May 14, 2005 – While environmentalists and other analysts are left scratching their heads over a flurry of proposals the Bush Administration is touting as technological solutions to an impending energy crisis, homeless advocates say that one aspect of the Presidentâ€™s plans in particular could significantly impact how they help destitute Americans.
In order to increase domestic oil capacity, President Bush has said he would direct the Department of Energy to encourage private companies to convert shuttered military bases into refineries. Speaking to an audience at the National Small Business Conference in Washington last month, Bush named closed military bases as potential refinery sites. The remark was reinforced by White House spokesperson Scott McClellan later that day.
"Itâ€™s one of the most bizarre policy proposals Iâ€™ve ever heard of," commented Tyson Slocum, Research Director at Public Citizenâ€™s Energy Policy Program, in an interview with The NewStandard. "He just kind of threw something out there and gave no details about it."
Slocum suspects that what President Bush may end up doing is linking his seemingly off-the-cuff proposal to a provision tucked into the already-passed House version of the 2005 Energy Bill for "refinery revitalization zones," which consolidates rulemaking and environmental oversight in the hands of the Energy Department, giving that agency unmitigated discretion to pick and choose where refineries will be placed.
Slocum suspects that what President Bush may end up doing is linking his seemingly off-the-cuff proposal to a provision tucked into the already-passed House version of the 2005 Energy Bill for "refinery revitalization zones."
A number of abandoned military bases across the country already fill a different kind of domestic need. Since 1994, when the Base Closure Act amended federal law to put homeless providers at the head of the line for use of retired federal properties, homeless organizations have refurbished 53 military bases around the country and put them to use serving needy populations..
The next batch of surplus military base property should be available by the end of the year, said Rebecca Troth, Legal Director at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP).
The so-called "surplus property" is free for homeless advocates, though a group that successfully applies to use an old base or part of an old base may be responsible for infrastructure development costs.
Old military bases, said Michael Stoops, acting Executive Director of the Washington, DC-based National Coalition for the Homeless, are desirous because "theyâ€™re self-contained, they have all the facilities." Additionally, he said, "most military bases are close to major cities," making them easier to reach from areas hit hard by urban poverty.
A 2004 report by the NLCHP notes that the Pentagon and the Department of Housing and Urban Development - the two agencies responsible for vetting lists of bases that are going to be closed and ensuring that the closed bases meet the needs of the homeless community, respectively - do not keep records on the value of the property homeless groups successfully apply for. Nevertheless, the report reads, "it is safe to assume that [the] numbers are significant, and that base closure property represents an important resource for homeless service providers."
The report also offers a statistical sketch of the loads carried by a sample of homeless organizations operating on surplus military property.
Included in these examples is a nonprofit organization called Grace Centers of Hope, located in downtown Pontiac, Michigan. Every year, Grace reportedly provides 116,000 people with transitional housing and case management, health care, day care, and substance abuse counseling.
Another nonprofit, the Human Resource Development Center, operating at a former base in Bozeman, Montana, offers Head Start, workforce training, a food bank and housing assistance for up to 50 people a day.
Californiaâ€™s Emergency Foodlink sitting on an old Army depot in Sacramento, distributes food to up to 1.5 million people across the state every month.
This kind of support work has grown in importance, Stoops told TNS, as the Bush Administration continues to slash federal programs serving the needy.
"Even under Clinton, homelessness was increasing," says Stoops, "even when the economy was good. Over the last for years, homelessness is skyrocketing."
"Itâ€™s very important," adds Troth. "The administrationâ€™s cutting back on housing assistance, so any type of housing is important."
Over the past year, reports the NLCHP, 3 million people were homeless -- 40 percent of them entire families; and demand for shelter was up at least 14 percent.