Sunday, May 14, 2017

Philanthropists, Stop Funding Government's Failures! Fund Real Solutions to Homelessness! -- Mayor Muriel Bowser

In this post I'll show that well-meaning, kind-hearted philanthropists who fund some of Washington, DC's non-profits that "serve" the homeless are unwittingly aiding and abetting government failures and corruption indirectly. I'll also offer better places to put your money. (Since I'm enumerating government's failures, this post promises to be both long and incomplete.)

To be completely fair, it must be said that some of the systemic flaws that have reared their ugly heads during the administration of DC Mayor Muriel Bowser actually predate 2015. Even so, it is the job of the current executive to fix those problems, lest she become a willing accomplice. More than half way through her term, she has failed to fix what's broken. Before delving into the flaws that cause philanthropic funds not to be put to good use, let's develop a vision that can serve to measure DC Government's success or failure when it comes to making homelessness "rare brief and non-recurring" -- Mayor Muriel Bowser's oft-stated goal. For this we need not look far.

As indicated in my previous post about DC's 2017 point-in-Time Homeless Enumeration, the city's five-year plan for addressing homelessness runs from October 1st, 2015 to September 30th, 2020 and aims to ensure that anyone who was homeless prior to June 30th, 2020 is housed by the plan's end date. I'll add here that, with me having attended some of the meetings where the five-year plan was being devised, I've heard ICH members discuss making "balloon payments" in the latter years of the plan if they didn't house enough people in the first year(s) of the plan. This is our measuring stick. I'll crunch the numbers in a slightly different way than I did in the previous post:

1 -- Having had 7,298 homeless people and the full five years ahead of us in early 2015, it was necessary to accomplish a net decrease of 1,460 homeless people for each of the five years.

2 --  Having had 8,350 homeless people and four years and change remaining in early 2016, it was necessary to accomplish a net decrease of approximately 2,100 homeless people for each of the remaining years. (It was time for a balloon payment of time-and-a-half per year; but, that doesn't seem to have happened.)

3 -- Having had 7,473 homeless people in January 2017 and with us having three years and change remaining in May 2017, it is necessary to accomplish a net decrease of approximately 2,500 homeless people for each of the remaining years. (It is time for an even bigger balloon payment of 1.7 times the original goal per year; but, that doesn't seem to be happening yet. Maybe this blog post can help to change that.)

4 -- As indicated in my previous post, we could continue the glitch pattern by having another astronomical uptick in the number of homeless people by January 2018 -- all the way to 9,300 or even 10,000 people. By the time the numbers are released in May, Muriel Bowser will have less than eight months left in her current (possibly her only) term and less than four months until the September primary (the 2014 primary having occurred in April and before the homeless count numbers were released). There will be 2 years and change left in the plan and it will be necessary to have a net decrease of approximately 4,000 people per year...333 per month...17 per work day in order to meet the goals of the plan vs the current net decrease of only 3.5 people per work day. Don't pin your hopes on success if we have anything close to 10,000 homeless people next year.

Enter the tens of millions of dollars that DC Government lent to developers at a low interest rate so that they could build affordable housing and which the government failed to collect so that it could be used again to build even more affordable housing. I find it hard to believe that it is by mere chance and happenstance that the city, across several administrations, has done so poorly at collecting this money from the developers who contribute to the campaigns of many local politicians. Something tells me that it's not by accident that the Department of Housing and Community Development continues to fail in this respect. But, even if we give DHCD the benefit of the doubt, it behooves the department to fix its system ASAP lest their continued delinquency in this matter serves to indict them on multiple counts.

Let's also revisit the matter of the $15.8M in affordable housing money that DC recently gave back to the feds. Only, this time around, let's tease out the truths that lie beneath DC Government's stated reason for not being able to use the money. DHCD couldn't find any developers to buy into the program. All of the people with whom I discuss this matter believe that it points to an inability on the part of DHCD to negotiate well with developers and to create lucrative deals. I concur; but, I'd add that it is also quite possible that these campaign-funding developers don't want to create housing that's affordable to low-income people (making under $60,000 per year) and that city officials are likely glad that they don't. It's all one big sham.

Now let's consider the non-profits who, on the one hand get money from government to "serve" the homeless, and on the other hand receive philanthropic money. Some of these non-profits are funded to provided food, shelter and other day-to-day necessities. Some are funded to provide services that include housing and case management to homeless people who are mentally and/or physically disabled. Some teach adult learners. Some fit into multiple categories. A few actually assist homeless people with employment and becoming self-sufficient. By volume, the programs in this last category likely comprise the smallest piece of the homeless services pie and the only piece that is laden with the mold of near total ineffectiveness. That's not to speak of the fact that a successful employment program for homeless parents was scrapped in 2013 because of the price tag -- one that could have been covered by the forfeited federal funds if it had been resurrected in 2014, 2015 or 2016 and that never should have been funded by Employment Services or Human Services in the first place. That's an idea that DC Government might be able to act on in the future.

At the risk of being branded a conspiracy theorist, I'll say that I suspect that DC Government doesn't actually want to succeed at connecting poor people to affordable housing or living-wage jobs. While there is a moral imperative that says government had better care for the most vulnerable, there are many in society who will let government get away with disparaging, under-serving and ignoring the able-bodied homeless. This is further evidenced by the fact that, less than three months after the administration of Vince Gray said that they'd learned that the homeless parents in afore-linked sweat-equity program actually wanted to work, the same administration was putting forth a narrative that called homeless parents lazy and shiftless. With Muriel Bowser having not made the connection between the sweat-equity program in which 11 homeless parents renovated two buildings -- turning them from a police station into affordable housing -- to the tune of $2.6M dollars and the $15.8M that just went back to the feds, her administration is an accomplice in this crime of the Gray administration. She had the funding to bring it back six times over or to do something similar that yielded as many as 1,000 family units for some 3,500 people.

What's more is that the local advocates, many of them employed by government-funded non-profits spend much of their time during the budget season (February to June) testifying at City Hall about why they think this or that government agency or non-profit program should continue to receive funding or even to have its funding level increased. I'll be joining them this week and will see how many of them join me in telling the DC Council to fix the systemic problems that have existed for far too long and hurt far too many poor people. Why would these advocates -- unpaid or non-profit employed -- ask the council to throw good money after bad by funding a program that just threw away millions??? ANSWER: The government-funded non-profits don't want to bite the hand that feeds them and it is these non-profits that often craft the message for the unpaid advocates, some of whom have experienced homelessness (and are quite possibly severely mentally ill so that they don't know any better than to follow along). These non-profits are incentivized to seek funding for proven failures; because, it's their bread and butter. The mentally ill can be used as unwitting accomplices who accompany the non-profits to City Hall on an all-expenses-paid class trip. Go figure.

This begins to explain why, on May 9th, 2017 city officials were brooding over the fact that there was a 10.5% decrease in homeless people but only a 2% decrease in the "chronic homeless" who have a mental and/or physical disability AND have been homeless for at least a year or four times in three years. (I foresee this group voting to focus its efforts and resources on the most vulnerable homeless yet again -- as has been the case every year since 2008.) In that same meeting there was discussion of the SOAR Program which helps SSI-eligible homeless people obtain their benefits. It was said by a government administrator that the average benefit is $735/month and that the recipient can pay $220/month and $2,640/year toward their rent and alleviate resources which can then be used to help others. ($2,640 vs $16M)

That same administrator was in a meeting where we discussed not being able to find a vulnerable homeless person whose housing has become available months after a caseworker made the initial contact. It was said that caseworkers sometimes spend hundreds of hours trying to find someone again. When I suggested offering clients $10 transit cards, this administrator said, "Eric, those cards cost money". It would seem that the system is intent on creating job security for those who "serve" the disabled homeless, not on decreasing poverty for those who are ready, willing and able to work; and, it seems like the nine-year old argument about needing to focus on the most vulnerable homeless is being used as a seemingly-legitimate excuse for not doing all that can and should be done to effect the much-needed and anticipated social uplift of the working and able-bodied poor. Let's eliminate any notion of legitimacy that this excuse might have in a few easy ways.

But before enumerating those ways, let me highlight one government-funded non-profit that doesn't fit the bill -- Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC. I've known its CEO and president, Monsignor "Father John" Enzler for about three years now. He has, on multiple occasions, told me that he is tired of only receiving enough funding to warehouse the homeless in shelters and wants to do more to get folk out of homelessness. Earlier in 2017 he made me a part-time consultant who is charged with helping him devise better ways of helping the homeless. (He had no prior knowledge of this blog post.) As it turns out, the five low-barrier shelters for which Catholic Charities DC receives city funding are not designed to cater especially to the disabled. So, Catholic Charities is not part of that game either. This gives potential philanthropists somewhere to put their money. It also suggests that there might be other non-profits that are worth investing in. One that comes to my mind is Manna DC -- a non-profit developer.

That said, the ideas are as follows:

1 -- Philanthropists, only give to non-profits that serve the homeless if they can prove, to your satisfaction, that they are not contributing to a system of "gentrifiction"/gentrification that only pretends to want to address ALL homelessness.

2 -- Philanthropists, invest in non-profit developers who are willing to participate in programs like the federal "HOME" Program that granted DC Government $15.8M to build and/or renovate affordable housing.

3 -- Philanthropists, invest in programs like the $2.6M sweat-equity program that DC scrapped even though it was successful at teaching trades and creating affordable housing -- a program that should have been continued/resurrected and funded by "HOME".

4 -- Government-funded non-profits, call out the failings and games of government -- even the government that funds you -- unless you want to lose your philanthropic funding.

5 -- Homeless and formerly-homeless advocates, craft your own message and don't be a token for a self-serving non-profit's "profiteering".

6 -- Attorney-General, prosecute and/or force the remediation of every wrong stated herein that falls within your purview.

7 -- DC Council, use this blog post to develop pertinent questions that you can ask the department directors.

8 -- Everyone else, apply immense pressure to the administration to right all wrongs stated herein and any others you can think of -- especially that they begin to make those promised "balloon payments" toward addressing homelessness.

9 -- Philanthropists, only give to non-profits that serve the homeless if they can prove, to your satisfaction, that they are not contributing to a system of "gentrifiction"/gentrification that only pretends to want to address ALL homelessness.


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