Dr. Ben Carson
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
White House Mental Health Summit on Treatment Reform Remarks
Washington, DC, EEOB, December 19, 2019


As prepared for delivery. The speaker may add or subtract comments during his presentation.

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be with you all today to share how HUD is addressing the unique challenges faced by Americans struggling with mental illness nationwide.

First, I’d like to thank President Trump for the tremendous leadership he has shown on this critical issue. President Trump has set out a bold agenda to help the nearly 47 million American adults living with a mental illness – from recognizing our nation’s opioid epidemic as a “Public Health Emergency,” to supporting vital initiatives in housing and workforce opportunity.

HUD takes a holistic approach to housing, which includes mental health. Homes are not simply physical structures – they are social, cultural, and economic engines. Homes are where families are raised, where communities become interconnected, and where education and opportunity really begin.

This means we don’t just need healthy homes; we need healthy people living inside healthy homes.

When the problems facing Americans living with mental illness go unsolved, or are systematically ignored, usually it is not out of prejudice or heartlessness. It is often the result of folks simply not thinking about the issue, because they do not witness first-hand the struggles of people with mental health concerns.

Coming from a long career in medicine with a focus on the human brain, mental illness and the health of the mind was a major part of my life’s work.

Prior to becoming HUD Secretary, I was a pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore. When a child has a brain condition that requires surgery, he or she frequently faces the risk of, or is afflicted by, a whole range of psychiatric disorders. Some cases are mild; some are severe.

But in working with so many patients facing hardship, I learned a really beautiful lesson: Just because you have a condition doesn’t mean you don’t have potential. Everyone has dreams, and the role of this Administration is to help all Americans so they have the best shot possible to bring those dreams within reach if they apply their God-given talents.

The first step towards that goal is to help people get healthy, which we are achieving in a number of ways. I will highlight a few of them today.

Homelessness and Mental Health; Veteran Homelessness

First, even though HUD is the Department of Housing, one issue we often grapple with is how to help those who do not have a home. Homelessness is an issue impacting cities across our country, and mental illness often plays a leading role in someone’s inability to maintain stable housing. This is particularly true for American veterans.

In my time as HUD Secretary, I have seen the streets of “Skid Row” in Los Angeles, and walked through shelters from New Hampshire to San Antonio, meeting with veterans facing hardship —it’s a terrible situation that no proud country can allow to continue.

Fortunately, HUD has been making great strides toward increasing the availability of homes for our nation’s heroes. Our recent 2019 “Point In Time” homeless data showed that nearly 800 more homeless veterans were housed between 2018 and 2019, continuing a nationwide decline in veteran homelessness by nearly 50 percent over the past decade. This progress has prompted 78 communities across 33 different states to declare an effective end to veteran homelessness in their areas. Three states – Connecticut, Virginia, and Delaware – have also declared an effective end to veteran homelessness altogether, which means that more veterans are off the streets and have a safe place to call home.

Much of this progress can be attributed to HUD’s Continuum of Care grant program, which this year provided a record $2.3 billion dollars to support thousands of local homeless assistance programs nationwide.

HUD also administers help to homeless veterans through the HUD-Veteran Affairs Supporting Housing – or “HUD-VASH” program. Over the past decade, more than 100,000 vouchers have been awarded through the HUD-VASH program, serving the needs of approximately 170,000 homeless veterans. This program combines rental assistance from HUD with clinical services from the Department of Veteran Affairs. Just yesterday, we announced a new HUD-VASH grant totaling $29.3 million dollars to 216 local public housing agencies across the country.

When we look beyond veteran homelessness and examine homelessness for all groups, HUD’s latest data found that – were it not for the State of California and its outlier 16 percent increase, homelessness would have declined nationally. In California, restrictive zoning laws have made the development of affordable housing prohibitively expensive, leading to California being responsible for nearly half of our nation’s unsheltered homeless population.

Contrary to what’s happening in California, HUD’s proposed Housing Finance Reform plan addresses how to best serve affordable housing needs, while doing so in an evidence-based and nonpartisan way. These efforts are further supported by the White House Council on Eliminating Barriers to Affordable Housing, which President Trump established this summer, and which I have the privilege to chair. The Council is working with local leaders to identify and remove barriers to affordable housing development, which contributes to homelessness and can bar people struggling with mental health concerns from securing adequate housing.

As part of the Council’s work, HUD recently issued a Request for Information to all Americans for input on barriers limiting the development of affordable housing. I hope you will lend your voice and share your experience to enhance our efforts before the comment window closes on January 21, 2020.

Homelessness, Mental Health and Substance Abuse

Homelessness and mental illness are often linked with a third issue: substance abuse. It is well known that drug overdoses are a major issue and a leading cause of death among homeless populations. For example, in the city of Boston, drug overdoses are the leading cause of death among homeless individuals – and 81 percent of those overdoses are from opioids.

I have said it before: This drug menace is not just a crisis of health; it’s a crisis of hope.

At HUD, we stand fully behind the President’s Opioid Initiative. We are also advancing several complementary initiatives of our own. Among them, we are expanding our capacity for rehabilitation and self-sufficiency through the work of EnVision Centers. Located near public housing developments, EnVision Centers leverage private funding to supply education, job training, financial literacy, and mentoring to build the four pillars of self-sufficiency: Character and Leadership, Educational Advancement, Economic Empowerment, and Health and Wellness. Just yesterday, I was in San Antonio and had the honor to designate HUD’s 33rd EnVision Center nationwide.

I look forward to continuing to work with President Trump, my fellow Cabinet members, and all of you here today to tackle this critical challenge.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, addressing mental health will take a team effort – so we need to treat each other like we’re on the the same team. This issue has nothing to do with politics; it has to do with people. So, on behalf of HUD, thank you to each of the advocates, practitioners, and public officials here today for all your hard work in this field. I’m look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Thank you.

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