Why I'm Homeless

I sometimes hear people state what they perceive to be the reason(s) for my homelessness. Some people TELL me that I choose to be homeless -- instead of ASKING me why it is that I lack a home. Some spread the rumor that I was offered housing and turned it down. I was never offered housing. Some say that I should have played crazy when DC Government was housing the "most vulnerable" men from Franklin School Shelter. The most positive assumption people make is that I choose to be homeless so that I can advocate for solutions to homelessness for all who experience it. Facebook actually has the best short answer: "it's complicated". I'll explain.

I believe it was the end of 2015 when I had a one-to-one lunch with a certain professor named Sczerina. During our lunch, she asked me what I was looking to accomplish through my advocacy. I explained that I was looking to create a paradigm shift away from just housing the most vulnerable and toward getting city officials to split their attention and resources between the most and least vulnerable. I believed then, as I do now, that DC's city officials only want to assist the mentally ill, physically disabled and homeless parents as well as their children with housing. The municipal government has never had a robust homeless employment program since it began its efforts to end homelessness in 2004. They seem to only want to help those for whom the masses would clamor if they were ignored -- the disabled and the children. Furthermore, it seems as though city officials -- across multiple administrations -- try to ensure that any plan to address homelessness doesn't create a direct affront to gentrification.

I don't want DC Government to ignore the disabled or the children, but rather to split resources between those groups and the able-bodied singles so that every homeless person in the city fits into some group that is being assisted with a good-faith effort to move them toward housing. I DO want the city to create a direct affront to gentrification. I DO want to help bring about this paradigm shift and this restructuring of services so that I can eventually benefit from the better system that I helped to create -- whether I benefit as a program participant or I get employed by the program to help other homeless people. Having begun my advocacy in June 2006, I was hoping to have accomplished this by now.

City officials will, no doubt, say that I've wrongly characterized what they do. They'll offer explanations that are intended to appeal to an ill-informed public that understands close to nothing about the intricacies of government. (That's accountability for you.) So, let me say that, whether it's by their intent or ignorance, this is the way that the failure of the 10-year plan (2004 to 2014) and the insufficient progress of the current 5-year plan (2015 to 2020) add up. The bureaucratic bull, the refusal to put as much into employment for ALL homeless A-bods as they put into closing a shelter that sits on valuable land, the ways in which the city kowtows to developers, the ways in which the city favors landlords' rights over those of tenants and the nonchalant attitudes that I sense in meetings about ending homelessness strike me as indications that DC Government wants to do just enough to save face.

They want it to seem as though they are genuinely trying to make homelessness "rare, brief and non-recurring"; but, they're probably hoping that certain subsets of the poor and homeless will get tired of waiting their turn and just move out of DC -- even if they work here and should therefore be able to expect to find affordable housing here. Let's add to that the fact that there are homeless day programs that allow homeless people to hang out, have conversations that have nothing to do with getting out of homelessness, draw pictures and knit. Let's also factor it how that, for many years, the city has provided free shuttles from shelters to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library every morning and from the library back to shelter every evening. The MLK Library from which I'm writing this blog post will close on March 4th, 2017 for a three-year renovation and a problem that the city should have solved by now will spill out into the surrounding community. If DC Government IS trying to end homelessness, they need to try harder. (I might stop being a thorn in their side. Maybe.) While I don't pretend to be a mind reader, it's clear that either they can't or they won't do enough to end homelessness -- just move the problem from place to place. Something's gotta give.

Getting back to the matter of why I'm homeless, let's bear in mind that I've invested almost 11 years of my soon-to-be 48 (2/15/17) into creating this paradigm shift toward confronting gentrification head-on. Some would argue that I should give up and walk away from an effort that has consumed almost a quarter of my like thus far. I would argue that I definitely won't walk away without a sizable system-level victory that puts DC on a path toward ending and preventing homelessness and that actively acknowledges that any person who works in the city deserves to have access to housing that they can afford here as well. That hasn't happened yet; so, I'm still homeless.

In 2014 I told DC's ICH director, Kristy Greenwalt, to top-load her agenda so as to do the hardest things first. She told me that she doesn't work like that. I walked away. Three years later I'm still trying to get her and the ICH to top-load their agenda by focusing on homeless employment -- by gaining a full understanding of the insurmountable challenges that able-bodied homeless people have obtaining housing-wage employment and then by adequately addressing those challenges. I have no intention of changing my focus, though I'm quite willing to intensify -- to go harder.

As you can well imagine, a paradigm shift is about much more than a singular effort. It has to do with changing the overall way that people think and with the new thinking then carrying over into many decisions that are made thereafter. Even so, I'll offer a specific action which the city MUST take in order to show me that they are committed to effectively reversing gentrification. They MUST initiate a robust effort to connect as many as possible of the approximately 1,000 people in the CCNV Shelter to housing-wage employment and to housing. They MUST then do the same for able-bodied homeless people at other shelters. Finally, they MUST connect DC's tenuously-housed, rent-burdened community to housing-wage jobs. When they begin the first of these three phases in earnest, I'll begin to say good things about them -- unless and until they lose momentum (which gentrification is NOT doing).

As I push for this paradigm shift, I continue to assist DC Government in its efforts -- even those that don't address the issues of A-bods in a comprehensive way. On February 5th, 2017 (Superbowl Sunday) I connected someone in DC Government to the rector at my church which is four blocks from MLK Library. It was so that my church could help to mitigate some of the problems that will arise on March 5th, 2017 (the first day without the library in lieu of the renovation). When I asked the interim rector to help in this matter, he said, "It seems like a no-brainer!". I'm sure DC Government is glad I made the connection.

However, there is yet another connection between DC Government and my church (not counting the fact that people from DC Government and the advocacy community will likely visit my church to pay me their last respects). It is that, even as I push the ICH to top-load its agenda, I also push the fellow congregants who attend Bible study to acknowledge God's harshness and judgment. I push people to think difficult thoughts and to wrap their heads around various grim realities in both locations -- to put off any emotion or other concern that gets in the way of being effective and recognizing the ugly truth. After all, the homeless have to think this way. So, why can't the privileged, the educated, those in government and the clergy?????

This leads us nicely into a converse pair of truths that further explain my reasons for being homeless. The first is that I am ever-increasingly dismayed by how our society thinks. At almost 48 years old, I look back 20 and 30 years at how people thought and I reminisce about a time when our society's collective intelligence was much higher. I abhor the thought of having to report to work among the same group of social unconscious imbeciles day after day -- especially if there is no angle that affords me the space to demand that they think better. This is NOT to say that they have to share my opinions or do things my way. It IS to say that, if and when we don't see eye to eye, I have to be able to sense a rational flavor to what they say. You don't have to agree with me to qualify as rational, though there are certain types of statements that send up the red flag in my mind and cause me to wonder about your ability to reason -- to wonder if you are "on the level" at all.

The converse truth is that, in the name of accountability, I DO have the space whereby to back government against the wall and to demand that they do better by those whom they've sworn to serve. Any co-workers that I might have in a factory or on a construction site are required to do their jobs; but, I have no vantage point from which to insist that they think critically about their overall paradigm or about a plan that runs across multiple years and uses millions of dollars of taxpayer money. I can also put forth challenging scriptures and unpopular accompanying interpretations during Bible study; but, I must calmly accept when people disagree -- even if they don't present strong logic for their disagreement. However, the 13 years of failure thus far by DC Government to end homelessness, the billions of dollars that have been spent just maintaining homelessness, the exponentially increasing number of homeless people and the ways in which government plays on the public's ignorance concerning homelessness all serve as reasons for me to go hard on government. Government is the only entity with which I can use forceful logic to back them against the wall and make them do better. In a sense, it makes up for the fact that I can't expect to make the average citizen make sense -- even when they obviously lack the ability to connect the dots for their own stated conclusion. In another sense, I'm laying into government for its own shortcomings. in yet another sense, I'm making up for the shortage of socially-conscious people to force government to do better by its constituents and to be accountable to the same. Hopefully, the Trump saga will change that. Until then, I'm here and fighting -- even if I'm homeless.

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