"Abolitionist" Continued...

Issue: "Save our cities," April 19, 2008

That surprising comparison casts Mangano's vision as the fiscally responsible option, which has helped convince the Bush administration to increase federal funding for combating homelessness every year since taking office. The proposed 2009 budget allocates more than $5 billion toward the cause, almost double the amount of 2001.

Mangano says the extra federal funds are a temporary necessity until housing first can fully replace outdated public initiatives that still demand money for little result. In the interim, as minds slowly change, government is funding the new and the old approaches.

Among the more controversial government-funded, housing-first projects, 1811 Eastlake in Seattle rewards 75 of the worst drunks in the area with housing in an $11 million downtown facility. Tenants of the building pay little to no rent and are allowed to drink in their rooms (see "Bunks for drunks," Oct. 14, 2006). That kind of operation may reduce ugly statistics, clean up city streets, and perhaps even save taxpayer dollars, but it will not help anyone turn from the self-destructive decisions that first created the problem.

The question of personal responsibility is no simple matter. Conservatives who often are quick to place blame for homelessness entirely at the feet of the homeless are as much ideologues as the political left when it shifts the blame to small-government policies and social inequality. In reality, some of the homeless have earned their plight, and others have not.

For his part, Mangano avoids partisan rhetoric: "People always ask me, 'Are you a Democrat, a Republican, what are you?' I tell them, 'I'm an abolitionist.'" But the agenda associated with that moniker indicates a particular worldview. Mangano sees homelessness as a moral outrage perpetrated by society on those least able to defend themselves.

Casting himself in the mold of William Wilberforce and Frederick Douglass, he denounces the very existence of homelessness in the United States-as though a modern and wealthy society ought to establish systems that preclude any individual from wrestling with the consequences of sin. For Wilberforce and Douglass, condemnation of sin was at the center of their message.

To whom does Mangano direct his call for repentance? "I'm not so presumptuous as to call anybody to repent," he said. "But as a result of this national movement we have seen over and over all across our country churches repenting in the sense of what that word really means, which is to turn 180 degrees. We've seen churches move from simply making a charitable response-the soup kitchen, the bread line, the drive-by feeding that suburban churches enjoy doing-to being part of the solution."

But the question remains: What does it mean to solve homelessness? For Mangano, it's about moving people from sidewalks to housing and keeping them there. For churches committed to the biblical mandate for compassion, the agenda must also include accountability and heart change. And of that, no church should ever repent.


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