Monday, November 5, 2012

SHARC Update and Discussion Points for November 5th Meeting

1 – SHARC has weathered the storm and made the best of a mess. Though Sandy “rained on our parade” by forcing the cancellation of an event which we spent five weeks planning and organizing, it hasn't discouraged us from trying again. We'll come back bigger and better the next time.

There is no need to consider what possible shortcomings SHARC may have exhibited during the storm. Given the fact that we had many food donations, the rain date would have been the next day (Tuesday) during which the government was shut down. Sandy was an unpredictable storm which we only found out on the 26th was going hit us on the 29th of October (the day of our event). That said, the five weeks leading up to October 29th were a true show of our increased organizing ability. So, let's give ourselves a hand, dust ourselves off and chart the path forward.

As a result of Sandy, SHARC members were able to:

begin the conversation around bringing three councilmembers together in a meeting. They are Jim Graham (Human Services Oversight Committee), Michael Brown (Oversight Committee on Economic Development and Housing) and Kenyan McDuffie (oversight Committee on Jobs and Workforce Development).

Speak with several councilmembers on the dais during their legislative meeting and make the case for ending homelessness rather than maintaining it.

Arrange a meeting with the mayor

2 – Weekly and Homeless Town Hall Meetings during the holiday and hypothermia season:

a) What day do we want our next big event to fall on?

– November 26th (the last Monday of the month)?
– December 31st (the last Monday of the year)?
December 24th (Christmas Eve)?
December 17th (which would give us six weeks to organize and fall nicely between events highlighting homelessness and hunger in the third week of November and the Homeless Persons' Memorial Day on December 21st)?

b) Do we want to meet on Christmas Eve or new Year's Eve? Both fall on Mondays.

c) Do we want to do anything special around Thanksgiving (November 22nd)? The Fannie Mae Homeless Walkathon would have been on November 17th (the Saturday before Thanksgiving).

3 – What should our next big event (our make up event for “Occupy the DC Council”) be?

An idea is that we plan a march from CCNV to the Wilson Building beginning at 11 AM on November 26th. We make our case to the council and/or the mayor. We then return to CCNV around 1 PM for our regular Homeless Town Hall Meeting. Those who marched are given tickets upon exiting the Wilson Building and eat first.

Another idea is that we plan a large event inside of the Wilson Building on December 17th (possibly without a march) and invite churches and other groups to feed the homeless there.

It doesn't need to be “either/or”. It can be “both/and”.
You are welcome to present additional ideas. These are just conversation starters.

4 – “The Future” of CCNV:

City officials and people from the business community have begun conversation around “The Future” of the CCNV Shelter. During my meeting with one such person, there was some confusion as to when either of us was talking about CCNV as is or the new concept which we envision. We began to refer to the revamped CCNV Shelter as “The Future”.

It is believed by many that the restrictive covenant between Ronald Reagan and Mitch Snyder mandates that the building be used as a homeless shelter until 2018 and the parking lot belongs to the homeless until 2099 with the right to renew the lease for the latter indefinitely. It is also believed that the property on which the building and parking lot sit is worth as much as $120M. What's certain is that, if the building were sold, ALL MONIES GENERATED FROM THE SALE MUST BE USED FOR THE HOMELESS COMMUNITY.

All of this adds up to the city being FORCED to use the CCNV property to assist the homeless community in one way or another. City officials and the business community have been informed that ANY PLANS TO BUILD ON THAT PIECE OF LAND WOULD HAVE TO INCLUDE HOUSING AT LEAST 1,350 HOMELESS PEOPLE. This gives homeless/housing advocates a constant (invariable) which we can use as a starting point for our thoughts on how best to assist the homeless residents of the Federal City Shelter (CCNV, Open Door, John L. Young, DC Central Kitchen and the Unity Health Clinic).

Plans that are being discussed include:

building a 10-story building on the parking lot
taking the present building up to 10 stories (possibly rebuilding it from the ground up)
having a mix of permanent apartments, supportive housing units, transitional housing units and shelter for at least 1,350 people
giving tax credits to contractors
having homeless people help design the program

While several people have expressed understandable skepticism about the city's plans to effectively assist the homeless community, let's bear in mind that a 24-year old restrictive covenant is holding them at bay. Let's also remember that, if we refuse to come to the table with those who are ostensibly there to work with us, we give them occasion to say that they reached out to us and WE refused to work with them. On the other hand, if we come to the table with city officials and members of the business community and they fail to make good on their promises, they give us occasion to pin the blame on THEM. So, let's give them a chance.

A contract employee of the business community might attend our November 19th SHARC meeting.

5 – Forming a charette: It has been suggested that we form a charette that would draw up a plan for ending homelessness in DC and then take that plan to government officials, as opposed to waiting for the governments to end homelessness.

6 – Creating unconventional partnerships: It has been suggested that SHARC develop unconventional partnerships with environmental groups, the LGBT community and others who don't usually advocate with or for the homeless, as there are various reasons for which we are inextricably connected to them. (Most homeless teens were thrown out of their parents' house for being LGBT and the construction of affordable housing lends itself to the creation of green jobs.)

7 – Protesting/opposing unconventional targets: It has been suggested that SHARC demonstrate in front of the Verizon Center and other businesses that have tried to push homeless people and/or homeless services (including housing for the homeless) out of their neighborhood.

8 – Making our enemies work for/with us: It has been suggested that we involve those who don't want the homeless in their neighborhoods (see item #7) in our effort to end homelessness.

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Friday, October 5, 2012

Back to "Bad"

In 2011 hundreds of homeless advocates and concerned citizens came out in force to demand that the DC Council find money to fill the gap for a $20.5 million budget shortfall in the Fiscal year 2012 homeless services budget. Had they not found it, DC's homeless community would only be guaranteed shelter for the five coldest months of the year. They found $17 million. This year the shortfall was only $7 million for FY 2013 which began October 1st but the same threat was presented along with a possible reduction in funding for feeding programs and transitional housing.

It was determined in the last week of September that DC Government's tax revenue was $140 million above the projection. Additionally, the Dept. of Youth and Rehabilitative Services (DYRS) and the Dept. of Child and Family Services (DCFS) have underspent their budgets by a combined $36 million which leaves DC Government with at least $176 million to put in savings or reverse budget cuts. However, with the lingering threat of federal budget sequestration (which would decrease the amount of money Congress gives to DC Government), the DC Council is being cautiously optimistic. So, as of the writing of this article, whether or not some of these funds would be used to reverse the budget shortfall to homeless services was not known.

SHARC(shelter, Housing And Respectful Change), a group of homeless advocates which formed in April 2011 to fight against the budget cuts, holds the position that we should demand that MORE than $7 million of this money be invested in homeless services. When homeless services were "fully-funded", they were woefully inadequate. The shortfall has threatened to downgrade such services from "bad" to "worse". Merely reversing the shortfall would bring services "back to 'bad'"; but, we demand "better". DC Inspector-General Charles Willoughby recently ran two articles in the Examiner concerning inadequate homeless services -- in August and September. The latter article highlighted the District's failure to actually END homelessness locally -- which the advocates have said for years. There's no word on what, if anything, the District is doing in response to this exposed shortcoming.

But SHARC is planning an event which will place immense pressure on the DC Council and mayor to invest in solutions to homelessness -- not just maintenance of the problem. On October 29th, 2012 we will mobilize 1,000 or more of DC's 7,000+ homeless people (up from 5,757 in 2007) of which at least 1,600 are children. "Occupy the DC Council: A Homeless and Poor People's Town Hall Meeting at DC City Hall" will run from 10 AM to 4 PM (with set-up beginning at 8 AM). There will be food, music, speakers, a coat/clothing drive and much more. Throughout the day people will be directed to enter the Wilson Building (City Hall) across the road and make their pitch for what people need to get out of homelessness. We are reaching out to various faith-based groups, homeless service providers, non-profits, concerned citizens etc. to contribute in any way that they can; because we don't just want to get homeless services "back to bad".

For more information, you can attend a weekly SHARC meeting at 425 2nd Street NW, Washington, DC on Mondays from 1 to 3 PM. You can also e-mail or leave a message on SHARC's voicemail: (202) 643-1550. To reach SHARC Chairman Eric Sheptock directly, it is best to text a short message about the nature of your concern to (240) 305-5255 and Eric will respond (most likely within five minutes). Voicemails to this number take longer for him to respond to.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Congressman Conyers Presents "Jobs Bill" to Congress

Great news! Congressman John Conyers, Jr. presented his jobs bill to Congress at 2:30 PM on March 28th, 2012. John Conyers, Jr. is in his 80's, served as the lawyer for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and is presently serving as the congressman for Detroit's District 14. His jobs bill presently has two names as well as two bill numbers. It is known as the "Humphrey-Hawkins 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act" as well as the "Work Opportunities and Revitalizing Our Communities Act". Until March 28th it was bill number H.R. 870. (H.R.= House Resolution.) It has been assigned a new number: H.R. 4277. Many people call it H.R. 870/4277 in order to avoid any congress-induced confusion. (The numbers don't correspond with the names.)

The bill aims to employ any and all Americans who are ready, willing and able to work, offering job training when necessary. You're probably wondering how it differs from any of the other jobs bills being considered and why it is that neither Congress nor the president is able to end unemployment. Well, this may come as a surprise to you; but, Congress as a whole, for a very long time, has not been interested in ending unemployment -- probably from before I was born. It might also come as a surprise to you that Congress does the math so as to determine whether or not it is "fiscally sound" for them to create jobs for all Americans -- or to do things that would benefit Americans in other ways. Then again, maybe you're not surprised at all. This begins to explain their lack of effectiveness as a body. It also highlights their ulterior motives and the fact that they are not making decisions with our best interest at heart. Obama is on the record as having told Congress to "do the math". He was making the point that we must raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans in order to provide social services to the needy. Congress is doing the math alright, though it's not the math that the president wanted them to do.

What's more is that Obama has been accused by some members of Congress of fighting "class warfare" from the White House. He should have called them out on their implicit lack of concern for those in need -- and still has the chance to do so. "Class warfare" is a Marxist term which refers to the fight by the poor and their allies to redistribute the wealth of a nation so that all people will have their most basic necessities provided -- through meaningful employment and/or social programs. That said, Congress was implying that President Obama shouldn't strive to have people's needs met. This was a prime opportunity for the president to confront Congress and ask them who they are really working for -- for the wealthy only or for all Americans whether rich or poor. His failure to do so only reinforces the notion that he is just a pillar of the failed capitalist system. Nonetheless, he has time to save face before November.

All of this brings us to the strong suit of the Conyers jobs bill which is its ambitious goal of employing all able-bodied Americans. Congress, in recent history, has refused to make any effort to bring unemployment below 4%. Their "logic" is that, once unemployment has dropped to 4%, it costs more to employ a person than they will collect in tax dollars. Therefore, it is not "worth the effort". Howbeit, 4% of the American work force is six million people! Let's bear in mind that the actual number of unemployed people is always higher than what the government reports it to be, as they only count those who are receiving unemployment benefits. This number doesn't include those who are unemployed but not receiving benefits. Neither does it include the under-employed, part-time workers or day laborers. Some estimates put the actual unemployment rate at twice what the government reports it to be. The Conyers bill says that it is the right of all Americans to have a job and that the government will continue its efforts to employ people until every person who wants a job has one. (Much remains to be said about living wage.) It behooves the government to get as many people as possible working since governments feed on tax dollars. And if that's not reason enough, there is the moral obligation that Congress has to do what is best for its constituents. But who ever said that Congress was moral?

Oddly enough, Republicans tend to use the "morality" of working hard and holding your own as their reason for cutting social programs. They want people to "work hard and pull themselves up by their boot straps" (assuming they have boots in the first place). Yet, they don't want to ensure that there are enough jobs to go around -- in essence, sending people on a wild goose chase. They'd much rather watch a person who is strapped for cash and can't afford the gas or public transportation to do a job search or travel to interviews spend what little money they have looking for a job that is not there, while losing everything they own (including their home), than to provide social services or create jobs. To their credit, they've created the "hard work" that they want Americans to do, though a failed job search doesn't exactly qualify as meaningful employment.

Living in Washington, DC, I see that both the federal and local governments share at least one negative character trait. Both have a tendency to cut social services while failing to provide sufficient jobs or job training. (This seems to be a national trend.) It is as though they seek to provoke the people to revolution. Let's face it: At the end of the day, people's struggles and the demands that they place on government are mere manifestations of their will to survive. And they need jobs or social services to do so. When the government provides neither, it has proven itself to be insufficient -- whether it is due to incompetency or intentional disregard for their constituents. Long story short, the governments of this and any nation MUST provide jobs or social services for everyone -- allowing them to survive. The longer they fail to do either, the closer we come to revolution.

Furthermore, the same members of Congress who want Americans to work hard have themselves proven to be "morally lazy" by failing to aptly consider what new value system might be pertinent for our time. They tout longstanding values which most Americans were taught by their parents while failing to acknowledge the impossibility of living by such values in the current economic moment. The current moment brings with it a new moral imperative -- one which places the onus for creating a new societal structure that enables people to acquire their basic human necessities squarely on the shoulders of Congress. If they weren't so "morally lazy", they would have figured out that an individual can't be blamed for failing to hold their own or contribute to their society unless conditions exist which allow them to do so. And when such conditions don't exist, it is the job of the government to create them.

Now that I've addressed what Congress as a whole DOESN'T care about -- people who aren't wealthy -- , let me address what they DO care about. Wall Street has become something in the way of a sacred cow and Congress is willing to pump hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars into its coffers -- even when they are essentially throwing good money after bad. H.R. 870/4277 flies in the face of this governmental tendency by levying a .25% (quarter of a percent) tax on all stocks and bonds that change hands. So, for every $400 that change hands on Wall street, $1 would go toward funding H.R. 870/4277. Though this is a minuscule tax, it may be the very reason that the bill doesn't pass. But let's hope for the best.

The contents of this post make it very clear that I don't have what it takes to become a "relevant" member of Congress -- much less a Republican congressman -- and that I actually have characteristics which pretty much ensure that I wouldn't last long in Congress, if I could get elected to begin with. I'm honest and moral. I'm concerned with the poor, homeless and those who are not wealthy. My moral considerations go beyond the simplistic -- but important -- morals that I was taught as a child. I've studied social theory. I've imagined a new society in which all people survive and thrive -- not just a few ultra-greedy corporatists. It would also seem that Congressman Conyers is one of a dying breed of legislators who is putting the final touches on what he hopes will be his crowning accomplishment. Let's hope that the moral imperatives which would be satisfied by the passage of H.R. 870/4277 prevail over the capitalistic tendencies of our governing body.

But don't just hope. Take action. Now that the bill has been presented to Congress, it is time for us to spread the word far and wide that a new jobs bill is being considered. We need to create a national movement in support of this legislation and pressure Congress into passing it. Our work doesn't end now that the bill is before Congress. in fact, it has only just begun.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Powerful Proactive Political Protesting

We had the Arab Spring in early 2011 followed by the Occupy Movement last fall. The latter is planning a resurgence which will begin on March 30th and has been dubbed the "American Spring". The winds of change are blowing and it is clear that people all over the world are becoming "socially conscious" -- knowing that something is gravely wrong with their respective societies as well as the world economy as a whole and wanting to do something about it.

But, as the movements grows, it is important to learn from the mistakes of the past. I would dare say that the movement's biggest mistake is its failure to develop the elements and components of the new system which we are fighting to create within the existing system which we are fighting to dispose of -- not its insufficient level of social theory. In order for a revolution to occur and be successful, these are two of the things that MUST happen:

1 -- The existing socio-economic system must have run its course. There must be unresolved and unsolvable problems.

2 -- The elements and components of the new, emerging system must be developed within the old system.

Well, we know that the world economic system is in its final throes; so, I won't belabor the issue. However, the Occupy Movement has failed woefully when it comes to developing the elements and components of the new system within the old, though they've had many missed opportunities to succeed. (I don't know enough about the revolutionary organizations of North Africa to make a sweeping assessment of them in this matter.) The demands of the Occupy Movement can be summed up as the demand for government to ensure that all of its constituents will be afforded their most basic human necessities. However, the Occupy Movement has failed to practice what it preaches to the extent to which it is able to do so.

It is common knowledge that many homeless people have moved into the various Occupy encampments across the country and around the world -- some as active participants who are fighting for positive change; some for the free food, tents, blankets and other goods. Encampments have, in many cases, made rules against people moving in just for the hand-outs and have insisted that all those present must actively participate in direct actions against the system. This has caused many of the poor and homeless to be pushed out. However, if we are fighting for a system that guarantees that all people will have their most basic human necessities, we need to begin to offer those items to people in need -- yes, even those who don't choose to involve themselves in any of the direct actions.

We need to take a lesson from the successes of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine. Both have been declared by the largest terrorist organization in the world -- the U.S. Government -- to be terrorist groups, for what that's worth to you. (I guess it really DOES take one to know one.) Both have social welfare arms that provide for the poor, take care of a fighter's widow, invest in hospitals and educate children. Both organizations have mastered the art of developing the elements and components of the new system within the old. What's more is that both organizations are well-liked by the people of their respective countries as well as other middle-eastern countries. So, let's take one from their book.

The Occupy Movement can come back stronger if it changes its ways by:

1 -- putting less effort into opposing the existing system (maintaining that effort nonetheless)

2 -- making a more robust effort to provide people's most basic necessities.

They need to gather as many donations as possible from all who are ready, willing and able to give and then distribute those goods to all people in need who present at the Occupy encampments. This would cast the movement in a more positive light and cause the poor to utterly love them. Furthermore, people whose bellies are full are more likely to join in discussions about social theory, the problems with the existing system and the new society which we are fighting for. (This is not a far cry from the long-standing Christian principle of witnessing to the lost through your behavior until they want to know what drives you to do what you do.)

After people's needs have begun to be met by those who are fighting for change, the Occupy Movement should begin studying social theory and planning the new society. After all, if we rid ourselves of the existing system without having first developed the elements and components of the new system, we will only create chaos and give rise to all-out, overt dictatorship as a means of regaining order.

This brings to mind a problem which I see all too often at protests -- participant's inability and/or unwillingness to articulate their cause. I've happened upon protests whose purpose I didn't know and approached participants to ask what it was about. In some cases, the person that I approach can't give me an elevator spiel (short explanation) about the purpose of the protest. in other cases, they even seem to get a bit of an attitude. Everyone present should be ready, willing and able to explain the purpose of the protest to any passer-by who might ask. This would prove to be an effective tool for increasing the number of supporters.

On occasion, a passer-by who asks about the reason for the protest or even someone from the opposing camp (a one-percenter) is willing to engage in meaningful conversation with a protester. Unfortunately, some protesters refuse to oblige. I've even had the experience where another ninety-nine percenter disrupts the intelligent conversation which I'm having with a one-percenter. Such actions do nothing to further our cause and even give the other camp reason to write us off as a bunch of heretics.

Then there is the issue of choosing a target for the direct action. Here in Washington, DC we recently had direct actions that were aimed at PEPCO (the DC Metro area's power company) which has some of the highest rates and worst service of power companies nationwide. Following the protest, there was discussion of how the DC Council would've been a better target, as it is they who grant PEPCO the permission to raise its rates. Similar things can be said about those who protest against other corporations rather than the governments that give these corporations free reign and enact laws in favor of corporate greed (the marriage of government and corporations being an element of fascism). It could also be argued that those who are opposed to the sway that Wall Street has over the U.S. Government should demand that the government use the control which it already has in order to beat Wall Street into submission.

That said, this blog post is not intended to be a comprehensive list of instructions for the movement, but rather a starting point for improvement and empowerment. So, in summary, we need to remember this simple recipe for revolution:

1 -- Create the elements and components of the new system WITHIN the existing system. Then you'll be in a better position to overthrow the existing system. After that, you can bring together and further organize the existing elements and components of the emerging system, thus instituting the new form of governance. (It's not as easy as I make it sound.)

2 -- Study social theory together and discuss the new society that we want.

3 -- Be certain that all protesters and participants in direct actions are able to articulate the purpose of the event.

4 -- Be willing to engage in meaningful discussion -- even with the opposing camp.

5 -- Choose your targets well.

Let's hope that the Occupy Movement uses the advice stated herein and becomes even more legitimate. Time will tell.

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Demanding an End to Homelessness on Capitol Hill

Well, you're probably wondering why I haven't done any blog posts lately. The short answer is that I've been really busy, working with other members of SHARC (Shelter, Housing And Respectful Change) and other homeless advocacy groups to take the matter of homelessness to the Hill -- Capitol Hill. Truth be told, we've also been involved with Occupy DC and look forward to March 30th -- the official start of the "American Spring" (which plays off of the name given to recent uprisings in the Middle East -- the "Arab Spring").

But not only is March 30th, 2012 the official start of a "revolutionary confrontation" of the Capitalist system which causes the few to horde the wealth of the nation while the many lack their most basic human needs. It is also the date by which my colleagues and I hope to address the U.S. Congress so as to demand that they fund housing for women, children and families.

This effort is part of a much bigger picture though. It is one of the first tactics being used by a new "housing movement" whose primary target is Congress. Let's bear in mind that movements are broad, decentralized, society-wide efforts to usher in sweeping social change. Within a movement there are many targeted campaigns, each with a well-defined end goal. Campaigns consist of strategies which are short-term plans that may run for as long as several months. And strategies consist of sequential tactics.

That said, there have been and still are other social movements, some of them around the "human right to housing". This developing housing movement is not independent of the broader movements which presently exist, but is a cooperative and supportive movement which intends to draw the masses into a more focused struggle for positive change while presenting our demands in a diplomatic way. After all, giving Congress the opportunity to meet a set of reasonable demands which were presented in a decent manner only to have them flatly refuse to meet those demands will give the actions of the Occupy Movement much more context and help to make the case for revolution.

Other homeless advocates and I have been tapped by a Hill staffer to assist in the development of legislation that will allocate $30 Billion toward housing for women, children and families. In a separate piece of legislation, we hope to get Congress to fund housing for single men who can't work, can't find work or don't make a living wage on their jobs. One of the requirements for receiving housing through the agencies that implement this legislation will be that able-bodied people must find employment or volunteer, as we don't want to come across as supporting unambitious freeloaders. Additionally, we have been asked for our input on a bill which has been drafted (and redrafted) and which, when completed, will hopefully create jobs and job training for ALL unemployed people who can work.

SHARC (Shelter, Housing And Respectful Change) -- the group of homeless advocates for which I am the chairman -- is beginning efforts to find those who can and will come with us to address Congress and educate them on the needs of the poor and homeless as well and to help them formulate a comprehensive plan for ending extreme poverty and homelessness.

Our government has fallen out of touch with the struggles of the masses to obtain their most basic human needs -- if ever they WERE in touch. We need to help them understand why people become homeless as well as what can be done to end and prevent homelessness.

The process will include:

1 -- Presenting the "SENSE OF THE HOUSE RESOLUTION TO END HOMELESSNESS IN AMERICA FOR FAMILIES, WOMEN AND CHILDREN" to Congress. While it is not absolutely guaranteed that Congress will adopt the resolution, it is very unlikely that they would flatly reject it; because, that would amount to an overt admission that they care nothing for women or children and that they have no desire to preserve the family unit.

2 -- MOVEMENT-BUILDING: Drawing people into the fight for social justice, human rights and systemic change. Within this process we will be building public support for the non-binding resolution (which hopefully will have been adopted by Congress at that point). This movement can then put forth one of its many demands -- the demand that housing be treated as a basic human right, decommodified and afforded to all people regardless of race or class.


Eric Jonathan Sheptock
Chairman of SHARC (Shelter, Housing And Respectful Change)
Cell phone: (240) 305-5255
425 2nd St. NW
Washington, DC 20001-2003

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Monday, November 28, 2011

THE FACADE OF CARING: Franklin School (Shelter) Takeover

Occupy DC: Franklin School (Shelter) Takeover

Well Washington, DC's Franklin School Shelter is in the headlines again. It's the issue that won't go away -- with good reason -- and may very well be the most read-about building in the nation. It is on the fast track toward becoming the centerpiece of the Occupy DC Movement.

On Saturday, November 19th, 2011 13 people re-entered the former homeless shelter which has sat vacant for over 3 years now -- closed by former DC Mayor Adrian Fenty after he claimed to care too much for the homeless to allow them to be warehoused in the "old building" (built in 1869) which was "unfit for human habitation". Ironically, several homeless people have frozen to death outside since the closure on September 26th, 2008. "Caring" was used as a pretext for closing the Franklin School Shelter and is now being used as a pretext for raiding the Occupy Movement's camps. That's not to speak of the fact that many occupiers are being beaten by the "caring" cops who are sent in with the blessing of the Department of Homeland Security to remove them.

Truth be told, Mayor Fenty and DC's Downtown BID (Business Improvement District) felt that the homeless were an eyesore and didn't want them downtown. (In September of 2009 a DC Examiner article entitled "Bummed Out On K Street" explained how the closure had actually made the homeless MORE visible.) As for the police raids across the country, they are actually for the purpose of silencing dissenters who are calling politicians and the wealthy out on their apparent corruption and corporate greed while calling for an end to high unemployment, healthcare costs that are enough to make you sick and student loans that take a lifetime to pay off -- just to name a few.

Much remains to be said about how much the DC Government actually "cares" about its homeless constituents. To his credit, Fenty and his administration conceived the Permanent Supportive Housing Program in April 2008 and had it up and running 5 months later. The program has housed at least 1,500 homeless people at this point -- 5 times shelter's capacity at closing. (The shelter held 240 men from the fall of 2002 until the fall of 2005 and 300 men until it's closing -- with there having been much unused space still.)

But, since the fall of 2008, the need for shelter in DC has INCREASED, with PSH and other housing programs like HUD (Housing and Urban Development) being unable to keep pace with the increased need. In January 2008 Washington, DC had 6,044 homeless people according to official records. In January 2011 the city had 6,546 homeless people. The number of homeless people in DC has increased by more than 25% since the building was first used as a shelter and by more than 8% since it's closure. Franklin Park which is frequented by the homeless community is right across the road. Taken together, these facts don't justify the closure or the refusal to reopen Franklin School as a shelter. And Fenty's broken campaign promises -- like the promise to keep Franklin School open as a shelter -- figure largely into why he became the "one-term mayor" that many of us told him he would be.

The Franklin (named after Ben Franklin) was built in 1869 and first served as an elementary school, thus the name. It is situated across the road from a park that once served as a training ground for 19th-century troops (and has now become the battleground). Since then, it has served as an office building and housed the local Board of Education.

In the fall of 2002 it was sitting vacant as homeless people literally froze to death in the park across the street. A group named Mayday DC broke into the building and demanded that the city turn it into a homeless shelter. The city obliged but said they would close it in the spring of 2003, which they did. Mayday DC came back, re-entered the building and demanded that it be kept open as a shelter. The city conceded and gave into their demands once again and the building served the homeless community for another 5 and a half years.

However, there was a failed effort by the city to close it beginning in June 2006. (It was during this failed attempt that I first began to advocate for the homeless people of our nation's capital.) Then-mayor Anthony Williams had threatened to close the shelter which held 240 men at the time and said he would renovate and reopen another defunct school-turned-shelter at the historic Gales School. It would hold 120 men.

However, the Gales School remains a useless shell to this day -- having been gutted -- with the renovation still in limbo. The Central Union Mission (which is not a city-run shelter) is set to acquire the Gales School from the city and to relocate there.

Two women -- Mary Ann Luby and Becky Sambol -- came to Franklin School Shelter to tell its 240 residents about the impending closure and ask what actions we were willing to take to prevent it. Only about a dozen men came forth and we formed the Committee to Save Franklin Shelter. Mary Ann (who passed away on 11/29/10) guided us through the maze called DC Government and introduced us to the various power brokers and decision makers. We won that fight as outgoing mayor Anthony Williams reversed his decision to sell Franklin School to developer Herb Miller and paid him $500,000 (ostensibly for architectural design work and other labor that had been done by his firm already).

Then, there was the 2008 closure. Mayor Fenty had succeeded at what his predecessor was unable to do. The reason? Well, they had very different approaches. Williams was honest. He said, in no uncertain terms, that he planned to close the shelter, open another with half the capacity and turn Franklin School into a boutique hotel. He had no qualms about letting the public know that he was essentially giving this city property to a developer who could then use it to make a profit. He didn't say word one about caring for the homeless.

Fenty, on the other hand, didn't have any developers lined up. He had no planned usage for the building. He wasn't honest about the fact that the Downtown BID and entrepreneurs located near Franklin School were pressuring him to close the shelter and get the homeless out of sight. He used caring for the homeless as a pretext for closing the shelter -- stating that the building was old and unfit for human habitation (even though the city had just spent $2 million doing a partial renovation of the building just months before the closure). He said he didn't want to "warehouse the homeless in large shelters", but said nothing of closing larger shelters that hold 360 to 1,350 people. Thus, his story didn't hold water. (But not many people knew that and he used it to his political advantage.)

Lesson learned: Honest politicians don't get far.

Some might argue that the city seems to care about it homeless community to some degree and that DC has some of the most robust homeless services of any city in the nation. I would agree on the latter count. However, there are more facts than I can reasonably put into a single blog post which prove that the city does only what it HAS TO to for the homeless community. Non-profits and social services are in place to "keep the lid on the pressure cooker" in a manner of speaking.

All of this brings us back to the issue of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. It would seem that many mayors have taken lessons from Adrian Fenty. (Hopefully they'll meet the same fate.) But the fact of the matter is that Homeland Security is coordinating the efforts of mayors across the country and the "FACADE OF CARING" may very well be one of the oldest ploys in the book. Don't get sucked in by it.

Eric Jonathan Sheptock
Chairman of SHARC (Shelter, Housing And Respectful Change)
Cell phone: (240) 305-5255
425 2nd St. NW
Washington, DC 20001-2003

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