Yetta M. Adams, an eccentric and meddlesome bag lady, died on a bench outside the concrete walls of the Department of Housing and Urban Development last winter. If this had been the 80's, her death would have been cited as a consequence of budget cuts, greed, and flint-heartedness. But thanks to a friendly press and a political team skilled at spin control, HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros used the occasion to grandstand for putting more cash in the government's coffers.
In a Washington-style act of contrition, HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros decried homelessness and promised an immediate $25 million in new spending. Nobody asked why the $28 billion the department spent last year did not prevent Adams' death or why a tenth of one percent increase would make any difference now. Many people, including local family members, had tried to talk Ms. Adams into a shelter. Plenty of space was available the night she died. For reasons known only to her, she refused help.
Claiming to be grief-stricken, Mr. Cisneros pounded out an op-ed for the Washington Post that appeared a few days later. Ms. Adams' death "is an indictment of a system" that has "failed to address" the "underlying causes" of homelessness, he said. Curing "underlying causes" is always good for a few million.
In deciding where the initial allotment of money should go, Mr. Cisneros called a meeting...