I have visited Washington, D.C. many times, but to live there opened up a brand new adventure. The presidential campaign was in full swing, Congress was gridlocked, deficit spending cuts were being called for, and more were splashed in the daily papers and on TV. I wondered what it would be like to live in the center of it all. Over the years I had heard that “those bureaucrats” in Washington, D.C. don’t understand what the real issues are, or think they know better than those living and working in the states. I pondered these thoughts and feelings as I had just accepted a six month opportunity to work at USICH. I would now become “one of those Federal government bureaucrats.” What would I experience and learn over the next six months?
For me, the best way to take full advantage of this opportunity was to relocate to D.C. Within a week after arriving on September 4 from Utah, I rented a place six blocks east of the Capitol and my new adventure began. My primary focus during my time here was to work with the Department of Justice and explore how USICH might assist in improving policies and methods for successful reentry into communities for those released from incarceration. Preventing homelessness following incarceration is a component of the objective of Opening Doors that focuses onadvancing the health and housing stability for people with frequent contact with hospitals and criminal justice. Successful reentry into a community reduces both homelessness and recidivism. With a roughly 60% national recidivism rate, creating successful reentry solutions is a wise investment for Federal, State, and local leaders. Attorney General Eric Holder created the Federal Interagency Reentry Council to help push forward this work, which includes several sub-committees working to improve coordination among the Federal departments with programs designed to assist those released from incarceration. I was able to quickly become part of the discussion and planning process on many of these sub-committees, including the development of housing and service priorities actions for the Reentry Council for the coming four years.
Along with the Department of Justice work, I had the opportunity to participate in many other projects and meetings. This included assisting with the development of USICH’s Second Term Strategic Approaches that will provide direction and focus of resources for USICH in the coming four years. Also, in an effort to determine the success factors in ending chronic homelessness, I had the opportunity to develop and conduct a survey of selected Continuums of Care that have had significant reductions in chronic homelessness. The goal is to determine what some of the common factors are that contributed to their success. From these surveys a report is being prepared to share their common success factors. Much is undertaken in this small Federal agency and I am impressed with what USICH has accomplished the last three plus years and what they are undertaking in the coming four years.
Now at the end of February with a broader understanding of homeless resources from the federal level, I return to Utah and continue my work in providing housing opportunities by the end of 2015 for the remaining 542 chronically homeless individuals across the state of Utah. After reflecting on my time in DC, I can confirm that the use of acronyms is alive and thriving in any governmental meeting and discussion. I found, however, as you come to understand the acronyms, you start using them and they speed up communication and move things along. During my six months, I worked with many committees and met a broad base of departmental staff, all of whom were sincere and caring individuals seeking to improve on a daily basis the conditions of those served by their programs. What was also clear is that those at the federal level were respectful of those in the states with whom they worked, and had a strong understanding of the role state leaders play in moving the strategies of Opening Doors forward. I now return home with a greater appreciation of “those bureaucrats”.
History peeks around every corner here in the nations’ capital, and I am so glad I got to experience this place this year, especially on the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. New Year’s Day at midnight my visiting family and I took the opportunity to visit the National Archives and view that great proclamation. We also attended a play at Ford’s Theater, visited the Peterson house where President Lincoln died, and saw many exhibits about the Civil War. All this gave me a greater appreciation for the sacrifices made in bringing about the proclamation and 13th amendment. We also visited Mt. Vernon, Monticello, Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown, Fort Sumter, and Civil War museums in the South which gave me and my family an even greater appreciation for the price that was paid to create and establish this great country. With so much here about the past, I took the opportunity to be a part of history and joined the estimated one million people on the National Mall for President Obama’s inauguration.
Much more could be shared, but I close expressing appreciation for this opportunity and recommend it to any of you who have such an opportunity. It was an experience I won’t soon forget.