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Official: Solution to homelessness is business approach; County initiative touted

By Staff | Mar 19, 2008

Following a recent decision by the city of Cape Coral to award $13,191 to a new countywide homeless initiative, one of the initiative’s main proponents came to Lee County to discuss its successes in other states.

Philip Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, said Monday that the key to eliminating homelessness is taking a business approach instead of the traditional social services approach.

“We’ve added a business frame to this social service issue,” said Mangano. “It’s that evolution in this country where the momentum is and where we can see the results.”

The initiative, called the Project Homeless Connect, joins cities and counties across the country in formulating a 10-year plan to completely decimate homelessness.

“When cities across the country have developed their 10-year plans, for the first time in 25 years there have been reductions of people on the streets or in shelters,” said Mangano.

The Cape Coral City Council approved funding for the Lee County initiative on March 6. Other contributors include: Bonita Springs, $3,715.63; Fort Myers, $5,612.03; Fort Myers Beach, $586.91; Sanibel, $539.70; and unincorporated Lee County, $26,354.40.

The Cape committed the second highest amount toward the initiative behind unincorporated Lee County.

Mangano said the 10-year plan to end homelessness would be a business plan based on business principles. This would involve talking with homeless people to find out what they want and need.

“In business, you have to talk to your customer,” he said. “Before now we always thought social service centers were our customers, but they aren’t.”

Cities and counties would next establish a baseline, which would be the number of people in a given community who need help. That information would be tested and quantified with a series of benchmarks, Mangano said.

“You need to find ideas or best practices from other cities and counties across the country,” he said. “But, there are only a finite number of innovative ideas.”

The final step would be to set aside a certain amount of funds from the budget to assist homeless people in their transition.

“We can’t simply place vulnerable people into a home and think our job is done, we need to offer support services,” Mangano said.

The basis of the 10-year plan is that it would be more cost effective in the long term, instead of spending more money annually on homeless individuals who ricochet through the system — substance abuse or mental health facilities, emergency rooms, courts or police interventions.

According to Lee County Human Services, no male shelter exists in Lee County, and there are only a handful of places for women and children.

Cape councilmembers have said the city does not have exact figures, but the homeless population in the Cape encapsulates more than a quarter of the county’s total homeless population.

Last year the federal government reported the national homeless population dropped by 12 percent for the first time in 25 years. Using data taken from 2005 to 2006, the number fell from almost 176,000 to 156,000.

Mangano said he has seen some of the early population numbers for 2006 and 2007, and he expects there to be another decline.