An ongoing issue for the City of New York and the HIV AIDS lobbyists is the way the New York City HIV and AIDS Services Administration (HASA) dispenses vouchers to people with AIDS. HASA issues vouchers to people living with AIDS when they are in the advanced stages of AIDS. This means that there are a higher number of fatalities in the shelter system, according to Sean Barry of the New York City Supportive Aids Housing Network.
To understand the larger picture, you have to go back to a guy named Phil Mangano. President Bush chose Mangano as his ‘homeless czar’ early in his administration. Mangano’s idea was to house people first - and then try to usher in services (such as meds, mental rehabilitation, etc.) The idea was to do the opposite of what had been done for so long – which was to clean people up first, and then house them. The idea was tried in San Francisco and it soon got traction. People that were being housed were taking care of themselves because they were housed.
What some AIDS activists are saying is that when you are dealing with homeless people with AIDS and HIV, they need to be housed first, and it is equally important to get to the folks that are in the earlier or middle stages of the disease. This, they feel, gives a person a fighting chance.
I brought this issue up to Comptroller William Thompson, a candidate for mayor. Thompson was well aware of HASA’s eligibility standards. The comptroller was concerned, but maintained that the people that were most in need had to be helped first.
We are now coming into a new government; a new federal government and a new state senate. The issue of low income housing will be with us for a long time. Thompson’s office has seen a great deal of investment in refurbishing property and housing construction and he says that there is no reason to not continue the trend. This also bodes well for construction jobs.
There are some conservative housing analysts that see ‘Housing First’ as simply giving housing to people for nothing. People do not even have to meet the criteria of ‘cleaning up.’ That is true, it is something of a give-away, but it comes with results. Mangano’s ideas are showing results. Consider this; a study cited in Governing magazine followed 15 chronically homeless people in San Diego for 18 months. While homeless, these people gobbled up over $3 million dollars in government services. This means, as writer Christopher Swope explains, that the city would have been better off giving these people $200,000 each. Do you earn $200,000 every 18 months? It is becoming clear that this new way of thinking might be a fix for the future.
Now, when you add HIV/AIDS to the mix, you can see how important it might be to house them first, and then get treatment regiments started. It’s a program that comes from the work of homeless academic experts like Dennis Culhane of the University of Pennsylvania and ‘homeless czar’ Philip Mangano. Mangano has said that he credits the life and writings of St. Francis Assisi for spiritual inspiration in his work, and that was part of why he thought San Francisco was a good place to try this new idea.