By Gary Minter
Vendor Gary Minter was recently appointed by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and confirmed by the City Council as a member of the District’s Interagency Council on Homelessness.
My first “official” meeting with the Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) was exciting — at least the “pre-meeting,” when homeless people are allowed to air their grievances.
This ICH meeting, chaired by D.C. City Administrator Allen Lew, was held at Thrive DC in Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church on Oct. 16. Dozens of homeless people attended, along with 30 or 40 city officials from all departments and agencies in the District of Columbia. The “official” meeting consisted of the usual presentation of plans and statistics, the same things that are presented at most “official” meetings.
The real action was at the pre-meeting. Homeless people angrily attacked the agencies paid to solve housing and homelessness problems in D.C., complaining that the agency leaders and city government bureaucrats lack any real understanding of the problems of homeless people.
John McDermott of the People for Fairness Coalition was among the most vocal of the attendees, angrily pointing to a disabled woman who has been trying to get housing for at least four years and asking why no one is helping her. The People for Fairness Coalition meets every Tuesday morning from 8 to 9:30 a.m. at Miriam’s Kitchen in the Western Presbyterian Church at 24th and G streets NW in Foggy Bottom.
Other members of People for Fairness and of SHARC (Shelter, Housing And Respectful Change), which meets Mondays at 1 p.m. at CCNV, Second and D streets NW, said that all the statistics and numbers and charts mean little to homeless people when they are sleeping outside in the rain and snow.
One homeless person said that people without children and those who are unable to have children, including gays, lesbians, the elderly, are discriminated against by the D.C. Housing Authority and the D.C. and federal governments. These entities give preference to women with children, who receive free or low-cost apartments, food stamps, free medical care and cash payments under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), formerly known as “welfare.”
Several attendees bitterly complained that many women who live in taxpayer-subsidized housing with their children also rent rooms to their “boyfriends” to receive extra undeclared income, and engage in “casual sex” for extra money to buy liquor, crack cocaine and stylish clothes.
In contrast, people without children — the elderly, disabled, handicapped, gay, lesbian, and jobless men and women — receive nothing except food stamps and Medicaid.
Earlier on Tuesday, at the People for Fairness Coalition meeting, the D.C. Library system’s new two-bag policy came under attack for discriminating against homeless people, who must carry all of their possessions with them because most shelters refuse to let them store their clothing and personal items during the day.
Other issues discussed include a lack of transportation money for homeless people to see their doctors and social workers, or to visit food and clothing pantries, get to job interviews and grocery stores; the failure of the D.C. government to hire D.C. residents; and the failure to enforce laws requiring government contractors to hire D.C. residents.