The recent announcement of the imminent appointment of Robert Marbut as Executive Director of the USICH raises significant concerns about the Trump Administration’s plans to address homelessness. Rather than building upon evidence based practices like housing first, permanent supportive housing, increased health and mental health services, and expanded affordable housing, the pick portends an expansion of punitive strategies to control, marginalize and criminalize people experiencing homelessness.
Marbut, a self-described “expert” on homelessness, has limited actual experience developing and operating effective housing and service programs to move people experiencing homelessness from the streets or shelters into housing, and connecting them to the employment, health and mental health resources they might need to remain stable in housing.
As a consultant, Marbut has advocated policy and programming approaches that warehouses people in large congregate shelters which are designed to contain and isolate people experiencing homelessness with punitive rules and practices. Rather than accepting and implementing the evidence based housing first approach, Marbut has claimed he believes in “Housing Fourth”, as if housing is less important to resolving homelessness than other interventions.
He has also called feeding people on the street “enabling them”, as if not feeding them will make the problem go away.
The appointment of Marbut to lead the agency charged with coordinating the response of federal agencies to homelessness is particularly concerning in light of President Trump’s recent complaints about the large increase in street homelessness in San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cities and the release of a report by the White House Council of Economic on “The State of Homelessness in America” in September. That report used faulty logic, statistics and policy prescriptions to give cover to the President’s recently stated desire to crack down on the homeless by criminalizing and warehousing people experiencing homelessness – not to help end their misery, but to alleviate the impact of street homelessness on real estate investors and businesses.
Rather than proposing new initiatives with adequate funding to proactively address and end homelessness through evidence based practices, the Administration has repeated proposed cuts to housing and homeless program budgets, food stamps, Medicaid and other programs that provide a pathway out of homelessness for the more than 1 million individuals and families experiencing homelessness across our nation.
What is needed is vast expansion funding to build more affordable housing, to fund additional supportive housing units targeted to persons with disabilities experiencing homelessness, and to ensure that those on the streets or at risk of homelessness have access to health care and support to they need to improve their lives.
While there is much in the existing federal policy on homelessness which can be improved, the approaches promoted by Marbut would likely exacerbate the existing homelessness crisis rather than solve it.
We urge the members of the USICH to oppose the appointment of Robert Marbut and to seek the input of people experiencing homelessness and those housing and serving them in the selection of a leader with the experience, philosophy and competency to move federal policy towards the ending of homelessness.