[Hpn] Washington, DC News:Shift of homeless services eyed;Washington Times;6/19/01

Morgan W. Brown morganbrown@hotmail.com
Thu, 21 Jun 2001 10:15:53 -0400


-------Forwarded article-------

Tuesday, June 19, 2001
Washington Times
[Washington, D.C.]
National/Politics section
Shift of homeless services eyed

By George Archibald

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez is negotiating to 
transfer the bulk of HUD´s $1.1 billion homeless program to the Health and 
Human Services Department.

Mr. Martinez said at a breakfast yesterday with editors and reporters of The 
Washington Times that he and HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson have met about 
a proposed shift of responsibilities for the homeless, and the two 
departments have created a joint task force "to try to unravel the 
regulatory maze that now happens on issues of the homeless."

Congress would have to approve the transfer.

The housing department has "spent a large, large sum of money over the past 
10 years on homeless issues, with very little to show for it," Mr. Martinez 
said. "The homeless population seems to be about the same as it was, while 
at the same time HUD dollars seem to go more and more towards services than 
they do towards the things that HUD does, which is housing, shelter."

About 70 percent of HUD´s spending for the homeless is for mental health 
counseling, drug and alcohol treatment, and other services unrelated to 
shelter, Mr. Martinez said.

"Homelessness I think, by and large, is an issue of addiction, mental 
illness and things of that nature. We really have to, at HUD, do those 
things that only HUD does. HHS can be the health provider, the care 
provider, but the only one that does shelter is HUD."

Both secretaries are amenable to shifting homeless services, although Mr. 
Martinez said he prefers to have a federal partnership with faith-based 
organizations to provide counseling and treatment services to homeless 
adults and children.

"We don´t do it well, first of all. I´m not sure HHS does it well either, 
frankly, but maybe a faith-based organization would do it best of all, 

President Bush has assigned Mr. Martinez as the administration´s point man 
in identifying government barriers to the president´s faith-based 
initiative. The HUD secretary said he would issue an inventory of barriers 
by the end of next month.

"The bottom line is we are very focused" on the president´s initiative, he 
said. "We´re really the lead agency on this, and we´re going to be very much 
pushing forward on that."

Mr. Martinez recalled his own experience as one of 14,000 "Pedro Pans" -- 
Cuban children who escaped Fidel Castro´s Cuba between December 1960 and 
October 1962 with help from the Kennedy administration and the Catholic 
diocese in Miami, which placed him in a foster home 41/2 years before his 
parents could leave the communist-controlled island.

He said of Mr. Bush´s faith-based initiative: "It´s a program and an idea 
that I very much relate to and understand because, in my own life, I was 
touched by Catholic charities ... in partnership with the federal 

The HUD secretary said he has asked congressional leaders to give him leeway 
to rebuild the management team and morale at HUD, which were severely 
damaged with the appointments by his predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, of political 
operatives called "community builders" at HUD offices throughout the 

The political appointments bypassed HUD´s career professionals -- "not good 
management, in my view. We´re going in a different direction," Mr. Martinez 

Some congressional leaders want prompt action on new HUD spending 
initiatives "to get more housing production going," he said. "I´m saying, 
give me a year, let´s catch our breath. Before we do more, before we throw 
more money at the problem, wouldn´t you want to know that the $30 billion 
you´re already putting in here a year is being well spent?"

A major concern is "endemic corruption" in about a dozen of the country´s 
3,600 federally funded local housing authorities, particularly in New 
Orleans and Puerto Rico, the secretary said.

"I think that there has been an attitude that boys will be boys," he said of 
corrupt HUD employees, contractors and local housing officials. "Only a 
dozen or so (of local housing authorities) are chronically troubled, but 
those are really bad. And so that sort of permeates the whole atmosphere. We 
need to be more vigilant about that, also expecting more of our local mayors 
who oftentimes get a pass on all this."

HUD´s inspector general and a recent state audit catalogued rampant 
misspending by the New Orleans housing agency, which was unable to account 
for $1 million spent during the review period. Auditors also could not 
account for three months worth of taxes withheld from the paychecks of 
housing agency employees but not received by the Internal Revenue Service.

In Puerto Rico, prosecutors have won at least 13 indictments against local 
housing officials charged with embezzling more than $2.5 million in federal 

Because of the corruption scandal, Congress blocked payment of a $130 
million settlement won by the Puerto Rico Public Housing Authority in a 
lawsuit charging HUD had shortchanged it over the years.

A House-Senate conference committee blocked payment in an appropriations 
measure in September until Congress received assurances that the scandal had 
been investigated and HUD´s inspector general had given the Puerto Rican 
agency a clean bill of health.


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-------End of forward-------

Morgan <morganbrown@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA

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