- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2016


In a column published a month ago Friday, I pointed out a half-dozen questions that the Bowser administration should succinctly answer before the D.C. Council schedules a vote on the mayor’s homeless plan.

Chief among those questions were who owns the properties where new shelters would be built and which for-profit and nonprofit organizations would operate and provide services.

Well, the former question has been answered, and it seems like the answer to the latter question might throw a well-connected nonprofit service provider, The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, under the bus.

At this juncture, though, time dictates that another question be asked: Did the Bowser administration plagiarize policy and program proposals put forward by the Vincent Gray administration?

At first blush, the answer appears to be “yessiree.”

The plan Muriel Bowser touts as her own (closing the shelter at D.C. General Hospital and establishing smaller shelters leased to the city) was put before the council in 2014 by then-Mayor Gray. His plan was led by Laura Zeilinger, who served as his deputy at human services. Ms. Zeilinger also spearheaded homelessness for the Obama administration as executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, where she implemented the federal government’s “Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.”

Mr. Gray received a lot of blowback for his plan in 2014, most of it political jealousy from four council members, including Ms. Bowser, who were trying to unseat him.

Ms. Bowser won the game of musical chairs, appointed Ms. Zeilinger as her human services chief, pulled the Gray homeless plan off the shelf and dusted it off, as the Bowser administration worked with developers to plug in some addresses. (And in honor of the late council member Marion Barry, Wards 2 and 3 are included.)

Now that you know the genesis of Ms. Bowser’s homeless plan, let’s take a look at the response, which has homeowners and residents holding their noses.

The mayor picked up where the Gray administration left off. She worked behind the scenes with developers — and out of sight and earshot of homeowners — revealed her proposal to council members on Tuesday Feb. 9, released it to the media and then made the rounds to public meetings she had scheduled.

In one fell swoop she told residents that the huge family shelter would be closed by 2018 and the new smaller shelters would be built and funded.

The blowback was not expected. Still, wait, there’s more.

One of the first council members to endorse the mayor’s — er, Mr. Gray’s — plan was Mary Cheh of Ward 3, a Democratic sister of Ms. Bowser who had been asking the Office of the D.C. Auditor since 2013 to size up The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness.

Well, hee hee. Lo and behold, the auditor finally released a report, and it said the 501(3)c, which has been getting tens and tens of millions of D.C. dollars, was falling short on the delivery of services.

The timing of the release of the audit is noteworthy: The report came out March 9, just enough time for council members to read it before their March 17 public hearing.

What’s equally interesting is that the auditor is Kathy Patterson, an accountability hawk who represented Ward 3 on the council before Mrs. Cheh. Mrs. Patterson ran for council chairman, lost that race to Mr. Gray in 2006 and became auditor in December 2014 — the same month Ms. Zeilinger was announced as human services director by Mayor-elect Bowser.

Briefly, Miss Bowser attended the council’s first hearing on her proposal. Her interest, of course, was what her former colleagues had to say. When they were done, she was done.

That’s exactly how the council should handle the Gray — doggone it — Bowser plan.

Lawmakers should back their 2015 decision to close the family shelter, but — but — put alternate sites in the place of the Bowser-picked sites.

Homeowners, taxpayers and voters already know what they want in their neighbors. Unlike the Bowser administration, they are being very transparent.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at [email protected]

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