter or housing for the homeless might be placed in their neighborhood -- you having learned the latter the hard way in early 2016.

This is where your pet project meets the public's pragmatism. You, Mayor Bowser, should hope that the 2018 primary occurs before May; because, a local homeless population in excess of 10,000 might register with the public as you having failed most miserably at the one thing that you worked on the most (even if it WAS for your developer-donors). This might, in turn, lead to them determining that you are not a capable leader. An April primary might keep the voting public from judging you by the May article, with the exception of those with long memories and those who work on poverty-related matters. In the event of a June primary, the most recent homeless figures would still be fresh in the minds of many. That wouldn't bid well for you -- unless you were to improve the function of the ICH.

"I know people are working hard; but, sometimes we work hard at the wrong things."
[such as manipulating numbers and definitions]

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser: Politics and Principle (An Open Letter)

Dearest DC Mayor Muriel Bowser:

First of all, I'd like to congratulate and thank you for taking the totally non-political step of making addressing homelessness your pet project. I've never heard of another politician at any level of government doing that. Others like Bush 43 and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry (both Republicans) have addressed it; but, they've not made it their pet project by any means. You, on the other hand, have set the lofty goal of making the homeless experience in DC "rare, brief and non-recurring". You've arranged meetings that, unfortunately, were well-attended by NIMBY-ites while those who were supportive of your shelter replacement plan stayed home. You've embarked on a journey that three male mayors before you began but couldn't complete -- the first of them overseeing the creation of a 10-year plan in 2004 when DC counted 8,253 homeless people (a number that ROSE to 8,977 the following year) and the third issuing a statement about the difficulties that would be associated with creating the smaller family shelters. Despite the challenges, you and your administration just keep plugging along. You've allowed the issue of homelessness to define you. Thank you.

It is irrefutably a matter of good principle to care for the least, the last and the lost among us -- the "Obsoletes" of our society. Even so, there are those in our society who would argue with that assertion. To them let us tip our hats politely (or not) and pass on by. I've no doubt that you have a considerable comprehension of how abstract matters of principle must be transformed into concrete plans and of the safeguards that must be put in place to ensure that a tangential plan with tentacles that reach into so many aspects of life doesn't become so complicated that it veers off of the path of good principle. Too often, good-hearted people who entered their respective fields of work with strong desires to adequately address various social ills get sidetracked by bureaucracy, budgets, re-election aspirations and other peripheral matters that cause them to forgo the noble causes that inspired them to do the work they do in the first place. I trust and believe that this will not be the case with you.

That brings us to the matter at hand. In early 2014 an eight-year old girl named Relisha Rudd was kidnapped from the DC General Family Shelter. (In case you weren't aware, the Harriet Tubman Shelter which holds 100 single women is also on the grounds of DC General in the old morgue.) On April 30th, 2014, a few weeks after you'd won the Democratic Primary, I was one of about 75 people who testified in front of you as you chaired your Committee on Economic Development during a hearing about the DC Housing Authority. We pressured you to do more to improve the quality of Public Housing, in crease the number of Public Housing and other affordable housing units and to create a way out of extreme poverty. (This might be a good place to say that, if everyone who is below the middle class becomes middle class, then the middle class will have become the bottom class -- the new poor -- and the new middle will be somewhere between the $60,00 middle that you've moved people to and the multi-millions of DC's elite.)

In any instance, the public outcry at this hearing, the public outcry following the abduction of Relisha Rudd and the public outcry following the release of your shelter plan have forced you and your administration to look hard for that middle ground that, on the one hand allows you to care for the needy while, on the other hand, satisfying the elitist attitudes of the city's well-to-do (attitudes that are not always so well concealed and which some people exhibit rather unabashedly -- with government sometimes responding to and even pacifying such folk). The aforementioned events that occurred during your mayoral campaign and the first half of your term as well as other initiatives of yours serve to define you as more of a mayor for the poor than the late "Mayor for Life" Marion Barry. At the center of the circle of poor and dispossessed of DC is a concentric circle of homeless people. Unfortunately, that smaller circle grew within the larger one from 2015 to 2016 -- though you are committed to shrinking both of them.

You clearly understand that issues such as education, employment, housing-wage, homelessness, poverty, child development, budgets and social uplift are inextricably intertwined -- even if all of the parts of your administration that should be talking to each other are not and even if the conversations that are taking place are not robust enough. I can help.

Following the ward meetings of February 11th, 2016, much of the public outcry was around the fact that the initial plan would have enriched developers who have made political contributions. Now I'll say that I fully understand that it is developers who, in fact, build cities and that they have the same rights to make political contributions as anyone else. But, as you've probably already concluded, one of the concerns that people had was that the various decisions within the plan for homeless families were being guided by your desire to run again (which I heard you state at a WIN event on January 8th, 2015) and the need to obtain campaign funding -- not by a comprehension as to what is best for the homeless families or the communities that they'd be placed in. I need not belabor that matter here and now; as, the general public has done well enough.

As it turns out, there is another matter of principle that is very similar but which people have all but forgotten -- save ANC Commissioner Brian Flahaven. While people expressed concerns about contracts being steered to developers who would develop the new and smaller family shelters, these same people seemed to be completely oblivious to the fact that this plan would advance the vacating of a piece of prime real estate which developers would then have access to. These developers would get the contracts for the new shelters and then bid for the vacated DC General campus. Developers win all the way around. In and of itself, this double win for developers doesn't represent a lack of principle. I get that. Nonetheless, it becomes a matter of principle when the administration sets its timetable for closing the family shelter in such a way that it might lead to the services that are afforded to homeless families being less than the best. 

When you juxtapose the facts that:

1 --  this administration adopted a five-year plan for ending long-term homelessness by September 30th, 2020 with

2 -- the January 2nd, 2019 end of this mayoral term and with

3 -- the original plan to close DC General by the fall of 2018.....

 a couple of hidden messages are brought to light:

The same administration that devised a plan for ending homelessness which extends almost two years into the next term and whose success can't be guaranteed for that reason is extremely gung-ho about closing DC General DURING this term and thereby guaranteeing the success of the effort. Closing DC General before the beginning of FY 19 on October 1st, 2018 eliminates the need to budget that shelter's operation for that year while also avoiding a mid-winter shelter relocation process AND while allowing the incumbent mayor to please her developer-donor friends.

Enough about developers. As I stated in this web-published Google doc about homeless employment, even the plan around homeless employment is driven by a resolve to close DC General. The conversation about family homelessness revolves around the +/- 270 families in DC General which represent less than one-fourth of DC's homeless families. Additionally, the conversation around homeless employment revolves around the 1,945 homeless parents that DC had in January 2016 while almost nothing is being said about the employment issues of what might be 2,500 able-bodied homeless singles (without dependent children). This should cause people to wonder:

1 -- Why are we not talking more about ending homelessness for ALL 1,491 homeless families (containing 4,667 people) which the city had in January 2016???

2 -- Why are we not talking more about connecting ALL of the approximately 4,400 able-bodied homeless adults in DC to housing-wage jobs which the 5-year plan puts at $28.25/hr for a full-time worker without dependents (about $42/hr for those supporting families)???

3 -- With a regional report on "Trends in Workforce Demand" and the results of the "January 2016 Point-In-Time Homeless Enumeration" both having been published on May 11th by the same organization which DC Government belongs to, why have we not juxtaposed these two reports so as to tease out elements that can be used to address the employment challenges of ALL of our homeless residents???

The short answer is that DC Government is bringing all of its homeless resources o bear, not for the primary goal of making homelessness "rare, brief and non-recurring", but for the purpose of giving yet another valuable city-owned property to the developers whom the city has spoiled rotten. (Oops, I said, "Enough with developers". I guess I just can't resist the temptation to target them. So, I'll continue.)

All of this brings us to the final matter of principle that I'll address here and now which I'll pose as a question:

Should government be required to give the general public full and logically-explained assurances that any plan it develops which is ostensibly for the benefit of a group of constituents who are unable to make sizable campaign contributions is not, in fact, primarily for the benefit of a different set of constituents who ARE able to give sizable campaign contributions???

Don't think too hard about that question; as, the answer is woven throughout this open letter. In case you still don't know the answer, it's an emphatic "YES!!!".

There is a train of thought that takes us from the abduction of Relisha Rudd to the cries for improved family shelter to the plan that was rejected by NIMBY-ites and a few good people in Ward 5. To the untrained eye, the revised plan looks like a generous show of compassion by DC Government but which the aforementioned deeper analysis shows to be another instance of city officials kowtowing to developers. This train of thought, if not derailed by other matters of public displeasure, eventually pull into the station of your re-election in November 2018 -- a goal with a person and political spin to it.

There is another train of thought that follows the same track as far as the point of devising a plan for addressing the issues that made people homeless in the first place. At this point, the train approaches a track switch and gets on the right track by ensuring that plans for decreasing family homelessness will do so for ALL families -- not just those currently being sheltered on prime real estate. As this train of thought continues down the right track, it leads to a decision to address the employment issues of ALL able-bodied homeless people, not just those currently being sheltered on prime real estate.

The former train (of thought) is a freight train delivering more goods to the wealthy. The latter train is a passenger train that puts people over profit.

It is irrefutably a matter of good principle to connect ALL able-bodied people who depend on social services to housing-wage employment -- the "Obsoletes" of our society. Even so, there might be some in our society who would argue with that assertion -- namely the employers who want to stop their employees from complaining about low wages and unfavorable working conditions by pointing out of the window at the unsheltered homeless person and asking if said employee wants to join them there. To them let let us curse impolitely and pass on by.

The good news here is that ALL the city has to do is take what it is doing for a fraction of DC's homeless families and do those same things for ALL of our homeless ABAWDS. The bad news is that, having not done so thus far has given me occasion to write this open letter that articulates the not-so-well-hidden motives of you and your administration.

Before closing out, I'll point out that many people over the years have asked me why the city hasn't housed or employed me yet. I tout the fact that, until recently, they focused mainly on the disabled and then go on to say that city officials figure that employing and/or housing me after my 10-plus years of oft-aggressive advocacy might encourage others to advocate in much the same way. Some argue that DC Government should keep its friends close and its enemies closer. I concur. Your administration has yet to learn that.

The operative word for this open letter is, "ALL". That's it. That's "ALL".

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