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Wednesday, July 23, 2008 07:25 am

“They want a place”

Springfield agencies are stepping up to provide housing for the homeless

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Even though President George W. Bush appointed him to head the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness in 2002, Philip F. Mangano didn't utter his boss' name once during his two-and-a-half-hour presentation in Springfield last week. Instead, he simply referred to "the administration I serve."

Nor does Bush's name occur once in Mangano's extensive biography, found on the interagency council's government-run Web site.

It's likely a wise course, considering that the president's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced a surge in homeless veterans and in light of the fact that Wyoming, the home state of Vice President Dick Cheney, is the only state in the nation that has not established a

state interagency council on homelessness.

Besides, even though Mangano represents a Republican administration, he collaborates with the mayors of several major U.S. cities, many of whom are Democrats.

"The D's and the R's are united on the issue of ending homelessness," Mangano said.

Political will is crucial to combating homelessness, said Mangano, who applauded the administration of Mayor Tim Davlin and several other groups leading the effort to fight homelessness.

Homeless people, Mangano added, should be treated like consumers who give input on what services are offered to their community, not as charity cases who

should accept whatever they're given.

"They don't want a pill or a program or a protocol. They want a place [to live]," Mangano said.

In Springfield, shelter for the homeless has long been limited. Although the number of people who don't have permanent homes has declined steadily in the capital city — from 443 people in 2005 to 303 in 2008, according to annual counts — the actual numbers are believed to be much higher.

"They're sleeping in back yards and behind churches. It's sad that there are individuals who have to live like this in our nation, which has so many abundant blessings," said Billie Aschmeller, a representative of Homeless United for Change who was herself homeless until several months ago.

Last week several Springfield agencies unveiled projects aimed at helping more people move off the streets of the capital city.

• The Springfield Housing Authority will build 41 mixed-income housing units on the former site of the Major Byrd Hi-Rise, which was demolished in 2007. Construction, set to begin this fall, is scheduled for completion
in 2009.

• The SHA, with help from Abundant Faith Ministries, Fifth Street Renaissance, Helping Hands, and MERCY Communities, has received a three-year state grant for 19 low- to middle-income family units.

• The Washington Street Missionis nearing completion on $60,000 in repairs, including new showers and changing rooms, additional restrooms, and laundry space. The mission also wants to implement a job-readiness program and other services and expand its hours of operation.

• Fifth Street Renaissance has received federal funding to construct a facility for homeless and disabled veterans. The organization, working with the SHA, also has plans to renovate the vacant All Star Inn, 2224 E Cook St., for 19 single-occupant units.

In addition, Davlin has committed Springfield to the America's Road Home Statement of Principles and Action, established by Mangano's agency, which comprises 20 cabinet departments and other federal agencies. Davlin says his administration has committed unprecedented time and energy to the issue of homelessness, which, he adds, cannot be solved by any one community entity.

The mayor's task force on homelessness will also take on an oversight rather than an advisory role, and the city is recalibrating its 10-year plan to end homelessness.

Once this is complete, city community-relations director Sandy Robinson, who co-chairs the task force, will likely relinquish that role, Robinson said.

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com.

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