What I Do As A Homeless Homeless Advocate

As it turns out, some of my most-read blog posts in recent months had to do with: why I'm homeless, my 80-year old mother having had her social security payments cut by $1,000 per month for 17 years because she adopted and the direct connection between DC Mayor "Mascara Muriel" Bowser shutting down homeless tent cities and her failing to create a sufficient amount of affordable housing (or anything that even comes close). My readers evidently like to read about my personal affairs and about local political issues for which they intuitively see the direct connection to their own lives and struggles. I've always tried to keep posts about myself to a minimum, realizing that "It's not about me". Nonetheless, I'll indulge you yet again with an explanation of "What I Do As A Homeless Homeless Advocate"

Though it may come as a surprise to many, I'm very self-critical. I think what has people confused in that respect is the fact that they don't actually hear me talking to myself and saying what isn't going well as far as my advocacy is concerned. (I said that I was self-critical, not crazy.) Having begun to advocate in June 2006 under the direction of the late Mary Ann Luby and having received an award as well as a day that was named in my honor through the recently-departed DC Councilman Jim Graham in 2014, I can't help but reflect on the efforts of myself and my fellow advocates. I recently did an audio interview of a fellow advocate about her 30 years doing this work and she expressed dismay at the fact that the city has gone from placing homeless families in hotels on DC's New York Avenue in 1987 to doing the exact same thing in 2017. She mentioned other efforts that have gone full-circle back to the problems that people were trying to solve decades ago. She went on to explain that people tell her to make like George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) in "It's A Wonderful Life" and to try and imagine what the world would have been like if she hadn't done her part. Her words -- about coming full-circle back to the problems we'd hoped to solve long ago and about the George Bailey analogy -- give me a reference point for my self-critiques.

If a recent poll that shows that 67% of Washingtonians support Mayor Bowser for re-election in June 2018 -- only 20% strongly and the other 47% tepidly -- is any indication, then it means that my contribution to the overall fight is a meaningful one; because, that same poll showed that 55% of denizens are dissatisfied with what the current administration is doing around affordable housing and 62% are dissatisfied with what it is doing around homelessness. Evidently and notably, the respondents are more dismayed with Mayor Bowser concerning an issue that likely doesn't directly affect them (homelessness) than they are concerning an issue that does directly affect them (affordable housing). Maybe it's because they realize, "But for the grace of God, there go I". Maybe it's because they are annoyed by beggars, by having to step over and around homeless people lying on sidewalks and by the sight of homeless tent cities across DC. Maybe it's all that and then some. In any instance, this poll shows that it is quite realistic that Bowser doing a poor job at addressing homelessness could finally become the primary reason for a mayor being voted out -- this no matter how the media and pundits try to spin her impending loss. The mandate that this would create for the next mayor to do better in both areas can be seen as a collective victory by the advocates. Of course, we need to seize upon this energy both before and after June 2018 -- keeping it at the forefront until the Democratic primary, so as to ensure Bowser's defeat, and then by threatening the next mayor with the same fate if he or she doesn't succeed at adequately addressing both matters. That poll "made my mayoral term" (as opposed to "day").

That's a perfect segway into what it is that I do as a homeless homeless advocate, as I clearly think about the long-term effects of my efforts -- not to discount the efforts of others. Recognizing the difficulty of summing up 11 years of work in a single blog post of reasonable length, I'll categorize my work in eight ways:

1 -- Era and Thinking
2 -- Principles and Social Theory
3 -- Government and Math
4 -- Politics and Public Engagement
5 -- A Paradigm Shift From Gentrification
6 -- Teaching People to Critique Government
7 -- Current Projects
8 -- Going to My Rest

1 -- Era and Thinking: I was born on February 15th, 1969. With women's suffrage dating back to 1920; Eleanor Roosevelt becoming the face of the Women's Lib Movement in 1948 (three years after her husband's death); the movement gaining steam in the 1970's and abortion being legalized in 1973 under Nixon, I vividly recall efforts in the late 70's to get men to forgo "masculine thinking". By the time I was eight, I was hearing things like: "men should get in touch with their [supposed] feminine side", "Men aren't emotional enough", "men aren't sensitive enough", "men should make themselves vulnerable", "It's not unmanly to cry" and the like. Over the course of my life, I've noticed and been dismayed by the way in which men have laid aside the tougher logic that asks and finds answers to the hard questions -- often settling for ideas that satisfy immediate feelings and emotions while leaving many problems unresolved.

That begins to explain why I gain more appreciation day by day for the thinking I encountered in the deep south as a young adult. Many meetings and other serious gatherings were started by someone (of either gender) who would say, "Check your feelings at the door". In case you don't already understand what that means, it was a command to get into a business state of mind and to lay aside any consideration of strong personal preference, emotion or dislike of any individual in the room. As a homeless advocate, what I say in meetings often has underpinnings of me wanting to make people "check [their] feelings at the door". It has proven difficult to get high earners who've ostensibly been "trying" to address DC homelessness since 2004 to ask the hard questions and to arrive at rational answers. They spend more time trying to make themselves look good through how they spin the stats than they spend trying to actually address homelessness. This is true to the form of "Mascara Muriel", though the phenomenon predates the current mayor. At any rate, I'll keep plugging away.

2 -- Principles and Social Theory: I am driven by a firm set of principles and an anti-capitalist social theory. Who hasn't heard it said with negative tones that "Men compartmentalize everything"??? I'm one such man. I think first in terms of overarching principles and concepts, then in terms of specific applications and ideas. Some might argue that I don't say enough about personal responsibility and that I place the onus for addressing homelessness on the government when I should be placing it on the homeless individual. I would argue that:

A) I can't rightly demand that a person whom I know full well lacks resources or other wherewithal "pull themselves up by their bootstraps".

B) If government ever succeeds at creating an environment that is conducive to every able-bodied person finding housing-wage employment, I'll gladly demand that all who can work go out and find jobs and begin paying their way.

C) At this juncture, it makes sense to critique the local government's failure to cure a social ill that it developed a 10-year plan for.....a full 13 years ago. It's also worth noting that, though the current administration is getting further and further behind on its own plan to address homelessness, there is no sense of urgency, failure or even insufficient success. There are no consequences for failure and those who get paid to address homelessness are doing the opposite of being self-critical. They're sugar-coating their failures. (I guess they'd have to recognize them in order to take the time to sugar-coat them. Let's build on that.)

That said, I do think about matters of principle. Some would also argue with my anti-capitalist stance, while asserting that they see capitalism as a monolithic world system. I would argue that a fight for good principle is not defined by what can be won, but rather by what's right -- even if it's impossible or opposed by the chief executive who employs you. Furthermore, nothing ventured, nothing gained. 

3 -- Government and Math: I find myself caught in an annual mathematical cycle. As per HUD regulations, DC counts its homeless in the last week of every January. The results are issued in mid-May. The mayor, by local law, must publish a budget proposal by April 1st (for the fiscal year that begins in October). Very little of the mayor's original budget proposal gets changed after April 1st -- no matter who is mayor. Different departments of the government as well as groups of advocates put forth their budget asks from February to June. Three out of four of the "budget ask" months (mid-February to mid-May) are before the results of the January homeless count are even published. Yet and still, government officials and their homeless contractors maintain that the homeless count guides their budget ask in terms of homeless services. They haven't even discussed developing a formula for accurately predicting the results of the count in February or March, so that we can incorporate such predictions into our budget asks earlier in the process instead of scrambling to adjust the ask at the last minute. go figure.

But that's not the biggest problem I see with the government's "math", if I can rightly call it that. Assuming that the homeless count is actually used to guide budget policy, that seems to be all that it is used for. The ICH doesn't use the numbers that its own member agencies arrive at (after mobilizing 300 volunteers to brave the cold and canvass the city) to then guide the ICH's own five-year plan called "Homeward DC" (10/1/2015 to 9/30/2020). I find myself doing this basic math myself every year and encouraging the ICH to use this math to revamp its plan so that DC can actually succeed at addressing homelessness. Such was the case at the June 2017 quarterly meeting of the full ICH where I presented the following figures and assessment:

A) We had 7,298 homeless people in 2015 and would have had to accomplish a 1,460-person net decrease per year to meet the stated goal of the ICH.

B) We had 8,350 homeless people in 2016 and would've had to accomplish almost a 2,100-person net decrease in homeless people annually to meet our goal.

C) We had 7,473 homeless people in January 2017 and would need to accomplish a net decrease of almost 2,500 people annually in order to meet the ICH's goal of making homelessness "rare, brief and non-recurring" by the end of FY 2020.

D) 2,500 is almost twice 1,460 and this body is getting further and further behind the ball.

E) Being as DC has seen as many as 1,500 new arrivals enter shelter in a single year, we need to add them to the 2,500 and connect 4,000 people to housing in each of the three remaining years of the plan.

Unfortunately, my assessment seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Then again, the respondents to the aforementioned poll get it. The public obviously plays a vital role in exerting immense pressure upon dysfunctional government and other "poverty pimps". As for my part, I'll keep doing the math.

4 -- Politics and Public Engagement: With me having already touched on the issue of politics a bit, I'll add here that a certain local government administrator told me during her 2014 failed run for a council seat that she'd been advised "never to give details". Though she seems like a nice enough person, her regurgitation of this advice came off to me as an acceptance of "white lies". More importantly, it creates the imperative that the voting public demand details -- if only on governmental matters that they understand intuitively and for which they see the immediate connection to their own lives and struggles. It stands to reason that government fears the enlightenment of the public that can arise from these conversations that make the connections between the issues and the lives of voters.

[I prey upon that fear. I'm guessing the mayor and others have known that for some time now. I don't think it's a stretch to say that the mayor and/or her supporters within the council and government may have pulled some strings so as to ensure that I was accepted into a certain competitive, money-making venture; so that, I would be too busy to do my other advocacy which involves continually promoting a message that, if it were to resonate with enough voters, could end Bowser's political career. But, at the risk of seeming paranoid, I won't reiterate that thought too frequently or loudly.]

In addition to this blog, I post much information on social media about the city's failing effort to address homelessness. The mayor, several council members and many others in DC Government are among my more than 15,000 friends, fans and followers on Facebook, Twitter and other sites -- whether it's because they like me or they want to keep tabs on me and counter any message of mine. I'm not under any illusion that my posting is the sole contributor to the poll result; but, like George Bailey, I don't want to see a world without that contribution. That's not to speak of my many TV appearances, radio stints and newspaper interviews. I've been told by those who've called into radio shows that I was on about how they really appreciate my way of breaking down the doings of government in terms that everyday people can understand, which serves to reinforce the point made in the previous paragraph. After all, how can one make an informed choice at the ballot box lest they hear the true intentions of the candidates and the voter has a firm set of ideas as to what the candidate of their choice ought to do???

5 -- A Paradigm Shift From Gentrification: Any American who didn't just crawl out from under a rock knows that gentrification is an issue in practically every large American city -- and some smaller ones. They might not have thought it through enough to realize that gentrification is a local manifestation of the pandemic of capitalism or that it can be defeated by a small group of committed individuals. After all, capitalism and gentrification are promoted by a small group of individuals whom social justice advocates have taken to calling "the one-percent". (In so doing they imply that this one percent of the population is more powerful and effective than the other 99% put together. Hmmm.) Many Washingtonians complain about this city's gentrification, while failing to actually fight it -- whether it's because they don't think they can win or they don't know where to start...... err, maybe at the ballot box in June 2018. (I'd even advise people to vote a straight DC Statehood-Green Party ticket in November, just because it's the Dems who are screwing the poor and attempting to perpetuate gentrification in this Democratic town. So much for Dems being for the working class.)

A couple of years ago I did lunch with a lady friend who asked me what I wanted to see come out of my advocacy. I quickly told her that I want to effect a paradigm shift. I want to see a shift in the policy which this city has had for most of the last nine years of focusing only or primarily on the most vulnerable -- a policy that has underpinnings of thinking that able-bodied people who took missteps in life or who are victims of circumstances beyond their control are not deserving of assistance at getting back on their feet. (Those who think that way also fail to acknowledge that shelter residents are living on the city dime anyway and that the major difference is simply what our tax dollars are used to help the homeless to do -- whether it be to live as homeless people or to exit homelessness -- budget amounts notwithstanding.)

A former administrator once told me during a conversation in which I challenged the government's focus on the disabled (to the detriment of the able-bodied) that it's cheaper to shelter an able-bodied homeless person than it is to house them; while, it's cheaper to house a family or disabled individual than t is to shelter them. So much for doing what's right at any cost, not to speak of the fact that the approximate $2 billion (more after adjusting for inflation) that DC has spent on homeless services since 2004 could have housed all of the city's current homeless population for 12 years at the average $1,500 per month and even longer (20 years) at the SE DC rent of $900 per month. They've only been working to address homelessness for 13 years.

There are several layers to the collective thought process that allows gentrification to advance largely unchallenged. Not all of them begin and end with government. Even so, addressing gentrification requires some actions be taken by government. Without attempting to spell it all out here and now, suffice it to say that the following mixture of ideas contributes to the perceived perpetuity of gentrification:

A) Government finding reasons to maintain able-bodied homeless people in shelter rather than connecting them to housing -- lest other working poor come to DC to find work and affordable housing and the city be overrun with hard-working low earners like the ones who make the city function.

B) Government spoiling developers and landlords rotten

C) The public feeling that most or all homeless people "deserve what they got"

D) People feeling powerless to effect change

E) People not voting (Bowser won the 2014 mayoral Democratic primary -- DC's de facto election -- with just under 36,000 votes OR just over 42,000 votes, while DC had 450,000 registered voters; because less than one-sixth of registered voters actually voted.)

6 -- Teaching People to Critique Government: After reading section five of this blog post, you might have asked what type of paradigm I want people to adopt. If so, that may mean that you're on the ball. I won't attempt to sum my beliefs up with a single word like "Marxism", "Socialism" or "Communism"; because, like the Bible, those social theories get interpreted in many different ways -- some of them quite wrong. Enter McCarthy-ism and the emotion around religion-based terrorism and what you end up with is people who are afraid to identify with any social theory or religion -- even one that promotes ensuring that all people have their most basic human needs met.....even if it's through a minimum wage that's considered in conjunction with price controls such that working people can afford to provide for themselves, as opposed to receiving handouts. 

It's fair to say that I don't support a free market that allows a mixture of high prices and low wages -- the poisonous concoction that is responsible for much homelessness. (This is yet another area where we need government to do the math.) So, for the time being, I'll forgo any consideration of the disabled whom government often uses as justification for ignoring the working poor; and, I'll say that the paradigm which I'm promoting should have as its central piece a tenet which states that: Any person who is working full-time should be able to afford all of their basic human needs on no more than 80% of their net pay -- which would leave money for savings, emergencies (and a few extras if the emergencies are not too frequent). Such thinking makes critiquing government reasonably simple insomuch as we need only to determine how much closer we want each mayoral administration to bring us toward realizing and then maintaining that goal and that vision.

Maybe, instead of having a symbolic "People's Budget" at the national level we should have a binding "People's Plan" at the local level in each locale. And each People's Plan should be guided by the aforementioned paradigm.

7 -- Current Projects: By now it's clear that I attend many government meetings where I inject the thinking that I firmly believe should guide their decisions around addressing homelessness. It's also clear that I present to them the math that they apparently don't want to do. It's also clear that I make my case to the general public which seems to be catching on -- not just to my words and not just because of me. I obviously blog, Facebook and e-mail too. These activities are time-consuming and haven't rendered long-term, tangible and system-wide results. However, I don't want to imagine what the state of affairs would be without these efforts. What's more is that I can see the breaking of day. As the expression goes: "There are 20 years that don't make a day; and then, there's that day that makes 20 years". I believe that day is coming in June 2018 and that we can have a People's Plan by the November General Election. But, in addition to these years-long and routine activities, I am also involved in a few cash-generating projects:

A) I received a $5,000 grant from the DC Council by way of the DC Oral History Collaborative so that I could interview eight people about the decades-long struggle to stop the advance of gentrification, to retain and create affordable housing and to address homelessness. As it turns out, the research and preparation before each interview, along with the editing and paperwork after each interview are quite time-consuming. It's something in the way of a full-time job that will last me clear through October 2017.

B) I am working temporarily with a homeless service provider as a consultant who is helping to explore new possibilities for ending homelessness. That's another 20-hour a week job.

C) I've also committed to assisting other unpaid advocates at securing a grant and I attend some of their advocacy meetings.

D) Let me add here that I have had a one-day-a-week job in Maryland for over five years now. Sometimes the person who I work for has me to do two or three days in a single week, though it's rare.

Needless to say, my days are quite full. Since the beginning of May of this year, I've gotten up around 6:00 AM (as has been my routine for years) and haven't gotten to bed until midnight or later many days. Most friends and associates wouldn't know that. Each person knows what they as an individual do with me, but not about the full picture. I'll send this out widely so as to change that. Problem solved.

8 -- Going to My Rest: If I don't improve at time management and/or just saying "No", it seems that I'll be going to my rest very soon -- in the hereafter. Though my thoughts about God, His fierceness and eternity guide my life, I'd be satisfied to find my rest on this side of the pearly gates. So, when government learns how to count the cost and make life affordable for the working poor, I'll consider the hardest part of my work to be done. I've taken to using the analogy of accounting. An accountant has a general ledger and several subsidiary ledgers. After viewing and updating each subsidiary ledger, he or she returns to the general ledger to see how it all adds up. The ICH, on the other hand, talks about this and that homeless or housing program disparately (subsidiary ledgers) but fails to bring it all together in some sort of general ledger -- to see how it all adds up. I can assure you that it doesn't add up to them connecting 4,000 people per year to housing -- like they'll need to do through 2020 in order to satisfy their own plan. So, if ICH member agencies want to see me go away and my advocacy being put to rest, they need to do the math.


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