Yesterday, I was in San Francisco meeting with a bunch of veteran west coast homeless empowerment organizers who hope to challenge the weirdly myopic, DC-driven, chicken-shit, whoredom that passes for national-level policy discussion on homelessness. We call ourselves WRAP, and are carefully nurturing our delusions of grandeur.
The 800-pound gorilla that drives legislation and policy these days is the National Alliance to End Homelessness. They've been selling folks on the idea that homelessness can be ended in 10 years.
Homelessness, they say, is a much smaller problem than housing or poverty, and with the right mix of accountability, services, housing, and bureaucratic tinkering to realign with other systems, we can basically shut the shelters down. All without addressing inequality.
An end to homelessness without all that messy class conflict. How convenient for all of us.
All my friends seem to have arrived at a shared terminology for this theory. We call it, "drinking the Kool-Aide." As in, "You have to pretend to at least like Kool-Aide in this town to even be relevant."
I was talking to a policy geek friend a few weeks ago about her deep, unabiding hatred of all things NAEH, and I said, "You know, I'll bet the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness has been very, very good to them."
Their tax filings tell a surprising story. Up until 2003, when the NAEH budget reached a high of $1.7 million, they were a decent-sized DC policy org whose size hovered at around a million and a half.
But in 2004, when their relationship to the Bush Administration's Homelessness Czar Phil Mangano started to resemble conjoined twinship, something interesting happened. Their budget suddenly zoomed skyward to $6.9 million.
This should be an important lesson to all of us.
Things get a lot easier when your tongue is wedged up the ass of power. But, to push the metaphor, the harder you suck, the more it stinks.