Page One

Bush Homeless Czar Pays a Visit

By Matthew Artz
Tuesday January 20, 2004

It’s not every day a high-ranking Bush Administration official pays Berkeley a visit. So when President Bush’s homelessness czar Philip Mangano shuffled into a shelter Friday wearing a sharper suit than the TV reporters following his every move, people took notice. 

“People were treating him like a movie star,” said Cleo Smith, one of several shelter residents to approach Mangano. “I don’t think this means Bush will give us any more money.” 

That’s not necessarily the case, said Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness—who, along with Mayor Bates, made a brief pit stop at Berkeley’s Veterans Building as the last leg of a Bay Area visit to pitch the development of 10-year plans to end chronic homelessness. 

“I’m at the budget table. We’re constellating the political will to make this happen,” he said, pointing to a nine percent increase last year in federal spending on the homeless.  

With fresh funding comes new directives. While the Clinton Administration focused on providing the homeless with a web of services, Mangano wants to shift money away from services and towards housing, a policy he said worked while he directed a homeless advocacy group in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

“We have to give the customer what he’s asking for,” Mangano said. “When you talk to people on the street, they don’t want pills, they want a place to live.” 

Berkeley officials backed Mangano’s policies, but questioned his administration’s sincerity. 

“My strong fear is this is a fig leaf of compassion from an administration whose objective is to destroy the federal government as we know it,” said Berkeley Housing Director Stephen Barton. 

At a meeting before the shelter visit, Barton asked for more money and urged Mangano to loosen restrictions on Section 8 housing grants so Berkeley could better fund programs that combine housing with support services. 

A Section 8 voucher won’t work in most cases, Barton said, because the chronically homeless don’t get counseling, mess up and get evicted. He estimated that with greater spending flexibility and about $5 million more in federal funds—on top of the roughly $9 million Berkeley and its care providers already receive—the city could end chronic homelessness within four years. 

Alameda County has already started work on its 10-year plan, scheduled for completion in the fall. County Homeless Continuum of Care Coordinator Megan Schatz said neighboring counties will align their plans so homeless have no incentive to cross county lines for better service and that in addition to building more supportive housing for chronically homeless, Alameda will address housing for AIDS patients and tackle some of the chief feeders of homelessness—prisons, foster care, and psychiatric hospitals. 

A countywide survey conducted last year counted 835 homeless people in Berkeley, about two-thirds labeled chronic. That was about 200 fewer than previous estimates. But Robert Long who runs services for Berkeley’s homeless at the shelter said he’s seeing on average as 140 per day, up significantly from several years ago. 

“For every one we get into permanent housing there are two more to take their place,” he said. “I’d love to go out of business, but I don’t think in 10 years this is going to be a thing of the past.” 

For those who want to see Mangano succeed, they can only hope the charm he displayed Friday works as well on Republicans in Washington.  

Strolling through the shelter he pressed the flesh of residents and crashed a group session for recovering addicts, proclaiming, “Man I thought this was the Oakland Raiders. You guys look like the Oakland Raiders.” When a member told him they had “become like a family,” he said, “That’s what I meant, you guys look like a team.” 

Shortly thereafter when Cleo Smith assailed Bush, Mangano protested, “We can’t be partisan on this. We can see the end of homelessness, but we won’t solve it if we divide into Democrats and Republicans.” 

Smith shook his head, prompting Mangano to end the conversation saying, “Pray for your president. He needs your help. You don’t have to like him to pray for him.”