Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Denial Is a Strategic Option

Apparently, the Washington State Interagency Council on Homelessness had their quarterly meeting today, and Paul Carlson — Phil Mangano's man in the Northwest over at the USICH — was there to defend the inside the beltway party line.

The WA-ICH was formed two years ago by Governor Gregoire to "create greater levels of interagency coordination and to coordinate state agency efforts with the efforts of state and local entities addressing homelessness." They seem to be doing a great job, and to have a realistic sense of what might be done right now, although the state budget picture might take some of the wind out of their sails. While today's minutes are not yet on their website, last May's offer a glimpse of realists strategically getting things done. Here's the bullets from the Re-entry Housing Program presentation.
  • Efficiencies alone will not result in reducing homelessness by 50%.
  • If we are going to move things forward where do we focus to maximize impact?
  • This is a way to end homelessness for one demographic group - people coming out of institutions who have severe disabilities. It is well documented that by reducing recidivism and the associated impact on local hospitals, etc., costs are avoided.
  • The DSHS Program for Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) team is a proven model from providing intensive services, however there is no funding for housing.
  • High need/high risk offenders who are released from prisons and jails need housing and intensive services. However there is no PACT team equivalent for this group. Will there be an “ask” for an investment in the needed services?
  • For veterans, full access to veteran benefits is essential.
  • There may be a tie in to the local Community Health Centers.
  • There is a definite tie in to the local Community Justice Centers.
Good stuff. The links between homelessness, incarceration, and the disproportionate impact on people of color make this work a place where a handful of bureaucrats can make the world a good bit more rational and just.

Paul was, by all reports, a pretty decent guy before he went over to the dark side. His most recent pre-DC post was as a dweeby but good natured technocrat at Seattle's Office of Housing. Since his migration to DC, however, Paul has helped Phil spread the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness gospel with what can only be described as evangelical fervor.

In some ways, it's an easy sell. People want to believe that homelessness can be ended without addressing all that structural change stuff like inequality and the cooptation of government by the wealthy. You get good data, shift some resources around, work the cost-benefit arguments, and wa-lah, political will materializes and homelessness ends. Easy-peasy.

Part of the data collection process is to ensure said data offers the numbers to support ones case, and Paul has developed a reputation as Mangano's dog in the fight against an accurate count. At recent issue is whether the federal definition should expand to include those in "transitional housing." This would mean resources becoming available, for example, to the 903,000 kids who attend public school under the Dept. of Education definition of homeless, but do not otherwise qualify for homeless assistance. Current federal definition excludes those homeless who are doubled up or living in poverty hotels.

When the question arose of whether the Washington State definition should include transitional housing, Paul spoke. You don't want to do this, he said, "because it's going to be really hard for you to meet your target of cutting homelessness by half if you keep counting them as homeless."

This, obviously, speaks volumes about the federal strategy to "end homelessness."

A representative from Veterans Affairs said what others were thinking. "Well, that would be very artificial. They are homeless, so we will count them as homeless, and we'll just have to reduce homelessness in real ways."

Note to Paul: We here in Washington still cling to that whole "reality-based" thing. While it doesn't make your boss look as good as, say, lying, it tends to actually help people more. Think about it.


Bill said...

The second greatest casualty in all this is truth. The first are those caught in the maelstrom. It is a double indignity to have those in charge say the realities of those homeless are not really realities. I am particularly galled by the evident "decorum" of not shaming each other. Everyone mandates that we say we are doing our best. Like hell we are. If this indeed is our best, then I might actually start believing we never did go to the moon and it was just an elaborate movie set hoax,...

Diane Nilan said...

When interviewing Mangano in Springfield, IL last month for our documentary, On the Edge, about families who have experienced homelessness, his first remark was "you're not going to ask me about those families, are you?" but in fact we did, as we said we wanted to do when arranging this interview.

Let's say he didn't behave as St. Francis would have...

And Springfield is now recalibrating their 10YP. Gives some folks a chance to get out of office.

If you want to see some mind-blowing video, go to my blog,
and watch what happens when Republicans turn the table on Dems.