Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Toothless Yappy Dog Press Conference

Next month is the Twentieth Anniversary of McKinney and the Inside the Beltway Gang is planning to mark the occasion with a press conference and a lobbying stunt that features bittersweet chunks of chocolate and a list of ten things legislators could do this year to end homelessness.

Clever. This call to arms will probably last about a minute for each point on the list. Hopefully I'm wrong about that.

McKinney-Vento is the federal legislation that funds shelter and various homeless services, and is the most significant "win" that homeless advocates can claim. WRAP released a report earlier this year that draws the surprisingly obvious conclusion that you can't replace the loss of $52 billion in federal housing dollars and mitigate the breathtaking hostility to the poor that is shown each year by federal budget priorities with less than $2 billion in McKinney-Vento funding and call that progress.

It never ceases to amaze me how the feds can wave little scraps of money around at "advocates" and service providers and immediately have them running around like yappy little dogs in heat.

Make that dogs in heat who have forgotten how to bark, or bite.

To me, the high point of advocacy was October 1989, when the Housing Now! march brought around 300,000 people to Washington, homeless and advocate alike. I'm less interested in commemorating McKinney-Vento in 2007 than in reinventing the spirit of Housing Now! by 2009. Since then, lobbyists for the homeless in DC haven't brought much of anyone along with them. That needs to change.

The beltway driven, non-confrontational, accommodationist, technocratic, homeless-fearing, ten-year-plan-worshipping politics of the present haven't won us much of anything, other than a broad consensus that the feds are officially off the hook for poverty and homelessness.

Chunks of bittersweet chocolate. Pathetic. It would be more to the point to give them something that smells like dead people.

McKinney-Vento keeps us divided against ourselves and isolated from our allies in the broader labor and anti-poverty movements. Each year, homeless advocates gear up to defend the various pieces of our ridiculously teeny pie against the encroachment of the other subpopulations. Lately it's been the chronically homeless against the families. Soon, we'll be defending homeless kids in schools. Or arguing over whether McKinney should be used to fund housing.

We are right where they want us. Divided, isolated, and largely following the lead of the US Interagency Council of Homelessness to focus on individual dysfunction, and not the systemic inequality that has resulted from decades of disastrous federal policy.

Clever lobbyist gags aren't going to fix this. Homeless advocates should take the occasion of McKinney's twentieth anniversary to ask ourselves "How did we all get to be such salivating dogs as to allow Phillip-fucking-Mangano to pass himself off as the second coming of Mitch Snyder?"

That, I think, would be much more appropriate to the moment.


Diane Nilan said...

You go, Tim! Playing the lobbying game in DC is an enormous waste of time, and bowing to King Phil only gives a person back problems.

An impressive variation of the "advocate" lobbying fiasco occurred this past Tuesday when about 2 dozen teens from PA and OH descended upon the Hill. Their mission--to convince Congress to remove barriers that keep them from going to College, plus increase and strengthen the hard-fought battle to get a free, appropriate public education. (Do we think prisons are cheaper than schools?)

Now, on one hand, it's ridiculous to have to push for something so obvious, but that's where we're at now. On the other hand, kudos to those who pulled off this endeavor, which has shown some early signs of success.

After standing with the masses at Housing Now, I agree, what we've done since then is pathetic. Tolerating, or worse yet, profiting from, homelessness is shameful.

Who's going to pull together the 2009 event?

Pastor Rick said...

I remember a panel on homelessness about 10 years ago; SHARE proposed a communist revival, and Union Gospel said "if we'd all accept Jesus, there wouldn't be any homeless left."

Which left me and Bill Hobson alone in the middle somewhere.

The 10 Year Plan -- if you scour the net you can find what other communities are doing; a lot of noodling along the margins, when the central problem is not being addressed -- greed (so maybe UGM was right) and the gap between income and rent (so maybe SHARE was right). Meanwhile, back to thumb-twiddling.

How long is the waiting list now?