DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, Start FORCING an End to DC Homelessness Through Housing-Wage Jobs

The following is a testimony that I, Eric Jonathan Sheptock, plan to read at multiple hearings during the budget season for FY18.

Dear Chairperson,

In late 2012 I was one of several people who met with Chapman Todd to discuss the future of the then-1,350-bed CCNV Shelter. On January 13th, 2013 I sent a FOIA request to the feds in order to obtain information about the property transfer from the feds and the accompanying covenant. That led to the 6/27/13 CCNV hearing and a nine-month long task force from October 2013 to July 2014. Other advocates were part of the effort and dozens of well-paid city officials as well as non-profit employees attended the many task force meetings.

In July 2014 the DC Council (which Muriel Bowser was part of) passed a law that set forth the 17 guiding principles that a mayor would have to adhere to if he or she were to close the current site of the CCNV/Federal City Shelter. Congress passed it in December 2014. This law, while it ALLOWS the sitting mayor to close CCNV/FCS, actually MANDATES that comprehensive services be brought to the site irrespective of a closure.

In August 2015 I began asking about the Bowser admin’s plans for CCNV and was told that there were none. I’m not pushing for a closure of the shelter OR to keep it open. I AM pushing for closure to a four-year conversation and to have services that are geared toward connecting the able-bodied homeless people to housing-wage jobs which the five-year plan called “Homeward DC” put at $28.25/hr [for a full-time worker without a family in 2015]. My intermittent prodding on an issue that would otherwise be forgotten has led to there being a considerable amount of tension between certain members of the admin and myself. (I admit that I have not always been nice about it; but, I maintain that meanness is often in order, given the unwillingness of the admin to follow through on this matter.)

I was appalled by the reaction that I got when I brought up the future of CCNV. I wrote a blog post in mid-October 2015 in which I suspected that the mayor had plans to close CCNV and would not divulge her plans publicly until six months or less before the closure -- when it was too late to stop the freight train. Days later I had a phone call with an administrator who told me that I needed to be careful as to what I said about the mayor. I edited the post in accordance with our conversation. At any rate, I didn’t get the sense that this administrator was upset by the long and protracted process around CCNV’s future or by the lack of communication with over 1,000 homeless constituents who are ever-anxious in lieu of that very process. Neither does she seem to be upset about the fact that many well-paid city officials and non-profit employees across four admins have failed to decrease homelessness, let alone end it by 12/31/14. Those who are paid to end homelessness seem to be quite nonchalant about their failures.

It’s also worth noting that a failure to comprehensively address the employment issues of people at CCNV, at other shelters or who are tenuously housed fits snuggly into the framework of gentrification -- whether by intent or ignorance. Taken together, these considerations begin to paint a very bleak picture in terms of the culture that runs across multiple admins -- a culture that includes but is not limited to aiding gentrification, failing to give answers to those who deserve them and targeting any person who points out these systemic flaws in an effort to discredit them or dissuade them from advocating effectively.

During a hearing in early 2015, Council Chairman Mendelson expressed frustration over what I’m guessing has been $2 billion from 2004 until now that DC has spent while ostensibly “trying” to end homelessness. He rightly seemed unwilling to throw good money after bad. In my testimony for that hearing I suggested better oversight of the ICH and homeless services, having been fully aware that homeless was being made an issue for the Committee Of the Whole (COW) -- whereas it had previously been under a single council member. I’ll now add that there need to be CONSEQUENCES and REPERCUSSIONS when SIX-figure earners in government fail to meet a multi-year goal. We need the council to FORCE results.

When I did construction work at Universal Studios -- Florida in the late 90’s, I was told that the general contractor would have to pay $7,000 for every day that he was late. Workers were allowed to do overtime well in advance of the deadline. Though, like most construction workers, I was not present for the entirety of the job, I’m guessing it was finished on time. I strongly suggest that all homeless service providers be forced to pay -- both out of the agency’s budget and out of their personal salaries -- if they fail to deliver. In a more general sense, they need to suffer (in a way that far exceeds the emotional suffering that they’ll probably say they already endure) from their prolonged failure. This punishment needs to be intense enough to create a constant sense of urgency among service providers to actually succeed at ending homelessness.

I understand that ending homelessness is a tall order -- especially when you consider that we could reach 10,000 homeless people in 2017 or 2018 and that a mayor who is supposedly committed to making it “rare, brief and non-recurring” will be ostracized for failing at her pet project which was supposed to hand a vacated DC General to developers before her 2018 re-election bid (in which she might run against former mayor Vince Gray again). Therefore, in an effort to make the seemingly impossible both possible and digestible, I’ll suggest the following skeleton plan:

1 -- IMMEDIATELY place comprehensive employment and housing services at CCNV for the able-bodied homeless -- even if it only consists of having service providers from various agencies visit a couple of days per week per agency.

2 -- Do the same for other shelters where their are able-bodied people.

3 -- Do similar things for impoverished communities where people are tenuously housed.

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