[Hpn] Homeless chief faces tough task

William Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Mon, 2 Dec 2002 09:39:37 -0500

Ex-Mass. leader is key Bush player
By Mary Leonard, Globe Staff, 12/2/2002
ASHINGTON - Bracing for a cold winter of overcrowded shelters and state cuts
in social services, advocates for the homeless are turning to the Bush
administration - specifically to President Bush's passionate point man on
homelessness - for more resources and a new federal strategy.

Philip Mangano, 55, former executive director of the Massachusetts Housing
and Shelter Alliance (MHSA), came to Washington eight months ago on what his
friends said was a fool's errand: to reinvigorate a lifeless federal council
on homelessness and carry out a Bush administration initiative to end
chronic homelessness in 10 years.
''I was shocked to get the call,'' said Mangano, who spent 20 years in
Boston agitating, calculating, and sometimes irritating state and city
officials for the cause of homeless people. ''It meant the White House was
willing to take a risk and have an advocate on the inside.''
While some activists and local officials say the proof of the
administration's commitment to the homeless crisis will be in its next
budget, they praise Mangano for his relentless energy and raising the
visibility of the issue at the federal level and within the Bush Cabinet.
''Philip has people's trust, and we're on the same page with him,'' said Nan
Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a nonprofit
advocacy group. ''Now, where is the plan, and where is the money?''
Mangano's start was inauspicious - he became ''homeless'' when his suite in
the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House was taken over by
Department of Homeland Security personnel. But he relocated to the
Department of Housing and Urban Development, quickly bonded with HUD
Secretary Mel Martinez, and started rebuilding the federal homelessness
council, which had been defunct since 1996 and existed only as a stack of
cardboard boxes when Mangano arrived.
Homelessness a problem among former inmates. B1.
This week, the members of the council, which is made up of 18 departments
and agencies that provide services to the homeless, will hold their second
meeting and, in a rare cooperative venture, make grants of $35 million
available to cities and nonprofit groups heading into what is expected to be
a season of record-breaking demand for emergency shelter.
In Massachusetts, homeless shelters were operating at 119 percent of
capacity in October, with demand about 2 percent higher than in 2001, said
Mary Ellen Hombs, who replaced Mangano at the MHSA. More than 330 beds added
on Nov. 1 already are filled, she said, while providers are slashing
services by 15.5 percent, the result of a $7 million budget cut enacted by
the state Legislature last summer.
Nationally, public officials say, the number of individuals and families
needing shelter is rising dramatically, a combination of joblessness and the
price of housing increasing at the same time. Mangano says he is alarmed by
what he has seen this fall in travels across the country: In both Seattle
and San Francisco, 2,000 people living on the street; in New York City, a 25
percent increase this year in homeless families; budget cuts in social
services in 45 states.
Virginia Mayer, who directs the city of Boston's office in Washington,
called the grants of $35 million ''a great start ... but a drop in the
bucket'' and is anxious to know what will be allocated for homeless programs
in the administration's 2004 budget.
Debate on the 2004 budget will begin after the holidays.
At a meeting last Monday with representatives from the nation's largest
cities, Mangano acknowledged it was a ''modest federal initiative'' but
called it a template for a new effort to coordinate and target $2 billion a
year in federal resources now scattered across many agencies.
The larger challenge is the president's initiative to end chronic
homelessness in a decade - a goal that Mangano says he believes can be met.
''In the last 20 years, we haven't gotten where we wanted,'' Mangano said,
noting that despite $14 billion spent over 20 years and 40,000 separate
programs aimed at the problem, seven homeless people currently enter
shelters for every six who leave. ''It's a leaky boat. We need new
strategies, not the old approaches that manage, maintain, or accommodate
homelessness. We need to end this social disgrace.''
In 1976, Mangano was a Los Angeles entertainment-industry executive, cutting
record deals and booking artists. He happened to see Franco Zeffirelli's
film, ''Brother Sun, Sister Moon,'' a biography of St. Francis of Assisi,
and, he says, it was a spiritual experience that transformed his life. In
two years, he was back in Boston - he had grown up in Belmont - manning the
bread line at St. Anthony's Shrine and becoming a full-time companion to the
poor and needy.
That work led to a job as the director of homeless services in Cambridge and
then to founding the Greater Boston Housing and Shelter Alliance in 1990,
which later became the MHSA, an umbrella organization for 80 agencies and
200 homeless programs.
Paul Cellucci, the former governor, recommended Mangano, whose managerial
and entrepreneurial background, strategies based on research and best
practices, and interest in performance-based, mission-driven outcomes was a
good fit in a Republican administration.
Mangano said his focus is the most visible and vulnerable homeless
population: the 10 percent who are ''chronic'' - homeless for a year or
more, and often disabled, mentally ill, or substance abusers. That 10
percent of the 600,000 to 700,000 who are homeless on any given day consumes
80 percent of private and public resources, Mangano said.
His message is that by targeting resources at the front door - at people who
are about to leave prisons, foster homes, and hospitals - chronic
homelessness can be prevented. Mangano is preaching it to federal council
members, to mayors and city managers, to nonprofit and faith-based groups
that deliver social services, and reminding them it is a radical
undertaking, endorsed by a compassionate conservative president.
''Philip's energy and passionate commitment to helping our most vulnerable
neighbors is infectious,'' said Martinez. ''He has embraced this
administration's goal of ending chronic homelessness and has been
instrumental in redefining a more coordinated and focused federal commitment
to helping those without a home to call their own.''
Mangano says he is frustrated by the ''glacial pace'' of the federal
bureacracy, and he knows that his old colleagues in the advocacy community
are watching for signs that the administration's commitment is more rhetoric
than real.
''I think people in the field are re-moralized to have someone in the
federal government with an overt commitment to ending homelessness,'' said
Mangano, who shuns Republican or Democratic labels, preferring to call
himself an ''abolitionist.'' ''You see a social wrong, and you want to right
it. You see an evil, and you want to end it.''

Mary Leonard can be reached at mleonard@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 12/2/2002.

 Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.