Philip Francesco Mangano
Doctor of Humane Letters
Outspoken advocate, inspired innovator, abolitionist apostle, you bear the name of your patron saint. Like St. Francis of Assisi, you cast off the cloak of comfort to wear the grittier garment of a higher calling. Moved by a movie of his epiphany, on the Feast Day of St. Francis you left the bright lights of Los Angeles to work the breadlines of your beloved Boston.
A man of faith and action, you said the plight of homelessness is not a community crisis to manage but a national disgrace to end. With the zeal of your theological training and the negotiating power of a Hollywood agent, you rose from volunteer to Director of Homeless Services for the City of Cambridge and then to CEO of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance. Then, as presidential appointee leading all federal agencies on the homeless, you became the field general in our nation's fight against homelessness.
Serving two parties and two presidents, you have been called "a liberal Democrat's idea of a conservative Republican's idea of an advocate for the poor." You call yourself an "abolitionist" and draw with equal ease in your argument against homelessness from Einstein and Schopenhauer, Arnold Toynbee and Jim Collins, Malcolm Gladwell and Malcolm X. Data-driven and results-oriented, you applied the hardheaded strategies of business to our most hardened social condition. On the revolutionary claim that chronic homelessness is best addressed by "housing first," you took a bold step: changing public policy from maintaining the homeless in shelters to putting the homeless into homes. In cities across the country, it worked.
In tailored suits and Italian shoes, you move with ease in the halls of power and privilege. You were named a local hero by the Boston Globe, one of TIME magazine's most influential people, and Governing magazine's first and only federal official of the year. Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government twice called your agency a "top government innovation," and you were given a lifetime achievement award by the International Downtown Association. But these are not your rewards.
Like your brown-robed patron, you are most at home with the people you serve. From Seattle to Sarasota, from Harlem to Houston, from Tacoma to Philadelphia, you are an ally to social advocates, an asset to elected officials, but first and foremost a friend to the poor. An incurable wanderer, you have given to millions the home for which you are in constant quest. Like another inspiration of yours, philosopher and freedom fighter Simone Weil, you have learned that moral gravity makes us fall toward the heights.
President Thomas, Philip Francesco Mangano stands before you today, at home with us, on recommendation of the faculty of the University of Puget Sound, a candidate for the Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.
Presented May 17, 2009, by Renée Houston, Associate Professor, Communication Studies