DR. BEN CARSON SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
AT THE ANNNUAL HUNGER AND HOMELESSNESS SUMMIT
January 24th, 2018
As prepared for delivery. The speaker may add or subtract comments during his presentation.
I would like to thank Congressman Sean Duffy and his staff for their invitation, and the organizers, expert panelists, and state legislators at this important summit for their hard work.
I also want to thank Wisconsin's First Lady, Tonette Walker, Nan Roman from the National Alliance for Ending Homelessness, and all the activists and concerned citizens here today for their commitment to solving the challenge of homelessness in Wisconsin and across America.
It is a challenge that we see before us every day, especially in our big cities.
And it is often a challenge that can sometimes seem too large and too complicated to solve.
But we cannot let it overwhelm us, or make us think there's nothing we can do. Issues like poverty, homelessness, and drugs truly become tragedies when they are seen as "normal"-when they go unquestioned as "just the way things are."
The continued presence of homelessness in our nation costs us not only morally, but in lost human potential.
Who knows how many new doctors and scientists, artists or athletes we might save in the next generation, by reaching out to the forgotten people of our time, and giving them a new beginning. I can guarantee you that there are people without homes right now who would enrich many lives with their talent and dedication, if only given the chance.
There are over half a million men, women and children in our country who have experienced homelessness at some point last year.
40,000 of them were veterans of our Armed Forces.
And hundreds of thousands more of their fellow Americans lived month to month, week to week, not knowing whether circumstances would force them into the same misfortune.
These are daunting statistics, but they do not erase the great progress our nation has made in the last decade.
Since 2010, we have seen a 14% reduction in overall homelessness nationwide. We have also achieved a 47% reduction in Veteran homelessness, including a 56% drop in unsheltered homelessness among Veterans.
Very importantly for this conference, in the last seven years we have also achieved a 23% reduction in family homelessness, including a 65% drop in unsheltered homelessness among family households.
Wisconsin in particular has reason to celebrate. Since 2010 you've decreased homelessness by 1000 people, lowered it among families by over 300, and cut veterans' homelessness in half.
That is something everyone in this room should be proud of. And it is something I thank everyone in this room for helping to achieve.
Earlier this month, to assist in your amazing efforts, HUD awarded over 23 million dollars to various groups in the state of Wisconsin, through our Continuum of Care grant program.
We have a lot of work to do, but we are headed in the right direction.
Our nation's progress is the result by many efforts at the federal, state, and local levels of government, much of it coordinated through the Federal Strategic Plan, and through amazing cooperation with the private sector, independent charities, churches, and community organizations.
Our task is to keep up the good work by looking carefully at which methods work best, and investing in programs and partnerships that have proven track records.
The first step is to put Housing First.
Permanently lifting our fellow Americans out of homelessness requires a solid foundation for treatment, education, healthcare, training, and employment.
And that foundation is a permanent place to stay.
As I have said before: a man will not beat addiction from a gutter, he will not get psychiatric help underneath a bridge, and he will not find a steady job without a steady address.
Many taxpayers and lawmakers are understandably concerned about providing housing with no conditions against subsidizing drug use or other harmful behavior.
We must take these concerns very seriously. They are thoughtful, and well-intentioned.
But when we consider the enormous costs of emergency room care, the potential danger and expense of extra policing, and other situations which always arise for homeless populations, it actually saves taxpayer dollars if we first provide housing, and work with people from there.
There is also evidence to show that simply having peace of mind is a great ladder up from homelessness. Once families no longer need to worry about where they will sleep next week, they have much better outcomes in rebuilding their lives. They can focus on building a better future, instead of battling against the present.
HUD is taking action to help communities decrease the number of people living in unsheltered locations, with Housing First as a guide.
We are teaching communities how to implement a housing focused crisis response system ensuring that street outreach and emergency shelters provide access to all populations and quickly exit people to permanent housing.
We want to identify alternatives to encampments that communities can implement to effectively eliminate them in their community. But until those encampments have been eliminated, we need to adopt strategies to ensure that the men and women living in them are treated with dignity and are not susceptible to public health crises.
You don't do homeless Americans any favors by saying "you can't sleep here" without giving them an alternative.
We are also focusing on helping rural communities build their capacity to end homelessness by partnering with them and large, non-profit agencies focused on rural homelessness issues, and other federal partners.
We are developing a technical assistance strategy to provide help and to share promising practices with all rural communities, while evaluating rules and policies in existing HUD homeless assistance programs to ensure rural communities have the tools necessary to overcome challenges in their areas.
Building a permanent solution requires help from many different sources, in many different areas of human activity.
In a way, housing is not just about houses-it affects, and is affected by, many other issues. Health, jobs, education, community, faith, family, and many more factors can change our ability to find and afford housing. And the location and affordability of housing can impact, for better or worse, each of these important parts of our life.
At this summit, you will discuss two of the biggest factors when it comes to homelessness: mental health and drug addiction.
If a healthy person loses his job, it is a big blow, but in most cases he can dust himself off and find another one. Or he has a network of family and friends to help out in the meantime.
But those who struggle with diseases of the mind and addictions of the body are not able to jump back in the fight so easily. They are often alienated from the same networks and opportunities that are open to everyone else. And they are most at risk to become homeless, and stay homeless.
That is why our efforts cannot end with putting someone under a roof and calling it a day. Treatment and healing are essential parts of permanently solving homelessness for individuals and families.
And ultimately, we need to equip them with the tools thrive-to be as self-sufficient as possible. This means job training and job opportunities where they live.
There is something in common with all these challenges: the federal government can't tackle them alone.
The people and organizations who are closest to the problem, whether in Los Angeles, New York, or Rothschild, Wisconsin, often have the knowledge and familiarity with local issues to address them most effectively, if given the right resources.
I have seen them succeed in public/private partnerships across the country, addressing homelessness and affordable housing shortages by leveraging investment from businesses and charities, and relying on local solutions.
At HUD, we are committed to expanding these successes for families in other elements of their lives which affect their economic opportunities.
That is why this year we're rolling out our full plan for EnVision Centers across the nation. EnVision Centers will be hubs of cooperation and partnership where families can have access to training, education, and mentoring, and they will streamline access to services that HUD already provides.
They will promote self-sufficiency in communities through four basic principles, which we're calling the Four Pillars: Economic Empowerment, Educational Advancement, Health and Wellness, and Character and Leadership.
By strengthening these Four Pillars, we can once more open the doors of opportunity in our cities, and help families stand tall on their own.
EnVision Centers will not be just another federal program, but an invitation for community investment from private enterprises and charities, and a chance for local problem-solvers to take the wheel. I look forward to sharing more about this plan in the weeks to come.
I also look forward to collaborating more with everyone here. Cooperating, learning, and sharing what works.
Because when it comes to homelessness, Americans are not right or left or red or blue-we are all in it together. And we all seek a future where every family has a home, and no one is forgotten.
I can not wait to build that future with you. Thank you.