Sheptock: Homeless because of no jobs, jobless because of no home


Photos:  DC Spotlight Newspaper
November 2, 2011
By Jordan Schatz
Reporter/News Writer
Metro Link

In the heart of Washington, D.C., a block from the U.S. Capitol, sits the Community for Creative Non-Violence, one of the largest homeless shelters in the country. On any given night, 1,350 of the city’s 7,000 homeless population can be found sleeping there.

The shelter is located on D Street in northwest, D.C. and sits directly across the street from the Department of Labor. According to Eric Sheptock, 42, one of the shelter’s foremost residents and a leading advocate and activist for the homeless, the building housing the Department of Labor is so close that a “catwalk” could literally be built from one building to the other.

“In spite of how close they are, the Department of Labor has never walked across the road to enter the shelter and ask the people in there how they can help them get any work,” said Sheptock. “One of the biggest causes of homelessness is the lack of employment and the lack of a living wage. You’d think [the Department of Labor]would walk across the road and say, how can we help you to get employed?”

Sheptock, who is homeless himself, has been an advocate for the homeless since 2006, which has put him on an international stage. He is the chairman of S.H.A.R.C, an organization formed to bring about shelter, housing and respectful change for the homeless. He is a member of S.T.R.E.A.T.S, a group striving to reach, educate and transform society’s views on homelessness. He has also petitioned and spoken before Congress on behalf of the growing population of homeless persons in the U.S.

“I see myself trying to really stir things up in the very near future, and I wouldn’t be surprised if [President Barack] Obama tried to co-op me by getting me some kind of housing,” he said.

According to Sheptock, there are more homeless people per square foot in Washington, D.C. than any city in the country. “We have so many homeless people on the front step of the White House basically, and the U.S. government is going around the world to tell countries how to treat their people, how to treat their poor while the U.S. have their own human right violations right here in the capital of the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world,” Sheptock said. Sheptock is one of the homeless in the District, and his story is as unique as his current circumstances.

At eight-months-old, his parents beat him so severely that an enormous scar where his scull was opened remains. He was left to die in a New Jersey motel room, where he was rescued, placed in foster care, and at five-years-old was adopted by Rudy and Joann Sheptock. The couple took him to live at their mansion with 36 other children — 29 of which were adopted. Their story was documented in the 1979 book, “Our Growing Family”.

After his high school graduation, Sheptock was hired to drive an industrial truck at Shands Hospital at the University of Florida. He lost the job in 1994 and since that time, has experienced what he called “lots of ups and downs.”

“I’ve done a lot of labor haul work, and I’ve done a lot of farm work,” said Sheptock. “I’ve gotten out of homelessness a couple times, and I’ve fallen back in. About six years ago, I came to D.C., and five years ago I became a homeless advocate.” Sheptock added,  “It’s quite ironic that I would grow up in a mansion and then become homeless.”

Sheptock resides at the Community for Creative Non-Violence, a homeless shelter built in the early 80s by veterans of the Vietnam War who renounced violence. At the time, 700 homeless people used the building to squat, and when the federal government came to remove them, they used direct action to commandeer and begin the shelter.

“The feds came to remove the homeless and a guy named Mitch Snyder organized the homeless and went on a hunger strike, and they got the building from the Reagan administration,” Sheptock said. “Mitch Snyder and Ronald Reagan signed a restrictive covenant to keep that building a shelter from 1988 to 2018, and it’s actually one of the best shelters in the city.”

Sheptock is often compared to Snyder and is dedicating his life to raising awareness about homelessness. He aims to bring about change through education and understanding.

“I see myself in the next few months becoming a more significant movement organizer and really facilitating some major actions here in D.C.,” he said. “I want people to know that the homelessness community is not a homogenous community. We are not all alike. Any broad statement about the homeless is probably not true.”

According to Sheptock, the five leading causes of homelessness is a lack of affordable housing, a lack of a living wage, domestic violence, medical bankruptcy and mental illness. These conditions can all be remedied through community outreach and government intervention.

Lack of cell phones is another reason why many homeless people struggle while attempting to find jobs. A large segment of them work jobs or are actively searching for work. According to Sheptock, many of the homeless who are applying for jobs give the telephone number for the shelter where they reside as part of their contact information. Often, when employers call to offer a job, a representative at the shelter answers the telephone. The potential employer then retracts the offer.

Sheptock believes misconceptions and myths about homeless persons have helped separate the general public from the homeless. This stigma has further exaserbated a problem that is steeped in miseducation. He argues that when these barriers to understanding are broken and both segments of society come together homelessness will be a thing of the past. According to Sheptock, the simple act of visiting a shelter or soup kitchen by members of the public could be the beginning of the end of homelessness.

“There is some extreme ignorance,” said Sheptock. “They’re homeless because they don’t have a job, and now they can’t get a job because they’re homeless.” He continues, “I challenge people to go to a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen and talk to the homeless, and what you will find is about 90 percent of them are well-mannered and dress decently,” Sheptock admitted. “Then you have the 10 percent or less who are extremely mentally ill, extremely dirty, digging through trash cans looking for food. Those are the people who most folks think of when they think of homeless people, but actually they are the exception, not the rule.”

Wendy Thompson contributed to this article.

To volunteer and help feed at a homeless shelter during Thanksgiving, Christmas or throughout the year, contact one of the local shelters below.

List of homeless shelters in the DC metro area:

The Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) 202-393-1909
425 Mitch Snyder Place (2nd Street), NW
Washington, DC 20001

Open Doors Women’s Shelter (202) 639-8093
425 2nd Street Northwest
Washington D.C., DC 20001

Rachael’s Women’s Center – Day Center     (202) 682-1005
1222 11Th Street, Nw
Washington, DC 20001

House of Imagene Shelter and Women’s Center     (202) 518-8488
1110A 6Th Street, Ne Suite 4
Washington, DC 20002

Bethany Women’s Center     (202) 939-2060
1333 N Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005

Luther Place Night Shelter     202-939-2076
N Street Village, 1333 N Street NW
Washington, DC 20005

Blair Transitional Rehabilitation Program     (202) 727-2832
635 I Street, Ne
Washington, DC 20001

Virginia Williams Family Resource Center     1-800-535-7252
920-A Rhode Island Avenue Ne
Washington, DC 20018

Washington DC Community For Creative Non Violence Shelter     (202) 393-1909
425 2nd Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20001

Federal City Shelter Washington DC     (202) 508-0500
425 2nd St., NW
Washington, DC 20001

Downtown DC Services Center     (202) 638-3232
1250 H Street, NW Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20005

Central Union Mission Clinic     202) 745-7118
1350 R Street NW
Washington, DC 20009

Central Union Mission     (202)745-7118
1350 R Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20009

Salvation Army – The Grate Patrol     (202) 756-2600
1434 Harvard Street, Nw
Washington, DC 20009

Crummel Emergency Shelter for Men
1901 Kendall Street, Ne
Washington, DC 20002

Park Road Transitional House – Coalition For The Homeless
1318 Park Road, Nw
Washington, DC 20011

Christ House Temporary Residence     (202) 328-1100
1717 Columbia Road, Nw
Washington, DC 20009

La Casa Transitional Rehab Program     202-882-1237
1131 Spring Road, NW
Washington, DC 20010

Gospel Rescue Ministries Of Washington DC     202-842-1731
810 Fifth Street, NW
Washington, DC

Coalition for the Homeless – Webster Transitional House     202-722-4544
4326 14Th Street, Nw
Washington, DC 20011

Sasha Bruce House     202-547-7777
741 8th Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003



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