Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Homelessness in the seat of power, during and after the Age of Obama

I remember a mere three months after the Changeling's "selection" and their move into the Big House, my favorite homeless, homeless advocate, Eric Sheptock called me excitedly saying that Michelle Obama had come to Miriam's Kitchen in DC to feed the homeless.

It was his hope the "selection," coupled with her show of some interest in homelessness (vis-à-vis her one-day visit to the soup-kitchen) -- that the DC government apparatchiks (former mayor, Adrian Fenty in particular) would "turn to" (Navy slang for "Get to work!") regarding the homeless.  I didn't share his enthusiasm and said so.

Then, two months later, a funny thing happened from deus ex machina to actual Trojan Horse-dom regarding the Changeling.  According to 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....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, no??!!

Yet, when I read this piece at OpEdNews on Election Day -- 90-year-old man, two pastors cited for feeding homeless in Florida, I immediately thought about two things:  this visual from Truthdig's, 'Somebody Called the Cops on Jesus' (Audio) story earlier this year...

The Rev. David Buck sits next to the Jesus the Homeless statue that was installed in front of his church, St. Alban's Episcopal, in Davidson, N.C.
...and this more recent post in early October from Eric, which he graciously allowed me to repost:
Job Discrimination Against the Homeless: Shirley Contracting and DC's First-Source Law

It's been said by social justice advocates and activists that, “There are 20 years that don't make a day; and then, there's that day that makes 20 years”. I think I just had my day that makes 20 years on October 3rd, 2014. I attended a hearing at Washington, DC's City Hall (The John A. Wilson Building). It was about the 41% cut to TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) that went into effect on October 1st, 2014. I didn't plan to testify, only to observe. However, as I heard various homeless or poor mothers and one single woman from the non-profit community testify, the gears began turning and I gave into tempation.

A woman on the previous four-person panel set things off when she shifted from talking about the increased hardships that she and her child will endure as a result of the near-half reduction in public benefits to talking about how she doesn't believe that city officials really want to end homelessness or poverty. She even talked about how the system that creates or deepens people's poverty then blames those people for their poverty and was one of at least two mothers who talked about how more poor people will commit crimes of survival as their public benefits are cut. They went on to mention the prison-industrial complex and how that, as people commit crimes of survival, prisons are being built and expanded and police are at the ready to arrest the poor and throw them in jail where money can be made off of them.

I shared the testimony table with three mothers. Naila (nah – EE – lah) is still relatively new to advocacy. Other long-term advocates and I have been offering our support to get her started. She sat to my right. Naila was the first person on our panel to speak. She told of homeless parents being intimidated by staff for speaking out about shelter conditions and of how the homeless families at the Quality Inn, courtesy of DC Government, had received notices of eviction with nowhere to go and no one to talk to. I fleshed out what the woman on the previous panel said by giving some very specific examples of systemic failures that add up to poor people being gentrified out of the city or that make their lives harder. After all, I've dealt with DC Government for eight years and some change. I know about their major SNAFU's since June 2006 first-hand and have heard about others that occurred prior to my becoming a homeless advocate. A woman who shares my mother's name and put herself through professional schooling while homeless sat to my left. A woman who suffers from Dyslexia but has three gifted children sat to the right of Naila who broke into tears as she heard the mother of three speak. I held and comforted her.

Councilman Jim Graham was so impressed with the testimonies of our panel that he strongly advised us to organize for power. Immediately after our panel was finished, the four of us stood, exchanged hugs (which is uncommon at a hearing) and walked into the hall to exchange contact info and plan when we would meet to organize. (That will happen on Monday, October 6th at 1 PM at the MLK, Jr. Library in Room A-9.) I was impressed by the fluidity of our collective testimonies even though we hadn't collaborated on them. I was also impressed by the critique of the capitalist system that took place during the hearing. It was reminiscent of the hearing a day earlier before the same councilman concerning the future of the CCNV Shelter. During that hearing a man who is new to advocacy talked mainly about the hurtful effects of the capitalist system and the fact that much of what city officials claim to do out of concern for homeless people is just a facade. While myself and other advocates have known these things for years, it is unusual for a person who is testifying to exit the topic of the hearing and give a general critique of the system; and, it is almost unheard of to have several people's testimonies so unintentionally and coincidentally build the case for an indictment against the same.

During my testimony I mentioned the fact that there weren't many homeless families present at a hearing that directly affects them; because, they don't have enough money to ride the transit system – that the problem we were there to discuss was self-compounding insomuch as the decreased funds decrease the ability of the poor to attend events where they should be speaking out about their plight. I also said that,though it's rather pie-in-the-sky, maybe we should approach the transit authority about assisting homeless families by giving them free rides or reduced fares, especially when attending such a meeting. Councilman Graham would later say that he can help with transportation. I also mentioned the fact that,with homeless families at the Quality Inn having been told to leave with nowhere to go and no one to talk to about their plight, we were returning to the atrocities of the winter of 2010-11.

During that winter, homeless mothers were turned away from an over-crowded shelter with their infants and toddlers in tow and given tokens to ride the bus all night. (The buses stop between 2 and 5 AM.) One particular boy who was born on February 10th spent his first month of life homeless as his mother slept with him in her storage unit, the Greyhound station and the stairwell of an unsecured apartment building. I too mentioned the insufficient political will to end homelessness, as I had the day before. At both hearings I mentioned Shirley Contracting which has begun a large 10-year building project right across the road from the shelter and only made a token effort to hire homeless people. I'm left to wonder if they've made any more of an effort to hire other Washingtonians.

I left the hearing at about 1:20 PM to go to an interview with an American University student who wanted to know about the phenomenon whereby homeless people are made to feelinvisible. Along with one other man, I told her about how the general public often tries not to notice a homeless person. I told her of how homeless parents often sleep in the bushes of various parks for fear that if they apply for shelter, the shelter is full and they are honest about not having anywhere to sleep indoors, then theirchildren will be taken away. This causes homeless parents to want to become “invisible”. I also told her about FEMA camps that are being erected in various cities, ostensibly in preparation for a disaster, and are being used as homeless shelters where a homeless person must go and is not allowed to leave without an escort in a van.

Then it was on to the radio station where I was one of three people on an hour-long show that centered around the book by my good friend, former Cleveland resident and current American University professor Dan Kerr called “DerelictParadise”. His book addresses poverty pimping from an academic standpoint. It shows the connection between the cheap labor afforded by day labor halls, the race to the bottom in terms of wages and the increase in homelessness since 1945. Dan, a Caucasian, beat me to the punch by being the first to mention that “urban renewal” is actually”negro removal”. (I really WAS getting ready to say that in my next comment when he said it. Great minds think alike.) It was here at WPFW 89.3 FM during the show with Garland Nixon from 6 to 7PM on October 3rd, 2014 that I mentioned the indictment of Shirley Contracting for the third time in two days (all three times having been taped and made available in the public domain.) The indictment is as follows:

In late August or early September 2014 Shirley Contracting which is a subsidiary of Clark Construction began work on a 10-year project near the 200 block of E Street NW in Washington, DC. There is a shelter building which holds up to 1,350 of the city's 8,000+ homeless people which is located diagonally across the road on the southeast corner of the same intersection. It contains three separate shelters, a clinic, a drug program and a kitchen that feeds 5,000 poor people per day and is collectively known as the Federal City Shelter. The CCNV (Community for Creative Non-Violence) is one of those shelters in the building with 950 of the beds. There are probably 300 people in that building who are fully capable of doing construction labor. There may be upwards of 100 who have skills in the construction trades.

Washington, DC has what are called “First Source Laws” which mandate that employers make a good-faith effort to ensure that at least 51% of their employees are DC residents. After they make a good-faith effort to hire DC residents, they are allowed to hire people from outside of DC. The following amounts to what I suspect was a token effort to hire DC residents and one which uses homeless people in ways that the homeless might not be aware.

I was told by a man who, along with his co-workers, comes from the Academy of Sciences during his lunch break to help homeless people write resumes and apply on-line for jobs that Shirley Contracting had indeed contacted the shelter administration to inform them that the company was hiring. This friend had been led to believe that the company wanted to hire a large number of people from the shelter. The shelter administration did not make it their business to convey this information to all residents, though I have no complaint about the man who told me.

I went to the company's website, sent them a message expressing my desire to discuss them hiring homeless people, made a flier with their contact info along with what I'd been told and posted those fliers at the shelter. On or around September 10th I called Shirley Contracting. I was put through to a certain Carrie Carr-Maina (703-550-1127) and explained my understanding of the matter. She seemed rather friendly, for what that's worth to you. (She works in HR.) She said that, while she doesn't know who from her company contacted the shelter, she thinks that they might have simply told the shelter that Shirley is hiring but doubts that they stated a desire to hire any homeless people. She emphasized that anyone may apply. She explained that the application can be done on-line or in person at the office in Lorton Virginia which is beyond where the transit system goes and considerably difficult to get to – especially if you are a homeless person of limited means. (It stands to reason that the interview would be in Lorton even if one were to apply on-line.) Ms. Carr-Maina suggested getting a van and bringing 10 people out to apply in Lorton. She also told me that Shirley Contracting would be participating in a job fair at the Washington Convention Center on September 24th.

On September 23rd I called Carrie Carr-Maina to confirm that she would be at the job fair the next day. She said she would but then asked me if I'd seen her e-mail. I hadn't. She then proceeded to tell me that I was publishing bad information about Shirley Contracting that included the idea that the companywould transport homeless people to Lorton for the interview. I asked her when she sent it and she said the 15th. I thought that a mentally ill homeless advocate whom I know may have made his own version of my flier and sent it out in the name of SHARC, the advocate group that I chaired beginning at the group's inception in April 2011. When I went back and read the e-mail, it had a faxed copy of my flier and a company flier along with a message from Carrie about the large amount of human resources that were wasted dealing with people who were calling in based on bad information. My flier said nothing about the company having offered to ride homeless people to the office in Lorton.

During this conversation I asked her about the claim by a certain homeless man that Shirley Conracting was hiring through the Local 657 labor union for construction and general labor. She said, “No”. She also told me that many other Shirley jobs were coming to a close and that those workers would be transferred to the site near the shelter, leaving very few jobs for the homeless to obtain.

I received a text from a different number (702-358-0411) on September 23rd which said that the job fair was at the Doubletree Hotel in Crystal City. The number belongs to what appears to be an identity protection firm in Las Vegas named “Level 3 VoIP”. I'm left to wonder why anybody from Las Vegas is contacting me, with me having no connections there. I didn't actually see the text until the morning of the 24th. I'd hung fliers directing people to the Washington Convention days earlier. I now had to write what I thought was the proper address on the fliers by hand. But it was too late. Some people had already made their way to the Convention Center.

I wrote this entire experience off as water under the bridge and decided that I would still do all that I could to connect homeless people to the jobs across the street from the shelter. I printed the company flier that Carrie had sent me, which had very scant information about the company's job offerings. Then I went to the hearing about the shelter's future on October 2nd. During my testimony, I mentioned the irony of it being so hard for homeless people to get the job across the street. I highlighted that there was an affordable housing issue on one side of the road and a living-wage issue on the other side of the road. What I would hear another man testify about moments later would cause the plot to thicken.

The last man to testify was new to advocacy. He made an indictment of the system as a whole and talked about how DC is being given to the wealthy and the well-to-do. Then he mentioned his experience dealing with Shirley Contracting. He'd initially been told that the job fair was in Crystal City. He claims that it actually took place in Pentagon City. At that moment I realized that I wasn't the only one to be given the run-around by Shirley Contracting and that it wasn't a matter of my own carelessness. I made sure to mention my updated assessment at the October 3rd hearing and during my October 3rd broadcast.

I've brought this matter up during several of my in-person conversations (as opposed to radio broadcasts). My friends and associates agree with me that, if Shirley has a project which I've been told will net them $2.8 billion and which will last for 10 years, they should have to establish a DC office or a mere office trailer on the job site where Washingtonians can apply and interview. We also agree that Shirley just used the homeless. Irrespective of their homeless status, the 1,350 people at the Federal City Shelter are DC residents. Shirley could, in theory, call the shelter director to say that they are hiring and then put that down as having reached out to over 1,000 DC residents about prospective employment with the company. Not only would it bring them closer to reaching the bare minimum of DC residents so as to justify them looking outside of the city for employees, in accordance with the First Source Laws. It might also bring them closer to satisfying some federal law that mandates that they reach out to depressed communities and other disadvantaged groups – such as “Equality Opportunity Laws”.

We can't let this token effort pass as a satisfaction of either law. Let's strengthen either law so as to require Shirley Contracting to establish a DC-based employment office and to visit the shelter and talk directly to groups of prospective employees at the shelter across the road. Let's take it a step further by strictly defining the real employment opportunities that they must offer and the reasonable accommodations that they must make to enable homeless people to obtain employment at the site across the road. They should also have to help them make it through until their first check – namely with cash advances against their hours worked. They should have to do this last thing for at least two weeks and, at most, five or six weeks. I've picked a fight with Shirley. Who will join that fight?????
Unfortunately Eric, I doubt there are many (if any) residents in the now, nearly completely gentrified (read "bleached," thanks to Jefe at an Abagond post some time ago), decidedly unaffordable District of Columbia -- including the newly "selected" mayor, Muriel Bowser who will likely join that fight. {smdh}

Now, if the afore-mentioned instances are not excellent enough reminders of how so totally un-Christlike, these self-professed Christians, living in and running this so-called Christian nation really are, I don't know what else you need.  Not only is homelessness criminalized (pretty much everywhere the gentrifiers slide in), they're also involved in all sorts of schemes to totally crush people's spirit -- and keep them homeless!!!  I just gotta ask all you God-fearin', Scripture-spoutin',  saved hypocrites two things:  Is this what Jesus would do and -- what the hell happened to all that money??!!

Wake the hell up Family!  After the current  mid-terms, where Republicans have gained total control of an already, do-nothing' Congress, it's not going to get any better for humanity in this country!  Corporations as people and how much your "brand" is worth, is unfortunately, the order of the day -- unless of course, we all "join that fight."

Please check out Eric's blog on homelessness in the seat of power in these alleged United States of America at: Tick Tock Sheptock.

Related:
- Give 'er HADES: Innundate Muriel Bowser with the Demands of the Poor
- Shining Like a Diamond
- 2 Friends Turned A Van Into A Laundromat So Homeless People Can Wash Their Clothes
- It is now illegal to distribute food to homeless people in 21 cities
- Can a ‘Homeless Bill of Rights’ End the Criminalization of LA’s Most Vulnerable Residents?
- From Super Bowl Champion to Homeless Retiree

13 comments:

Carolyn Moon said...

@Sis Deb:
This is an eyeopener for those of us who THOUGHT we knew about the homeless situation and for those who had no clue nor did they want one. Governmental social service systems have always been punitive in nature which lends to the daunting scenarios you've featured in this post. I plan to read the links provided but I'm so impressed by your active advocacy role(s).

You probably know about http://talkpoverty.org/us/, but your post is one they'd be interested in featuring as well.

'Jesus the Homeless' statue speaks volumes...hmmm...

Take care and H/T for your endeavors. I wish I had been in the audience for your panel presentation.

mary burrell said...

Great post about homelessness. I also viewed your great post on Abagond's blog on the Otis Graham thread. i really liked reading about your upbring in the Gullah country. Or do they call it the South Sea Islands? I love reading about that culture.

mary burrell said...

I love the Jesus Is Homeless statue.

mary burrell said...

I meant the Sea Islands not the South Sea Islands. Sorry my geography is sketchy.

Deb said...

@Caolyn Moon...Hey Sis, how you be??!!

"I plan to read the links provided but I'm so impressed by your active advocacy role(s).

You probably know about http://talkpoverty.org/us/, but your post is one they'd be interested in featuring as well.

'Jesus the Homeless' statue speaks volumes...hmmm..."


I apologize if it sounded like I was doing all this shit -- it wasn't, it was my friend, Eric about whom I wrote. HE held the panel in DC, not me. I'm just proud to call him my friend and WISH I was as active as he! He keeps me informed and periodically bounces shit off me, but it's ALL him.

I 'm not familiar with the site you noted, but I will forward it to him and link him to them.

Yes, the 'Jesus the Homeless' statue does speak volumes, ESPECIALLY since some GOOD CHRISTIAN woman called the cops on him!!

@Mary Burrell...Hey Mary!! Thank you (on both accounts) and welcome!! I'm going back over to Abagond's, Otis Graham thread in the morning to see what's going on. That piece, as Sis. Carolyn said above, "spoke volumes!"

No probs, Sis (there are those with African blood in the South Sea Islands too -- we are, and have been, everywhere! :-D

But yes, it IS from the Sea Islands of SC that I hail. However, it's an important part of our culture that's being slowly bleached. I've just moved back home after 40 years of being gone and I barely recognize it (have some posts in Draft I'm working on to publish soon -- just so damned painful...)

Re: the "Jesus is Homeless statue" -- what I found interesting is that there were some MAJOR churches in NY and Rome (OF ALL PLACES!), that turned down the opportunity to have it displayed!!! Now THAT 'speaks volumes about what comes out of folk's mouths on Sunday morning and what's really in their hearts day-to-day!!

Thanks for dropping in Sister, come back anytime!!!

Carolyn Moon said...

Well Sis Deb that was a humbling experience and after reading it again more thoroughly by the way; I just took the (imaginary)ball and ran with it.

I'm reading your subsequent post now and thanks for forwarding the link I provided in the earlier one to your friend Eric. It always confounds me when I hear this hard line punitive tirade from "right wing Christians" about the poor and assisting them. They don't want reminders that this exists and it challenges like you said what the 'mouth' says and what's actually in their 'hearts' as well as their behaviors.

Take care and peace....

Deb said...

Sis Carolyn...No probs. I hope you know me well enough to know that I had to make sure the truth was out. I promise you, Eric will avail himself of every opportunity to help his fellow homeless brethren.

"They don't want reminders that this exists and it challenges like you said what the 'mouth' says and what's actually in their 'hearts' as well as their behaviors."

No shit...

Peace, my Sister (hope you're still doing okay after your loss)...

Carolyn Moon said...

Thanks for your continued support and concern over the loss of my niece. I had to chuckle over your response to my statement,
"They don't want reminders that this exists and it challenges like you said what the 'mouth' says and what's actually in their 'hearts' as well as their behaviors."

'No shit..' ^◡^

BTW: I'd like to read your response(s) to the Ferguson tragedy and Bill Cosby if you see fit.! ^◡^

Peace and blessings....

Deb said...

Sis Carolyn...Just want to make sure you're okay. My mother's been gone for a little over 18 years and I STILL have my own tough moments.

Trust me, I meant them two words, Sister! :-D In both words and deeds they've proven it!

I'm working on Ferguson (have been for awhile), it's all just so damned heavy or me. As for Cosby, I'll write something soon, but for now -- stick a fork in him, he's done far, as I'm concerned, and rightfully so! I tried to read your post, but I kept getting an error message that the page doesn't exist. Did you take it down?

Carolyn Moon said...

You know Sis, this has happened once before when I'd been working on a draft and it published and I'm thinking that the post is still in draft form. When I did discover it, it had been sent out. I'm more focused on this now and working to resolve it. I'm still in draft form on this post but oh I've got some footage on the links provided on a speech by Nikki Giovanni and an article by Ta-Nehisi Coates in 2008 about the multiple faces, questionable behavior and skewed conservatism espoused by Bill Cosby.

I was pretty much done with him when he made the rounds with his notorious "pound cake" speech & his hubris showing his behind big time when he blasted the young black football player(Dean Brown)http://deadspin.com/the-nd-player-bill-cosby-berated-felt-like-a-failure-fo-1661591222---at an Ivy League college who was quite proud of his accomplishments thus far in his career and Cosby just trashed him. It was aired. He cried! I knew then, for sure, that his behavior was that of a fake and hater. You can't berate young black men to do better and when they do;lambast them for their efforts. The link above is article about that incident. His remarks were so hurtful to that player over the years. He is now a Principal of a school.

Peace....

Deb said...

Sis Carolyn...It's working fine now! Just finished going through all the links and thought they were all good -- I have to say though, Sis. Nikki Giovanni took no damned prisoners!

Like the Changeling, who had the nerve to get up in one of Chicago's largest Black churches on Father's Day and berate Black men, I was done with Bill after the "Poundcake Speech" at Howard.

One of the gifts of old-age is memory, and I remember when these rape allegations against him first arose. When he settled out of court I was pretty much done with his hypocritical ass then! To my mind, if you've done nothing wrong, you deny it and fight! And if you settle out of court cuz your "handlers" advise that it's better for your "image" to just get rid of these "nuisance cases," what does that say about him? He's being led, not leading!!

What he did to Dean Brown was horrific, but I honestly believe Brown's all the better for it. Sure, he's not making a gazillion bucks in the NFL, but what he's doing is wa-a-a-y more important -- he's in a position to NOT be a Bill Cosby to another Dean Brown and -- in my book, given his own personal experience, he's golden!

Peace...


mary burrell said...

@Deb: This is off topic but your avitar Blue Monday by artist Annie Lee. Annie Lee RIP. She was a wonderful artist. I loved her work.

Deb said...

@mary burrell... I love her work too! I have several of her pieces depicting "Black life" as it used to be ("6 No Uptown" is my favorite, cuz that was ALWAYS my bid if I could fake them out and get away with it!! ��

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