I recently interviewed Dr. By Robert Marbut, renowned expert on homelessness and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Wealth and Poverty.
Dr. Marbut holds a Ph.D. in political behavior and American political institutions, and his career has been marked by bipartisanship, serving as a member of the White House under George HW Bush and most recently as executive director of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness from 2019 to 2021 under Trump. and the Biden administration.
The Discovery Institute recently presented its report to Congress, “How Congress Can Reform the Government’s Misguided Homeless Policy,” which our local elected officials should read as they continue to spend tens of millions of dollars on homelessness.
Dr. Marbut has visited about 65 jurisdictions across the United States, and only three of them are addressing the issue in a comprehensive way, which bodes well for homelessness and the use of billions of American tax dollars. To read the report, please visit www.fixhomelessness.org.
Here are some key points from the executive summary:
— “The federal Housing First policy is at the heart of America’s worsening homelessness problem. This approach, supported by powerful and vested interests, is being adopted by many state and local jurisdictions, as well as the White House and Congress.
“Housing (I repeat) should be part of every homelessness program. But by insisting that subsidized housing be provided to homeless people without time constraints requirements as individuals participate in comprehensive services (such as clinical services and treatment for mental illness, substance use disorder treatment, job training, and job retention programs), this approach has in practice become a “housing-only” solution.
“Essentially, we created a huge federal homelessness assistance program that is functionally equivalent to HUD Section 8 Housing – but without any rules.”
— “The results were disastrous. A dramatic shift in the trajectory of homelessness correlates with the federal adoption of Housing First. Specifically, unsheltered street homelessness increased by more than 20% even as subsidized housing vouchers increased by more than 40%.
“California provides an alarming example of the failure of Housing First. In 2016, California passed a law that required every state dollar spent on homelessness to be spent on Housing First programs.
“From 2015 (the year before the new state policy) to 2019, unsheltered street homelessness in California increased 47.1% in just four years.
“California now boasts nearly half of America’s unsheltered street-level homeless population and nearly one in four of the total U.S. homeless population, even though it is home to only 12% of the U.S. population. Just this year, the state approved a “Care Court” program that may — in a year or two — make it easier for people with serious mental illness to get help. A recent settlement announcement by the LA Alliance for Human Rights also commits LA County to more mental health and addiction treatment and beds, not just housing.
— “Advocates argued that a move to a Housing First approach with a massive increase in subsidized housing vouchers would end homelessness within 10 years (ie 2023!). The failure of their prediction is rooted in faulty assumptions about the nature of the crisis, particularly the prevalence of untreated mental illness and substance use disorders in the homeless community.
“In a groundbreaking 2019 study, the California Policy Lab, a nonpartisan research institute based at the University of California, Berkeley, found that 78% of the unsheltered homeless population reported experiencing mental illness and 50% reported that their mental condition contributed to their loss . housing. In addition, 75% of the vulnerable population reported substance abuse conditions and 51% reported that drug or alcohol use contributed to the loss of housing.”
Andy Caldwell is COLAB’s executive director and host of “The Andy Caldwell Show,” which airs weekdays from 3 to 5 p.m. on KZSB AM 1290, the News-Press radio station.