January 23, 2009

THE ONE THING W WILL NEVER BE FORGIVEN IS HIS SUCCESS:

Changing the Verb of Homelessness (Daniel Allott, 1.23.09, American Spectator)

The man most responsible for the precipitous drop in homelessness is Philip Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. In a recent interview, Mangano talked to me about the secret to his success, which is rooted in his mission "to change the verb of homelessness. After 20 years of managing the crisis, our intent was ending the disgrace."

This small shift in emphasis has produced great results. Besides the 30 percent decrease in chronic homelessness (defined as homelessness of at least one year of a person with serious mental illness and/or drug or alcohol addiction), there was a 12 percent reduction in overall homelessness nationally (from 763,000 to 672,000). Also, there was an almost 40 percent decrease in the number of homeless veterans between 2001 and 2007.

In order to move from managing homelessness to ending it, Mangano recognized the need for his agency to get rid of the old strategies. Under President Clinton, funding was tripled for programs to decrease homelessness, but the number of homeless only increased. "We had been busy servicing homeless people," Mangano says, "spending more money without any results."

So when he was appointed by President Bush to lead the council in 2002, Mangano and his team implemented an approach to homelessness that was entirely appropriate for the administration of the first president with an MBA. "For many years," Mangano says, "the issue of homelessness was driven by anecdote, conjecture, guess work and feeling." But with Mangano at the helm, the touchy-feelyness was replaced by a results-oriented business approach rooted in evidence and data.

And, predictably, the evidence showed that moving chronically homeless people into housing units was the only reliable way to end chronic homelessness.

The council's "housing first" strategy was truly an innovation in compassion. But it also sounded expensive. And the seven consecutive years of record resources targeted to homeless people (this year's budget includes an unprecedented eighth year of record resources for homelessness) might make fiscal conservatives wince. But Mangano's position is: What's cheaper: putting homeless people in homes, or letting them cycle through shelters, hospital emergency rooms, jails and the street?

He says, "We discovered through our research that these are some of the most expensive people to the public purse, randomly ricocheting through very expensive primary health, behavioral health, law enforcement and court systems." The results of 65 cost studies revealed that the true costs of chronic homelessness are staggering, between $35,000 and $150,000 a year per person.


One peculiarity of conservative ideologues is that they oppose spending money up front to save money later.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 23, 2009 8:35 AM
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