DR. BEN CARSON
SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
AT THE INTERDEPARTMENTAL SERIOUS MENTAL ILLNESS
COORDINATING COMMITTEE MEETING
AUGUST 31, 2017
As prepared for delivery. The speaker may add or subtract comments during his presentation.
Thank you. I’ve spent a lifetime studying the mechanics of the mind. As a neurosurgeon, I’ve learned the mysteries of the brain are infinite, certainly deep and vast. At HUD, I want the department to develop a holistic approach to each public housing resident, which includes mental health.
The work of this committee is a top priority for me. We know the homeless and residents in public housing may have experienced trauma. Or they may have a substance abuse problem. There are issues of mental, emotional, or developmental disabilities. There are also many people confronting memory loss, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other related aging problems. As we help people find housing, we must be aware of additional mental health issues.
We must look for places of intersection, places for intervention. Homelessness, for instance. One estimate is that 26 percent of all sheltered homeless persons have a severe mental illness. So, the shelter is an important point of contact. Staff must be trained to recognize mental health issues and mental disabilities. We must diagnose mental health problems and help a homeless person find counseling and treatment.
A comprehensive approach works best. And, we have been very aggressive in addressing chronic homelessness. For example, on July 14, we announced an application for $2 billion to support thousands of local homeless assistance programs nationwide. We work to encourage local applicants to use a “Housing First” approach to help individuals and families move quickly into permanent housing. We want to get people off the streets and into a supportive shelter or housing.
I am particularly pleased that veteran homelessness is down, and some cities, like Akron, have announced that veteran homelessness is gone, ended.
Then, we have encouraged public housing authorities and other agencies to identify mental health problems or other disabilities. This is another key point of contact. Public Housing Authorities have received guidance on this. And, staff training.
Each local authority must establish linkages with local services. We strongly encourage public housing authorities to enter into agreements with social services agencies to help provide residents who have mental health issues with mental health treatment.
Sometimes, issues erupt and require intervention. Public Housing Authorities may remove a tenant quickly, but temporarily, to receive treatment, without affecting the lease. The social services provider could also work with property management to identify lease violations and intervene with a remediation plan before an eviction.
Of course, the Fair Housing Act and other anti-discrimination legislation should be fully and comprehensively enforced. Here we confront a “not in my back yard” syndrome with neighbors. And, safety concerns. The availability of housing … temporary, affordable, low income, or permanent housing is a problem in many parts of the country. Group homes must be available. Supportive housing services must be part of the mix of services.
But, mental health issues should not be used to exclude anyone from homeless shelters or public housing or permanent housing. Instead we should be prioritizing people with the highest level of need for our housing and homeless assistance programs.
In short, we want to be ready if someone has an issue. We want a process in place. We want an alert, medically sound, compassionate, and rapid process.
At HUD, I can guarantee we will be strong advocates for mental health identification and treatment. I also want to look for any extraordinary steps we may take to do more.
So, again, I thank the Committee for its work. I eagerly look forward to our cooperation and performance.