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COLUMN

Happytown

How to incorporate your uterus, commodify the homeless and get Rick Scott fired (if you're Ralph Nader)

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Randolph suspects that Cannon might have a hard time bringing any of nine anti-choice house bills to the floor given that the state seems to be waking up to the fact that none of them are going to do anything to create jobs. And in the end that’s what this is all about, right?

“What’s interesting is this issue is being battled on a completely different battlefield,” Susannah Randolph says. “This isn’t about the abortion issue. This is about the hypocrisy of how you define government.”

Though Rick Scott may be 
the poster boy of the movement to run government as a business, he’s certainly not the only one taken by the latest conservative zeitgeist. At a meeting of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness on April 6, a pair of high-powered Yankees wooed Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and others with power over the powerless with a sales pitch for Ready, Willing & Able, a residential work and job skills training program targeting the urban homeless, particularly those who are drug abusers and just coming out of jail. The program is run by the Doe Fund, a nonprofit based in New York with registered expenses of $47.6 million in 2009.

“There’s a big appetite for things that work, for things that produce results and outcomes,” backhanded Philip Mangano, whose windswept mane of white hair suggested at least two decades of consistent convertible commuting. Mangano’s cohort, Robert Hess – in between utterances of the phrase “New York minute” – said that the program, founded in 1985 and currently operating in Philadelphia, New York and Jersey City, boasts more than 4,000 graduates, 67 percent of which have remained “employed, housed and drug-free for six months.”

Their secret to success, evidently, is the carrot and the stick. After a formerly homeless person is set up with a bed and a temporary job (usually a street-cleaning gig) giving them “marketable job skills,” they are eventually shepherded towards a real job (economy willing) and a living place of their own. Then, on a monthly basis, they report back to their alma mater, submitting to a drug test, supplying a pay stub and proving payment of rent. If those three conditions are met, the organization hands the person $200, reaching a total of $1,000 over five months.

The proposal would only establish 70 transitional beds and 50 transitional jobs for the homeless in Central Florida, yet Mangano invoked the “Tipping Point” theory of New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell (whom Mangano says consulted them on the project) to assure that the $970,000 annual price tag to the taxpayers would be worth every dime. “We are focused on a small segment of a population that is difficult to serve, and I will guarantee you, the most expensive users of public benefits in your community,” Hess added.

Ray Larsen, executive director of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, tells Happytown that the commission is still far from a decision on the matter as it is “crunching numbers” and entertaining other re-entry programs. We imagine they’ll pick the one that promises results.

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