SOCIAL ISSUES : Clinton Surrogates Hit Road to Get Backing for Homeless Plan


Concerned that the Clinton Administration’s high-priority initiative to combat homelessness is stuck in a Senate logjam, federal officials are traveling across the country to rally support to help push the plan through Congress.

At President Clinton’s urging, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry G. Cisneros and other officials have embarked on a campaign to persuade the public and influential mayors--including Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan--to urge Congress to act on the bill before adjourning next month.

Cisneros has a special stake in the plan. He predicted this year that by the end of Clinton’s current term, HUD homeless programs will have reduced by one-third the estimated 60,000 men, women and children living on streets and beaches and in parks and shelters each night.


The plan has broad bipartisan support in Congress. But it is being held up by Senate Republicans who are trying to stall virtually all business until after the November elections, which they expect will give them more seats in Congress and greater clout in shaping legislation.

The measure would double the amount of federal spending to fight homelessness to $1.7 billion in 1995. “If we don’t get the money, we’re not going to be able to reduce homelessness,” said Andrew Cuomo, HUD assistant secretary for community planning and development, who is on a 10-city tour to drum up support for the bill.

The goal is to revolutionize the way homelessness is addressed, creating a federally supported program to push cities to design aggressive plans to tackle the problem.

The new approach was crafted because Administration officials believe the problem has become so deeply rooted in society that the piecemeal responses of charities and churches are not sufficient and should be augmented by coordinated, comprehensive public policy headed by local governments with federal guidance and funding.

In Los Angeles today, Cuomo and Riordan plan a joint pitch along those lines as they help launch an expanded program for recovering substance abusers, paid for with $2 million of federal funds. The project involves renovating an annex of the Russ House on Skid Row.

Overall, the HUD initiative stands to increase federal dollars directed to Los Angeles sixfold, to about $65 million. It requires the city to address the homelessness problem in a new way, channeling funds to programs that offer permanent solutions by treating the complex reasons for homelessness instead of just providing food and shelter.


The department also is challenging the city to come up with a system for reaching out to the homeless where they are--outside the Civic Center or on benches in Pershing Square. Those who are mentally ill would be given psychological treatment, medication and specially adapted, supportive living situations. Those who are substance abusers would be sent to drug and alcohol programs. Those without job skills would be directed to training.

A radical aspect of the program is that the federal government wants to pay for performance. Under the Los Angeles plan, the city would be reimbursed for each person who is given a long-term alternative to living on the streets. For example, the city would be paid for each homeless person who finds a job or is placed in long-term housing or a hospital or supportive living situation for the mentally ill, or who signs up for drug or alcohol treatment.

The appropriations bill that includes the federal funds has been approved by the House and appears certain to pass in the Senate. The measure that authorizes use of those funds for the Administration’s new strategy, however, is in jeopardy. Although the measure apparently has no strong opposition in the Senate, it is being held up along with virtually all other legislation in the Republican parliamentary maneuvering.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, at its leadership meeting last week in Knoxville, Tenn., voiced support for the measure.

“All of us--Republican and Democrat, metropolitan city and small town--share the firm commitment to reduce the suffering of homeless children, women and men,” the organization wrote in a letter to Clinton.