Thursday, December 03, 2009

Philip Mangano: Republican hero

Photo by Lance Iversen for the Chronicle

More than five years ago, there was a turning point in San Francisco's approach to homelessness. Philip Mangano, head of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, came to town to help Mayor Newsom and Angela Alioto, head of the mayor's Ten Year Planning Council, introduce the city's Plan to Abolish Chronic Homelessness.

Mangano was back in SF the other day:

The man who led the nation's homelessness policy for seven years and trumpeted groundbreaking initiatives in San Francisco stood on a street corner the other day confronting the evidence, in the flesh, that the problem is far from solved...Mangano lasted about 100 days into the Obama administration before resigning May 15. He says the president is heading in the right direction on homelessness---particularly with new initiatives to house homeless veterans---but he also believes he can make a bigger contribution now by directing his newly formed American Round Table to Abolish Homelessness. The nonprofit, with its half-dozen staff members and headquarters in Massachusetts, advocates for the same things Mangano did when he was in Washington: ending homelessness, particularly involving the most acute cases, by providing housing and counseling rather than merely shelter and food (Kevin Fagan, Dec. 1, 2009, emphasis added).

This is the central insight that led to Mayor Newsom's success, however limited, in dealing with the city's homeless problem: it's mostly about the most "acute" cases, the chronically homeless who eat up the most resources as they cycle in and out of emergency rooms and the city jail: "An estimated 20% of San Francisco's homeless population meets the definition of 'chronically homeless,' yet these 3,000 individuals, including families, consume 63% of our annual homeless budget, comprising both City, State, and Federal funding." (San Francisco Plan to Abolish Chronic Homelessness, page 7)

Mangano's approach: get the chronically homeless off the streets and save a lot of money while you save lives. The best account of how Mangano changed the city's---and the country's---thinking on homelessness is Malcolm Gladwell's "Million Dollar Murray" in the New Yorker four years ago.

C.W. Nevius reminds us that the Million-Dollar-Murray problem is still with us in SF, as it no doubt is all across the country.

Good to see that the Chronicle's Kevin Fagan is back on the homeless beat. Fagan wrote the fine series years ago in the Chron that described the growing squalor on city streets that led to city voters passing Care Not Cash and to the election of Gavin Newsom as Mayor of San Francisco.

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