Thursday, July 26, 2007

What's wrong with Springfield's homeless plans

I don't usually reprint an entire article, but this one is just too good...really puts a finger on the flaws in Phil Mangano's plans to end homelessness.

I will never forget sitting at the back of the room at Mayor Ryan's press conference about Springfield's ten year plan, and listening to Bush appointee Phil Mangano congratulate the city. The irony of a guy representing an administration that has decimated housing opportunities talking about ending chronic homelessness seemed to be lost on our public officials.

Seems they forgot the reason it’s called home-less-ness

By Paul Boden, Contributing columnist

The Republicans may have lost control of Congress, but they still maintain a tight rein on homeless policy and the public perception of homelessness. The House and Senate can change and change again, but thanks to the tireless efforts of the White House, Department of Housing and Urban Development and National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), the acknowledged “experts” on homelessness still are Phil Mangano with his traveling minstrel show, HUD with their federally funded studies, and White House award winning NAEH with their compassionate conservative approach to “ending homelessness.”

Immediately after last November’s elections, NAEH and Mangano (head of Bush’s Interagency Council on Homelessness) embarked upon editorial board tours around the country, to ensure that the administration’s 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness initiative would continue to be perceived as the One True Way to address homelessness. Their message is clear — that homelessness as we know it today is not caused by the lack of affordable housing, but by the failures of a few bottom-feeding individuals and emergency service programs.

They steer clear of the federal government’s refusal to preserve and promote affordable housing. Instead, they promote yet another set of plans to be created by communities already in competition with each other over scraps from their HUD master’s table. There are more than 470 Homeless Planning Boards as well as more than 200 10-Year Plans already in place, all competing for the biggest piece of the less than $1.4 billion HUD is allocated to dole out for homelessness assistance.

“$100 million has been added to homeless assistance!” they say, “George Bush cares, he really do.”

They don’t mention the $290 million cut from public housing operating expenses, or the thousands of security and maintenance workers laid-off from Public Housing Authorities, or the vacant units being sold off rather than renovated and rented to poor people. They don’t talk about the 100,000 public housing units lost between 1996 and 2005 nationwide. They certainly don’t talk about the zero funding for new public housing since 1996, and they are a bit reticent about the 4,000 undamaged public housing units being demolished in New Orleans along with those that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Chronic homelessness, they say, is the problem. Worry not, because once we solve that, we’ll get back to the other 90 percent of you poor schmucks without housing.

In the meantime, what we need are more plans in place to deal with us poor schmucks when we become chronic. And, they have even thoughtfully provided a step-by-step guide to writing effective 10-Year Plans, to help plan writers secure funds to alleviate the “visible impact” of “chronic homelessness” on their “community’s safety and attractiveness.” And in the meantime, the thousands of poor people and families losing their housing every year should just tough it out, (or perhaps chill out and smoke some “chronic”) until the chronics are under control.

In the meantime, housing subsidies are better directed toward mortgage lenders and wealthier households, to the tune of $122 billion a year; those pesky poor people looking for a place to rent can make do with the less than $30 billion, and decreasing, allocated to HUD.

Besides, housing has nothing to do with homelessness. HUD pays experts to write reports proving conclusively that what homeless people really need is biometric tracking, life skills training and leased single resident occupancy rooms with case managers in the front office, and they need 10-Year Plans to be written for them.

It’s funny that once upon a time, our federal government created HUD, a Social Security system, and the Works Progress Administration — all without having to write a single 10-Year Plan, and these programs actually worked!

2007 marks the 20th anniversary of the federal government’s primary response to contemporary homelessness, the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act of 1987. The money provided by this act has become the lifeblood of National Alliance to End Homelessness and the Interagency Council on Homelessness as they promote the chronic homeless initiative and mobilize a policy movement in support of itself. After 20 years of writing plan after plan after plan on how “best” to spend McKinney money and “end homelessness,” there hasn’t been one damn plan to restore the cuts to federal funding for affordable housing, which is, after all, what got us here in the first place.

Tell Congress, tell the White House, tell your mama and your papa too. Say it to anyone who will listen and write it to those who won't. Nothing ends homelessness like a home.

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