Dr. Ben Carson
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
'UnHoused': Addressing Homelessness in California Summit
Los Angeles, California February 13, 2020


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

Thank you.

It's wonderful to be here at USC with so many impactful leaders for the Southern California community.

Dean Knott, President Folt, Mayor Steinberg, Mayor Garcia, Mayor Faulconer, Mayor Garcetti, Supervisor Barger, Governor Davis, and of course, Governor Schwarzenegger, for whom this tremendous institution is named.

The Schwarzenegger Institute has a noble mission that everyone in this room - and really everyone in this nation - would do well to live by.

That we should focus on good policies instead of on good politics.

That we should promote promise and potential over parties and poll numbers.

And, most importantly, that we have to put people first.

And perhaps no single issue is more central to peoples' prospects for a better life than having a safe, quality, affordable place to call home.

I'm here in Southern California this week as part of a nationwide bus tour that I am doing, on behalf of HUD, to focus on affordable housing.

During this "Driving Affordable Housing Across America" bus tour, I am visiting communities across the country and a wide range of stakeholders from the public, private and non-profit sectors to work together on eliminating regulatory barriers that put affordable housing out of reach.

The health of a community starts in the home of every family who lives there.

So when housing consumes a larger and larger share of a parent's paycheck, the American Dream drifts further and further out of reach.

For many Americans, lack of affordable housing has reached a point that some families may be only one or two missed paychecks away from facing homelessness themselves.

And in some cases, housing prices have risen to a level that there are those in the workforce who maintain a job but still cannot afford a place to call home.

I recently heard a story about a California woman, Pam, and her husband.

Both college-educated, he was a commercial truck driver and she was a nurse.

They were married for 27 years and had two grown children.

Unfortunately, Pam received a cancer diagnosis and ultimately lost her job.

Her husband ended up losing his job as well because he was taking care of her when she was very ill.

Before they knew it, this couple was facing homelessness because they could no longer afford rent.

It's stories like these that drive our work to create affordable housing for families across this country.

When asked about their experience, Pam said, "Now I know what homelessness looks like, and not just the perception of what I thought 'homeless' was."

A homeless person could be anybody.

It is not just the drunkard or the mentally ill or the drug addict.

Yes, that is some of what homeless is but that's not the full story.

Homelessness is a person who needs a hand up, not a handout.

Fortunately, the couple ultimately received support from a local non-profit organization.

Now Pam is doing much better.

She still must take 58 medications a day for her cancer and medical complications, but the couple finally has a place to call home.

Everyone here cares deeply about this issue.

And while there may be several different schools of thought about the best way to bring about change, we all agree that the true solutions minimize division and maximize compassion.

So I'd like to frame the conversation we are having today by first saying a word or two about what real compassion is.

When we watch a fellow citizen suffering, or stuck in a bad cycle, it is certainly compassionate to help that man or woman endure, and persist, through his or her difficulties.

But there's a higher form of compassion - which is not simply to help someone endure a dire circumstance, but to help overcome it.

For example, at HUD, our role in providing public housing assistance is an essential part of what to do, to help our struggling neighbors find their footing and stabilize their lives so they can become self-sufficient.

That's why, last month, HUD announced that we are awarding more than $2 billion dollars to support local homeless assistance programs nationwide through our Continuum of Care program.

These grants will provide critically needed funding to over 6,500 local programs that are currently serving unsheltered Americans.

And there have been very positive trends in addressing certain aspects of this challenge.

For example, 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.

However, I have long said that HUD's highest measure of achievement is not how many people we can get into public assistance, but how many people we can lift up and out of public assistance - to a life of independence and to full civic engagement.

There's a phenomenon in medicine known as "treating the symptoms, not the cause."

And often, this is what happens when our efforts to fight homelessness are focused on dealing with tragic circumstances after the tragedy of losing a home has already occurred.

For the most part, there are two root causes of homelessness that are present long before the symptoms of traumatic circumstances arise: mental health and unaffordable housing.

First, we must address the critical issue of mental health.

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.

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 President Trump's Opioid Initiative, which brings a multi-pronged approach to solving this issue, including by working with stakeholders across all sectors of society.

Along the way, HUD is embracing innovation and looking at new ways to provide assistance to people who are unhoused.

For example, "Rapid Re-Housing" programs provide temporary assistance to individuals and families who experience homelessness, so they can quickly move into permanent housing and stabilize there.

This has become an increasingly popular approach which, while not meant to be a long-term solution for self-sufficiency - such as HUD's Family Self-Sufficiency Program or supportive housing for those with more complex challenges or disabilities - is a cost-effective way of moving people out of shelters and into independent housing.

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research has been preparing a study called "Understanding Rapid Re-Housing," which seeks to shed light on the current state of Rapid Re-Housing with regard to participant outcomes and program practices across a range of different types of communities.

We look forward to publishing the results of this study very shortly.

The challenge before us is to resolve a paradox: On the one hand, our nation is witnessing historic highs in employment, job creation, economic growth, and financial optimism.

For folks and families who already have access to affordable housing, the future looks as bright as a new dawn.

On the other hand, far too many Americans who seek reasonably priced rental units or sustainable homeownership still face a strong headwind.

Even in the midst of an economic renaissance, many of our nation's teachers, nurses, police officers and firefighters struggle - or in some cases simply cannot afford - to live in or around the communities they serve.

This is a trend we must bring to an end.

Expert research confirms: our country's current lack of affordable housing is caused in large part by burdensome regulations on new construction and development.

Those costs can account for up to 42 percent of multifamily development costs - and as a result, the largest portion of most Americans' paychecks go to housing.

To encourage the growth of new homes, last summer, President Trump established the White House Council on Eliminating Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing.

This Council, which I have the privilege to chair, is working with local and state leaders to identify and remove regulatory barriers that artificially limit housing supply.

There is no shortage of regulatory barriers for our Council to confront.

Among them: restrictive zoning and growth management controls; maximum density allowances for multifamily developments; excessively high developer fees; outdated building and rehabilitation codes; and unwieldy, inefficient permitting procedures.

The American builder faces a whole host of excessive restrictions, fees, and delays - and we at HUD want to work with the American people to address these issues first-hand.

But as we learned a decade ago during the Financial Crisis - which was really a Housing Crisis - we can't just inflate our way out of problems or impose top-down solutions.

Answers need to come from the bottom-up, in collaboration with community and private sector leaders, such as those I have the honor to meet with in Southern California throughout this week.

To assist the Council's work, HUD recently issued a Request for Information to all Americans for input on perceived barriers that limit development.

That comment window closed at the end of January, and we are in the process of reviewing feedback from stakeholders across the country.

At the end of the day, addressing homelessness will take a team effort - so we need to treat each other like we're on the same team.

Many challenges remain on the road ahead, and the work won't be easy - but nothing worth doing ever is.

There is nothing that can stop these United States as long as we stay United.

Each of us shares a common commitment to this great nation, to its principles, and to its people.

So, on behalf of HUD, thank you to each of the advocates, academics, private sector leaders and public officials here today for all your hard work in this field.

I am confident that, with our efforts combined, and our voices together, we can help unhoused Americans forge their own futures, and achieve a life of dignity, upward mobility, and self-sufficiency.

Thank you.

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