Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Fighting the Good Fight in DC

Maybe there's hope after all.

Tony Lee thinks so. Tony is the lobbyist for Poverty Action and is one of the distinguished old men of our movement. When he says something, it's usually a good idea to listen.

A few weeks ago we found ourselves at the same event, and as Speaker of the House Frank Chopp went on about something or another in the next room, we retreated to the food table and went to work on those little fruit tart pies that always show up at these things. I tried to sell Tony on my Phil Mangano bounty offer, and described how the homeless ten year plans were misleading our movement, ignoring poverty, and providing cover for the federally led slaughter of the poor. I admitted to having gone a little bit insane recently.

Tony said I should relax, because the national poverty agenda had new momentum and unity and would basically outflank the "advocacy" whores who have sold out poor people in the name of growing the poverty industry.

He didn't actually say "advocacy whores." But I'm sure that's what he meant.

There's some encouraging evidence that he's right. This Thursday, a beltway press conference will be held to mark the twentieth anniversary of the McKinney-Vento Act. While an earlier post here compared national homeless advocates to yappy little dogs, that now seems unfair. It has been pointed out that yappy dogs have done little to deserve such a comparison.

But more to the point, a consensus statement of national level homeless advocates has been drafted, and the ten year plan strategy is nowhere to be found. In fact, the statement addresses the deficiencies of the federally driven policy alternative quite explicitly.

There is none of the rah-rah "we're winning against homelessness" crap that Mangano and company seem to live for. There is explicit recognition that McKinney-Vento is necessary but not sufficient. There is a call for the feds to dramatically expand their role in providing housing. There is recognition that the attack on poor people's programs must be halted and reversed. The civil rights crisis that exists for homeless people is named, and there is a call for a wage-led strategy to reduce poverty.

This is very good news. While the US Interagency Council on Homelessness and the National Alliance, by virtue of superior resources and political clout, have made the Ten Year Plan paradigm seem like the only game in town, a quiet revolution has bubbled underground.

I got a hint of this last week when a homeless advocate from a southeastern state called to talk. He found my blog when he Googled "philip mangano is the devil." Myself and the staff at WRAP helped him with material for a presentation at the NAEH conference.

Also revealing is the fact that an NAEH conference workshop on McKinney-Vento turned into a minor revolution. NAEH organizers had set up the workshop to only promote CPEHA (the version they favor), and dismissed alternative legislation with the following sentence: "There are two other proposals, the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act of 2007 (HEARTH) (HR 840) and the Administration's Homeless Assistance Consolidation Act of 2007, which has not yet been introduced."

Workshop attendees revolted, and shared their own comparisons of the competing versions of legislation. As one person relayed, "The folks that I talked to were disgusted. That is sloppy, misleading, and irresponsible. That is pretty much how they felt and I know first hand that they complained about it."

This week's press conference is more evidence still. The Ten Things to End Homelessness list is basically a big fuck you to Phil "I love Project Connect and Ten Year Plans" Mangano. Take a look:
1. Assist currently homeless people by reauthorizing and doubling funds for HUD McKinney-Vento programs.

2. Create housing for low-income households by enacting a National Housing Trust Fund.

3. Protect, preserve, and expand existing federal housing programs that serve the lowest-income people.

4. Appropriate funds for at least 5,000 Section 8 housing vouchers forhomeless veterans through the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program.

5. Expand access to addiction and mental health services for people experiencing homelessness through reauthorization of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

6. Increase homeless and low-income persons’ access to healthcare by reauthorizing and expanding the Consolidated Health Centers program.

7. Increase homeless persons’ access to mainstream disability income, temporary assistance, and workforce investment services.

8. Provide homeless children and youth with increased services and support by reauthorizing the Education for Homeless Children and Youth program in the No Child Left Behind Act and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act.

9. Require the Administration to develop and publish a coordinated federal plan to end homelessness.

10. Require jurisdictions receiving federal housing funds to protect the civil rights of homeless persons.

This is a major step in the right direction. I like number nine in particular, which calls USICH on its strategy to devolve all responsibility for homelessness to the localities.

Here's the thing though. Better positions only take us part way there. To get these ideas off paper and into legislation, we need to broaden our political base and vision, build for power, and make poverty into the kind of issue that political leaders have to address or else.

Gimmicky press conferences alone won't make much of a difference, but if the signers of this statement can figure out how to back these words up with the kind of action that makes people listen, then we'll be getting somewhere.

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