Federal official urges new homeless policies

Posted: March 27, 2008

In the face of a rising homeless population in Philadelphia, the head of a federal council on homelessness yesterday urged Mayor Nutter to come up with a new strategy for attacking the problem.

Philip Mangano, executive director of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, also told the mayor to go on a "pilgrimage" to see for himself innovations that are working in other cities, like Denver, Seattle, Portland, Atlanta and Miami.

"All of those cities have seen a reduction in homelessness," Mangano said.

Mangano helps coordinate the federal response to homelessness and create partnerships in government and the private sector.

Mangano said he requested a meeting with Nutter after meeting him in January at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington.

They spoke privately yesterday in the mayor's office, with Mangano later discussing what was said. In an interview with The Inquirer, Mangano said the new mayor had a "real appetite" for delving into the subject of ending homelessness.

Asked about a strategy, Luke Butler, a spokesman for Nutter, said the mayor was working on a homeless plan with short- as well as long-term goals. He said the mayor would announce the plan in mid-April.

Two years ago, Mayor John F. Street came up with a 10-year plan to end homelessness. But with the numbers going up - both in terms of the street population in Center City and shelter capacity - Mangano said it was time for Nutter to "recalibrate" the city's plan.

Mangano said the federal focus today was on "solving homelessness and not managing it." To that end, he said, the priority is "housing first" - creating permanent housing for individuals who are chronically homeless and living on streets or cycling in and out of shelters for years.

Mangano said Philadelphia is getting a record $29 million this year for homeless programs from the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development.

When asked by Nutter why some cities were succeeding at bringing their numbers down, Mangano cited four factors: the political will of a city's top executive, an approach framed around business principles, the involvement of the business community, and an ability to adopt the best practices.

Mangano said San Francisco, for instance, involved members of the business community in reviewing every contract the city had with providers of homeless services. Those that fit the city's overall plan to end homelessness were continued; those that didn't were dropped, he said.

Some innovations by cities have been small, he said. Denver, for instance, had a severe problem with panhandling.

The city set up receptacles around the city that looked like parking meters where people who wanted to help the homeless could make spontaneous donations, instead of handing out change to panhandlers.

He said Denver, too, reached out to faith-based groups to sponsor homeless individuals. The city put up part of the money for permanent housing, with a faith group coming up with the rest and also serving as a mentor for a person.

Mangano said San Francisco and Atlanta have tried to focus attention on reuniting homeless people on the streets or shelters with family members.

"Innovation is happening in the arena of homelessness," Mangano said.

Contact staff writer Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659 or jlin@phillynews.com.

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