DR. BEN CARSON
SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
AT THE NATIONAL COALITION
FOR HOMELESS VETERANS ANNUAL CONFERENCE
MAY 30th, 2017
As prepared for delivery. The speaker may add or subtract comments during his presentation.
Thank you, Mr. Doherty.
I’d also like to thank NCHV’s CEO Kathryn Monet, all of your board members—particularly, Chairman of the Board Chick Ciccolella.
And I want to congratulate Citi Community Development, represented this morning by Ruth Christopherson, for investing in affordable housing and making this conference possible. It is always cause for celebration when private companies join us in the fight for the public good.
And for this fight especially, we’ll need all hands on deck.
Last year, there were 550,000 homeless men, women, and children living in America.
About 40,000 of them are veterans of our Armed Forces.
It is a tragedy that a nation as prosperous as ours should have anyone forced to sleep on its streets, especially those who have served their country.
Unfortunately, our fight is not as simple as putting people in under a roof and declaring our job finished. We must ensure that roof has a strong enough foundation to weather future storms.
Many homeless veterans suffer from untreated mental illness, addictions, and other maladies that make it difficult to maintain a stable life. Sometimes it is difficult for even their family, friends, or charities to assist them.
Finding a home first means finding healing. I hope that with your help, HUD can assist in leading them to it. Our president made a promise to the American people that our administration would make the health and wellbeing of our veterans a top priority. It is a promise this administration takes very seriously.
We should give credit where credit is due: between 2010 and 2016 our nation cut veteran’s homelessness in half. That’s a legacy that my predecessors at HUD and in other agencies should be proud of. It’s a legacy youshould be proud of.
But the fact that homelessness continues, even after so many programs and billions of dollars devoted to tackling it, means that somewhere HUD and the rest of the federal government needs to refocus the way it tackles housing and poverty issues.
We can always do better, and learn from experience. Thomas Edison used to say that while trying to invent the lightbulb, he didn’t fail again and again: he just identified 10,000 ways that didn’t work.
And you know the cleaning formula “409?” It has its name because it took another four hundred and eight tries to get there.
Within our lifetimes, there was an era when our troops returning home from war were cast aside by a society which thought itself above such things as battle and sacrifice.
I do not believe Americans will fall back into that dark place. Our country has grown in many ways since, and our countrymen are more dedicated than ever to rewarding and thanking those who have served in our military.
But we cannot risk falling into complacency. We need to be very honest about the challenges that veterans face, so that we do not just assume they have help, or that government care is reaching everyone.
We’ve seen the bitter results of their afflictions. As of last year, as many as 20 veterans a day committed suicide.
Sometimes, veterans aren’t even aware of the wealth of support that might be available to them. That’s why it is vital that we proactively educate these men and women about their options.
In helping homeless Americans, especially veterans, we must also base our policies on facts and data. Like any charitable campaign, our actions must be judged by their impact, not by whether they make us feel good about ourselves.
Many taxpayers are understandably concerned about providing housing with no conditions against subsidizing drug use or other harmful behavior, and that's something we take very seriously
But when you consider the enormous costs of emergency care or other treatments which are so often necessary for those living on the street, it actually saves taxpayers when we provide someone housing, and work with them from there.
That’s why “Housing First” initiatives make sense—not just morally, but practically. States like Utah have taken great strides with these policies in driving down chronic homelessness, and they are being used as benchmarks for cities across the country.
Of course, even putting “Housing First” cannot achieve permanent results without treatment, training, and employment. That’s where this housing issue expands to an economic one: it will take cooperation from all levels of government, and partnership with the private sector.
After all: government cannot artificially create prosperity. That is what Americans and their businesses do. Government can only organize and direct its efforts to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to share in that prosperity.
In the past month, I have spoken to groups like the National Association of Realtors, the American Land Title Association, and the Federal Home Loan Banks. I’m happy to report that they and many others share our broad interests in affordable housing and ending homelessness.
In cities like Detroit, Dallas, Miami, and Columbus, I have seen firsthand the success of public-private partnerships. It is always important that local ventures have local stakeholders who are committed to their success. They are often a better judge of the situation “on the ground” than bureaucrats in Washington, DC.
This bridge-building between the government and private actors must include churches, charities, fraternal organizations, and clubs. As vital pillars of a community, these “little platoons” of society can help families and heal the afflicted in ways that go beyond the abilities of public policy—or even a surgeon, like myself.
Because, like a thriving economy, government cannot create brotherhood and a sense of moral duty by itself—those things also arise only from our fellow citizens and their institutions.
Just a few days ago, in our solemn celebration of Memorial Day at HUD, I had the honor of paying tribute to Gold Star families, in memory of their sons and daughters who gave their lives fighting for our country.
If those who have passed on deserve such honors—and they do—then how important it should be to show our gratitude to veterans while they are with us, while we have the opportunity. Not just through medals and plaques, but with things we take for granted every day: food, shelter, care, and support.
As Abraham Lincoln said, “Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country's cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field.”
They served so that we all may sleep soundly in our homes at night.
Now we must serve, so that they may know that same blessing.