It's Mind Over Matter: Another Failed 5-Year Plan -- DC Mayor Muriel Bowser
"It's mind over matter. I don't mind; 'cause, you don't matter"
(A dismissive remark sometimes said to someone who is expressing anger)
So, the good news here is that I'm ever more convinced with each passing day that DC Government's ICH (Inter-agency Council on Homelessness) sees the work of advocates in general and myself in particular as posing a major threat to the status quo of costly failures by well-paid derelicts -- which the city's five-year plan called "Homeward DC" is on track to become. This is due, in part, to the impending cuts to the federal safety net programs and, in part, to major missteps by the administration of DC Mayor Muriel Bowser. As we approach the two-year mark in the five-year plan with about 200 more homeless people than we started with, it's beginning to look as though this plan will suffer the same fate as the 10-year plan of 2004 which a group of poverty pimps simply ignored after three years.
Even so, we can revel in the notion that those who designed a failing system are smarting at the thought of a sustained effort by local advocates to bring those failures to the forefront -- and to offer better ideas. One such effort is a June 29th media blitz about homelessness which is being planned by Street Sense. That's not to speak of the fact that the National Alliance of HUD Tenants with whom I've collaborated since 2011 will hold its annual DC conference from June 24th to 27th -- followed by a direct action.
The bad news here -- apart from the fact that the suffering of the poor will soon worsen -- is how I learned that the local government is at its breaking point. I'm reminded of the words of Gandhi who said, "First they ignore you; then they laugh at you; then they fight you; and, then you win". I'm also reminded of an expression that I heard while living in Florida. If someone got angry, the object of their ire might say, "It's mind over matter. I don't mind; 'cause, you don't matter" There was a time that my critiques of a system that seems to have been designed to fail didn't seem to phase power brokers. My friends and associates would question whether or not I had the ability to make government cringe. They'd suggest that I might not wield enough power or influence to force positive change. That is changing and certain ICH member agencies are becoming antagonistic towards me. Great. I'm having an impact.
The government and its contractors are starting to fight me -- which means I'll soon win. I hope others will join the winning battle. As strange as it might seem, I'm elated to see a burgeoning wave of passive-aggressiveness toward me on the part of ICH (dys)-functionaries. Bring it on, ItCH!!!!! You might ask, "Why would an administration that vowed in the spring of 2015 to make homelessness "rare, brief and non-recurring" (in much the same way that Albuquerque mayor Richard Berry vowed to make homelessness "rare-short-lived and non-recurring" six years earlier) have any feelings of disdain toward me, being as we share the same goal???
There are several reasons. Interestingly enough, you can do these things that I do too and make city officials and their partners in crime just as angry at you. I strongly advise it:
1 -- I've taken to repeatedly pointing out that, despite the 877-person decrease in homeless people from 2016 to 2017 (8,350 to 7,473), we are still over the 2015 count result of 7,298 people by 175 and now would need to accomplish a NET decrease of 2,500 homeless people in each of the remaining three years of the plan (most of which post-dates the Bowser administration) in order to satisfy the plan. I see another high-priced failure on the horizon and that, while the ICH duscusses a lot of data, it never discusses how much further behind the ball we are getting -- 7,300 people divided by 5 years vs 7,473 divided by 3 years.
2 -- I'm one of many people who are watching what's going on with the Trump budget whose full impact might not be known until mid-October (two weeks after the DC budget goes into effect, if 2008 is any indication). Additionally, Washington, DC is seeking statehood and greater budget autonomy (freedom from the budget oversight that Congress exerts on DC). This makes it all the more annoying that anyone would highlight the city's need for federal assistance. I really don't care how the Bowser admin feels about me mentioning the federal umbilical cord; because, there are poor people whose lives will become even harder if it were cut. We might find a saving grace in the fact that a conservative supreme court justice pioneered a ruling that can now be turned against him insomuch as it might prevent Trump from decreasing federal funding to DC on the basis of ours being a sanctuary city.
3 -- I also continue to point out that the feds might not need to withhold funding; because, even when they DO give DC money, DC fails to use it and gives it back. What's more is that they might never again get that missed opportunity.
4 -- With Polly Donaldson who is the director of DC's Dept. of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) having stated that the $15.8M grant from HUD (in item #3) went unused because her department couldn't find developers who wanted to participate in the program, I've wondered out loud as to how a department that works so much and so closely with developers is unable to find developers. (They're hiding under your desk, Polly Donaldson.) I was given a couple of leads (the day before writing this post) that I'll soon follow-up on. One is a documentary about the failures of affordable housing programs in different cities. The other is the possibility that the federal requirements for participation in the program are too stringent and off-putting to developers. I'll dig further into both. That gives local officials another reason to hate me. That's fine.
5 -- I continue to point out how that the city has focused their housing efforts on the most vulnerable (also called the "chronic") homeless since September 2008 -- adding families with children after an eight-year old girl was abducted from the family shelter in early 2014. On May 9th, 2017 -- two days before this year's count results were made public, I was at an ICH committee meeting where attendees were homing in on the fact that, despite a 10.5% annual decrease (which would have been too small to satisfy the five-year plan even if it weren't for the 14% spike in homeless people in the first year of the plan), there was only a 2% decrease in "chronic homeless people". I immediately saw that they were building the case for ignoring able-bodied homeless people for yet another year.
6 -- As with the June 29th media blitz being organized by Street Sense, I too make it a point to unravel the jargon and government-speak so that the average citizen who doesn't attend meeting after meeting with government can understand government's doings (as well as can be expected) and go so far as to develop strong opinions concerning what government should do with our tax dollars.
7 -- I'm always reminding people that a mayor who comes off to me as having made addressing homelessness something in the way of a pet project is getting further and further behind the ball -- opening the door for the city's first elected attorney general to defeat her in the June 2018 mayoral primary. I've begun to give him fodder for the fight by sending him material like this post.
8 -- I also remind people that the DC General Family Sheter sits on prime real estate which the developers who fund the mayor's campaign want badly. This doesn't mean that Ms. Bowser doesn't genuinely care about homeless families with children. It just dilutes her stated reason for closing the shelter and raises questions as to why she isn't more forthcoming about her development plans for the DC General campus once it is vacated and which if her developer-donor friends she plans to give it to.
9 -- I tell people who ask about the future of the CCNV Shelter that it will likely be closed by October 31st, 2022 -- just months before the nearby Capitol Crossing construction project is finished. I encourage people to push the city to bring services into the building and connect its residents to living-wage jobs and affordable housing. I continue to predict that DC Government will intentionally do too little too late; because, they don't really want to make it possible for low-wage workers to find housing in the city where they work.
When I began to ask in August 2015 what city officials planned to do with the CCNV Shelter whose nine-month task force ended 13 months prior, ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt told me that the city didn't have a plan for the then-1,350-bed building (including the 250 hypothermia-season only beds). Long story short, she eventually became passive-aggressive toward me and it got ugly in the middle of 2016 and remained that way until April 2017. She and I now say very little to each other, though I'm perfectly willing to discus our differences -- as I've always wanted to do. She preferred a more under-handed and indirect approach for which I actively states my forgiveness last month.
I now see multiple ICH functionaries becoming passive-aggressive toward me. This time around, I don't need to respond in anger because, I'm keenly aware that a number of forces are beginning to come against a body that has functioned poorly since its inception in 2006 and which has missed awesome opportunities both during and before the Bowser administration. The case may be that media, the DC Council and others are asking the ICH challenging questions that play off of my juxtaposition of certain irrefutable facts (some having been published by the ICH itself). It may be that Mayor Bowser is furious about me helping her strongest opponent in next year's race and has made that known to her cabinet - much of which siis on the ICH. Maybe it's all that and then some. But, ItCH,no matter how mad you get at me: "It's mind over matter. I don't mind; 'cause, you don't matter.