More Harm Than Good
The Washington Post did a profile of Phil Mangano, the Director of the Interagency Council on Homelessness today. (Thanks to CynDe for sending the link). I guess Mr. Mangano is working on securing a job in the Obama administration. There was some mention in the article from NPACH advocates about Mr. Mangano's problems, but they did not go into enough detail. There was also a feature on one of the NPR programs Tell Me More yesterday about Mr. Mangano in an effort to bolster his resume. Anyway, I don't think that the NPR host or the Post gave enough of the other side of the story on Mr. Mangano. Here is my impression of Mr. Mangano from my position in Cleveland and Board Member of the National Coalition for the Homeless. Bottom line for President Elect Obama get rid of Mr. Mangano. Send him back to Boston to write his memoir on the relationship between his struggle against homelessness and the abolitionist movement, which can sit on the shelf next to all the Ten Year Plans to End Homelessness.
Why Mr. Mangano should be fired, and why he has caused great harm to homeless people in America:
1. Hurricane Katrina: The largest number of people made homeless in a few short days in the history of the United States. It would seem that the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness would take the lead in the recovery effort. Since Mr. Mangano had instead focused on "long term homelessness," they had no ability to deal with natural disasters and were as unprepared for Katrina as the rest of the Executive Branch. Mangano never spoke up and said that there was a problem or that the administration dropped the ball in the destruction of one of America's great cities.
2. The Phrase Chronic Homelessness: This expression came into vogue under Mr. Mangano. I and many homeless people hate this phrase. It sounds like a disease that homeless people have contracted. Does it catch or spread through some kind of airborne pathogen? Homelessness is already a politically charged expression that many homeless people hate to use, but add the word "chronic" and it is like being tagged with the label "Black Plague Victim."
3. Malcolm Gladwell is Wrong: The entire theory that Mr. Mangano champions is based on Malcolm Gladwell's 2000 book The Tipping Point. Gladwell has a history background, and is a writer/journalist. He is not a social scientist or a researcher. He is a good observer of culture and then attaches scientific principles. It is a good read for the masses with simple explanations of complex problems. Basing public policy and millions of dollars on the work of one British/Canadian writer seems extreme to me. Hey, I like George Carlin, but I would never suggest that we put all our health dollars on Broccoli as the cure for Cancer as Carlin had recommended. I have talked about this flawed Malcolm Gladwell strategy here and here and here. Basically, Gladwell followed one homeless guy around and found that he costs our society a bunch through incarceration, emergency room, and mental health care costs besides shelter and food costs. This is all correct, but as I have said many times is that if you remove this guy from the system and put him in housing the emergency room and jails are not going to pay the shelters the money they saved so that the shelters can serve others. The other issue is that a focus on long term homeless does not work for every community in the United States. It may work in Boston and New York City, but this policy is harmful to Jeffersonville, Indiana and Lorain County, Ohio. There is not one policy created in Washington that will cure homelessness throughout the United States.
3. He never criticized his Boss: Mangano was a good soldier for the Bush administration. He travelled the country racking up huge frequent flyer miles spreading the gospel that George W. Bush cares about ending homelessness in America. This was the biggest spin campaign in the history of politics. It was all a big show with ribbon cuttings instead of offering real solutions or real money. They pulled the rug out from under Public Housing and gave the cities chump change for permanent supportive housing. The Mayors got to champion a brand new apartment building, but did not see that the Public Housing was falling down around their cities. Mangano took money from shelters and put it into brand new buildings for the long term homeless. He never told us how to pay for the long term management of these buildings, but they sure looked nice when they opened. Mangano never said anything bad about the Bush administration lack of a real housing policy (until this last week). The HUD budget submitted by Bush to Congress has for the past seven years called for major cuts to the major housing programs, and Mangano never said anything about how this would only increase homelessness.
4. Ten Year Plans Are Fake: Mr. Mangano cannot speak for more than six minutes without using the phrase "ten year plans". The first 10 year plans were passed in 2000, so we should start seeing an end to homelessness in those cities in 2010? The dirty secret is that many of these plans were only to solve long term homelessness or 10-20% of the population. While we spent a substantial portion of our resources (every new dollar for five years) on solving 10-20% of the problem. The damn broke over the last two year and many of cities were flooded with homeless people while HUD was focused on single adults with a disability. Most of the plans are sitting on the shelf. Others are discredited and forgotten, and the few that are left are suffering because of the recession. In Cleveland, family homelessness is way worse than it was in 2002. We did all this work on providing 400 new apartment units for single adult homeless people with a disability and it has not had any impact on the shelters or homelessness. There are five people waiting for help for every person we took off the streets. The ten year plans in almost every city will be quickly forgotten as soon as the ink is dry. Besides, why do we have to wait 10 years to solve homelessness for everyone?
5. Homelessness Has Grown: Bottom line is that a person should be measured on the success based on the numbers of people suffering. If you are appointed homeless czar and homelessness increases: you get fired. If you are paid to coach a football team and they lose 12 out of 16 games in a season: you are fired. If you are put in charge of rebuilding Iraq, and it breaks out into Civil War: you get fired (or you get the medal of freedom--but that is a different problem). Despite HUD trying to reclassify homeless people or change their status, by nearly every measurement there are more homeless people than there were at the start of the Bush Administration. We do not trust the HUD count, but I do trust the Cleveland Public School numbers. The school district has had a program to serve homeless children for 20 years, and they saw a 40% rise between 2006 and 2007. Even though we have developed more shelter beds in Cleveland, we still have people sleeping on mats on the floors in our shelters. More homelessness means the guy in charge has to go.
6. Families are Suffering. When I started working with homeless people, families were served first and were provided the most resources. This changed with Phillip Mangano who forced shelters and homeless services to focus on long term single adults. Now, families have to split up, and they spend much more time homeless in Cleveland. They have a hard time finding rental assistance, and children are on the move in great numbers. There are long waiting lists for housing, and a Mom has little chance of finding help with rent. We removed welfare with time limits, and now families struggle to keep their heads above water with stagnant wages. The Homeless Czar rarely talked about families. Mangano did not see the Foreclosure Tsunami that has destroyed many cities in America, and caused such pain to families. He never said that the Bush push for a "homeownership society" might not be the best policy for everyone. There is now a five year wait in Cleveland for families to get a rent subsidy for housing thanks to Bush policies.
7. He Never Criticized Bad City Policies. For the past dozen years, many cities that Mr. Mangano visited were developing policies that only made homelessness worse. They were passing anti-sitting or panhandling laws to make it illegal to be homeless. This would only extend the time a person will not be able to find housing or a job. It is a fact that those with a criminal background have a harder time finding stable housing or a decent job. Never when Mr. Mangano was shaking these Mayor's hands did he raise the issue of bad local policies. He had a great speech and heaped praise on these Mayors for their fake 10 year plans, but never said anything about sending the police out to arrest people sleeping on sidewalks. We never heard anything about compounding the problem with incarceration of mentally ill people. It is like presiding over the ribbon cutting of a new dam, and ignoring the screen door built into the center of the dam.
8. We Needed Some Coordination Among the Federal Agencies. The InterAgency Council was supposed to break down barriers in serving homeless people. It was to coordinate all the federal departments so that the HUD rules match those of Health and Human Services, the Department of Veteran Affairs, Education and Labor, etc. This never happened. We still do not have a common definition of homelessness among the agencies. Everyone of the agencies have done stupid things that harm homeless people. They do not work together to reduce the time it takes to be judged disabled or speed up the employment help. They do not have a common screening mechanism or work together to have one agency provide supportive services while the other provides housing. The federal government is just as dysfunctional for homeless people as they were when this crisis started in 1984.
Mr Mangano: you were wrong about the policies to end homelessness and you were silent on the injustices done toward homeless people over the last eight years. There are still 22 days to get the Medal of Freedom from this White House. It is time to move on; take your Powerpoint and look at a job again in the entertainment industry. Hey, how about traveling the country pushing a 10 year plan to restore the status of the Compact Disc?
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.