I'd be the last one to fault President Obama for overlooking one very important task, reshaping this nation's homelessness policies. He's had a few things to do since moving into Pennsylvania Avenue.
My Facebook page just served a rare purpose: giving me good news. My quick peruse of my friends' posts led me to the one from Timothy Harris about the pending resignation of Phil Mangano, who for the past 7 years led our nation's deteriorating homelessness policies as the head of the Interagency Council on Homelessness.
I have heard PM speak a few times. I've read some fairly negative stuff (though I can't argue the point), including this blog. I've spoken with city officials who had to deal with him, much to their dismay. I've heard from providers who decry (privately, as not to jeopardize their funding) the Continuum of Care and Point-in-Time count, and the way they have to shift their focus to fit HUD's demands.
But the clincher was last summer when my video partner, Laura Vazquez, and I tried to interview him for our documentary about homeless families. This pre-arranged interview was in Springfield, IL. We shared our purpose and questions, so as not to "Michael Moore" him.
And, after he blew off our morning appointment, we had to follow him around all day. Finally, 13 hours after our initial time, having listened to way more PM than I would ever choose, we got him for a few minutes. As I wired him and he was sitting down, he said, "I sure hope you're not going to ask me about those kids..." or something very much to that effect.
Laura was much better than I could have been. "Yes, Mr. Mangano, that's exactly what we're here for, just as we had told your 'people' as we arranged this..." or something like that.
The interview as I remember was just a waste of time.
Me, I seethed as I stood behind the camera that was too expensive to toss his way. I couldn't quite control myself when, after the interview, he made a remark that insinuated that communities wanting to serve homeless families and teens could do so if they chose. I disagreed, knowing a bit how HUD funds programs, or not, depending on compliance with policies and priorities, stated and implied.
Then Laura disagreed with a remark he made about statistics. Between the 2 of us, we probably ruined his night. He stormed off, shouting at us as he crossed the hall to leave. We stood there, not really knowing what to make about the show of anger that far exceeded a typical disagreement.
It gave us plenty to talk about on the 3-hour ride back to DeKalb. It's given me plenty of food for thought, to the point when President Obama was elected and his Change.gov site was opened for people wanting to work for his administration, I submitted my application for Executive Director of the Interagency Council.
It wasn't that I don't like what I'm doing with HEAR US. Quite the contrary. But after seeing the mess that this country has made of trying to address homelessness and poverty I couldn't hold back if I felt I'd be able to do a better job. That's how I've gotten many of my jobs in the past--complaining about a wrong but being willing to do something about it.
The person being considered (or perhaps already decided) reportedly is someone tied to the "chronic homelessness" crowd that has been opposing our campaign to expand the definition of homelessness. Described by one of my colleagues as "Phil-lite," it's hard to imagine that this person would take a drastic step away from the current direction of addressing "chronic" homelessness of single adults. He's a big city guy...so his knowledge of rural and non-urban homelessness may be limited.
But the biggest reason for concern at this point is that whoever gets the job needs to expand this nation's focus on homelessness to include the millions of invisible families and teens. It's a big job.
Seems to me that our window of opportunity has at least 4 years (minus 100 days). Time's a-wasting, especially in the eyes of the children who have no place to call home.
baby crying photo courtesy of Pat Van Doren