Tuesday, June 9, 2009

DC Homeless living - and dying - at the feet of power

From: Eric Sheptock Sent: Monday, June 08, 2009 5:14 PM To: undisclosed recipients: Subject: Fw: SICK HOMELESS WOMAN DIES IN FRONT OF CCNV ON 6/7A homeless woman who was living with a certain illness died while sitting on a bench in front of the CCNV Shelter on June 7th. DC Government failed to house her, even though she was one of the "most vulnerable". This situation has raised the ire of the homeless community. A memorial service will be held for her this evening from 6 to 7 PM at the corner of 2nd and D streets, NW in front of the sidewalk bench where she died. That is the corner of the CCNV building that is nearest the 3rd Street tunnel. This matter will be brought up at the ICH meeting, which will be held where she often ate at Thrive DC. I hope there is high attendance this evening.
I got this email from my homeless-advocate friend, Eric Sheptock yesterday. During the many times I met with him to talk for the paper I was writing, I've either driven past, or sat in my car talking to Eric outside that bench at the Community for Creative Nonviolence (CCNV). So much so, that other residents at the shelter took to teasing him, calling me his "new girlfriend." That a woman died on that bench, right outside that shelter is not only appalling, but IMHO, very telling - considering the mayor's puported drive to provide Permanent Supportive Housing to DC's "most vulnerable" through the Housing First program.
When I graduated from my small, liberal arts HBCU in 1978, I moved to DC - the first "big city" I'd ever actualy lived in. I fell in love with it - still am. During that time, there was another advocate/activist who reminds me a lot of Eric for his outspokenness. His name was Mitch Snyder. His advocacy, like Eric's, was instrumental in getting help for the many people about whom I can only say, "There but for the grace..." Mr. Snyder has since died but I'm convinced, he is reincarnated in one, Eric Sheptock. NPR aired this piece on my friend today: "A Voice for the Homeless." Like a mother hen, I was there with him and Ms. Fessler during the first part of this interview but missed the follow-ups at The Church of the Epiphany and Thrive DC because I came home on summer break. Eric made sure to call me today though - he wanted to be sure I wouldn't miss it! I'm so very proud of him. While FLOTUS made a much-ballyhooed, one-day visit to Miriam's Kitchen to feed the homeless shortly after moving into the Big House, it'll be interesting to see what kind of sustained influence she can have on the daily lives of the homeless living in the shadows of her shiny, new home. Eric's hopeful - I'm not. As for the Changeling, well, never mind.


ea said...

Any wonder why prison looks good to some people? That question is a little tangential to the story, but it opens up a discussion about resource allocation, social perspectives, and more stuff.

Deb said...

Actually ea, the question is right on point!! I was sitting with some of the guys and Brenda in the park while a Russian TV station interviewed Eric back in April and we were talking about exactly that!

Better Believe Steve shared, that soon-to-be released DC prisoners have way more job training and housing assistance opportunities set up for them than the homeless do. They were joking about how they needed to get locked up, maybe they'd have a better chance at getting a job and permanent supportive housing!! We all laughed, but it wasn't funny that able-bodied, unincarcerated men and women of sound mind with no addictions cannot get the help they are seeking.

It is, I agree an issue of social perspectives and resource re-allocation (cuz all that cash is going somewhere!!). Most of us don't want to own our negative attitudes about and poor treatment of, the homeless in this country. As someone recently described them (might've Been Eric!), they are "the invisibles" among us - and we prefer to keep it that way.

The most often used refrain that I hear is,"Hell, if we can eat, work and take care of ourselves - why can't they?" Never any mention, mind you, of the disparities built into the system and our prison industrial complex which certainly play a huge part in who is homeless and who is not.

As long as there's a seemingly endless supply of barely-regulated cash available to the foxes guarding the henhouse, we'll still be talking about homelessness in America many, many years from now. This, from the National Alliance to End Homelessness:

Today, May 7, President Obama released his budget proposal for fiscal year (FY) 2010. The budget included funding proposals for housing and homeless programs. For more information about the President's FY 2010 budget proposal, click here. Highlights of the funding for homeless programs include:
• $1.8 billion for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, an increase of $117 million over FY 2009;
•$46.3 billion for HUD programs, an 11 percent increase;
•$1 billion for a National Affordable Housing Trust Fund;
•$68 million for the Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) program, an $8 million increase over the FY 2009 level;
•$19 million for a new DC Housing First Initiative to provide supportive housing to homeless individuals and families;
•$26 million for a pilot program to prevent homelessness for veterans.

That's a lot of damn money!

ea said...

Okay, I am beginning to believe that we share a brain or something.

Deb said...

I've had that feeling myself! :-)

Anonymous said...

The US Marshall Services evicts over (600) families a month in the District of Columbia. The US Marshall's are black, the eviction crew are black, we have a black mayor. The families being evicted are black families. Landlords are white and Jewish and any other color but black. The black Mayor has refused to build more shelters for these families. The landlord and tenant court in the morning looks like South Africa, not America. This is apatheid all over again in the Nation's capitol. One out of every (3) homeless citizens in the District of Columbia, there is a vacant apartment some where in the Columbia Height community that the homeless person can't afford to rent. THIS IS APARTHEID, DC. The Mayor can't govern a city of homeless people. This city will soon explode into chaos. There needs to be programs set in place to prevent homelessness. The unemployment rate is 11% people are out of work, they can't pay the rent. Emergency Rental Assistance Programs will only pay back rents if you have a job. If you don't have a job ERAP will sit back and keep the money and watch your family placed on the streets. This policy needs to change and lanldords need to have more compassion in a time of crisis and chaos.

Deb said...

Anonymous...Welcome! I agree with everything you've said with the small exception that the "Landlords are white and Jewish and any other color but black." Increasingly, they are Black as well and doing the same thing as the others (I had one, the issue eventually worked itself out).

And not only are the homeless being priced out, but middle-class, every day people are as well. Land-grab schemes in NE DC are putting more and more people out on the streets. A building at Rhode Island and 3rd that the occupants thought they'd bought, has been taken over by the attorneys who know how to inject enough legalese into documents to boggle the minds of Every Day - decidedly Black and Latino - middle class families who've lived there for years. Now, they have to find new homes in this economy (their deadline to get out is looming, if not already passed) -all while gentrification claims yet another neighborhood.

Like the lack of universal health care, homelessness in a country bent on imperialism abroad, is a human tragedy of major proportions IMHO.

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