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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, January 9, 2005

Point man for Bush pushes new cure for homelessness

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

Philip Mangano, President Bush's coordinator for homeless programs, toured two facilities on O'ahu yesterday and invoked the words of Albert Einstein to point out what has been wrong about America's approach to one of its growing social problems — more and more people with no place to stay.

Federal coordinator Philip Mangano intends to end chronic homelessness within 10 years.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

"Einstein said a sure sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping something different will happen," Mangano said as he visited the Barbers Point Homeless Veterans Program at Kalaeloa.

That, Mangano said, is what America has done for two decades while the problem has only become more acute. So it's time to try a new approach, he said.

And the right new approach, Mangano said over and over again, could eliminate chronic homelessness in America in 10 years. By the end of the day, he had convinced many people that such a goal is quite viable.

Fifty governors, including Hawai'i's Linda Lingle, 170 mayors, including Honolulu's Mufi Hannemann, 20 U.S. government agencies and Bush have committed to joining the campaign to end chronic homelessness within a decade, said Mangano.

"On the issue of homelessness, partnership trumps partisanship," he said. "On this issue there is no D or R. That's the spirit I'm finding around the country."

Philip Mangano, right, talks with Myron Lathan of Veterans in Progress. Darryl Vincent, director of veterans housing in Kalaeloa, is at left.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

President Bush began the initiative in 2002 when he made Mangano executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness — which coordinates the efforts of 20 government agencies. Since then, the president has spent more money on homelessness than any president in history, he said.

"This year Hawai'i received record funding, well over $7 million," said Mangano, who is recognized as a visionary on the matter of ending homelessness. "And that's money specifically targeted for homeless people."

Mangano said he was on O'ahu to speak with Lingle and Hannemann. But it was during his visits to the Barbers Point Homeless Veterans Program at Kalaeloa and the Mental Health Kokua on South Beretania Street that everyday folks got a chance to meet a man who is passionate in his conviction that the time is right to be "re-moralized" about the issue of homelessness.

"We don't want to be demoralized any longer," he told Myron Lathan, 49, a formerly homeless veteran and ex-convict who now works as a coordinator for the Kalaeloa facility's Veterans in Progress program to pay the rent on his small $450-a-month room on the third floor of Building 34.

Lathan had no trouble believing Mangano when he said there are a disproportionate number of homeless veterans. He nodded when Mangano said one out of every four people who come out of prison has no place to go.

Lathan said that when he was homeless, he encountered lots of good intentions and very little follow-through. Eventually, he said, he became conditioned to stop trusting. He's convinced he has turned around his life largely because the program at Kalaeloa followed through on its efforts to help him during the difficult transition from being homeless to becoming a productive citizen.

"A place like this helps you get back on your feet," said Edward Pierce, another veteran who has served time.

Kevin Barnett, the program's outreach case manager, told Mangano that Hawai'i has many others who need to get back on their feet. On O'ahu alone, he said, there are an estimated 5,000 homeless.

That should be 5,000 reasons to be motivated, according to Mangano, who said dealing effectively with the issue is simply the right thing to do.

"When we were kids, we knew what we were supposed to do for our poorest neighbors," he said. "And it wasn't leaving them out on the streets. It was to do for them what we would have done for us."

If that's not enough, he offered another compelling reason to find a solution: The cost of doing nothing is astronomical.

Studies around the country have shown that it's more expensive to leave chronic homeless people out on the streets than it is to house them and provide the services they need, he said.

Mangano cited a study by the University of California at San Diego in the late 1990s that followed 15 chronic street people for 18 months. By the end of that time, the subjects had accumulated hundreds of trips to emergency wards in ambulances accompanied by emergency medical technicians in order to spend multiple days in the hospital.

Factoring in police interventions and periods of incarceration, Mangano said, researchers concluded the 15 homeless people cost the city of San Diego $3 million.

"It was $200,000 per person," he said. "So what they thought was, 'Wait a minute — we could have placed these people in rented oceanside condos and provided all the services and servants they needed and it would have been less expensive.'

"But what aggravated them the most was, after spending $3 million in 18 months for 15 people, the homeless people were in the same position as they were at the start."

Mangano said of his mission: "What we're trying to do is create a partnership around the country, because what we've learned is that no one level of government can get this done alone. The federal government has tried, and it hasn't worked. The state government has tried. Hasn't worked. City governments, nonprofits, and philanthropists have tried — and it has only gotten worse."

What will succeed, he insisted, is for everyone to work together to end the problem.