On December 10th, Robert Marbut was announced as the new Executive Director of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness. Texas Homeless Network is encouraged to work with anyone that seeks to end homelessness, but we, along with our partners and advocates across Texas, are concerned about the events that led to this leadership change and the history of the person assuming the lead position for USICH. What’s most concerning is what this appointment seems to signal:
- A rejection of the fact that affordable and Permanent Supportive Housing are indispensable to the work of ending homelessness;
- An era of leaning on statistically disproven anecdotes over time-tested, objective data;
- A willingness to misappropriate blame to those most affected by homelessness at a time when USICH needs to lead communities and provide guidance through the difficult work of establishing foundations that prevent and end homelessness.
Over the past five years working collaboratively under the leadership of Matthew Doherty, homeless crisis response systems have been making significant progress by increasing permanent housing options and embracing housing first. Using this approach Texas reduced homelessness by 10% between 2014 and 2018. The evidence shows that housing ends homelessness. To achieve our goal of making homelessness rare, brief, and a one-time event we need more deeply affordable housing and Permanent Supportive Housing through federal, state, and local investments. Increasing the needed housing stock through construction and subsidies will cost the community money in the short term but create immeasurable savings over time. At USICH we need strong leadership to articulate and remain steadfast to that vision.
Relying on data to make informed policy decisions is the hallmark of effective leadership. Instead, Mr. Marbut says that homeless crisis response system leaders have been, “playing games with data” and seems to subscribe to theories based on
The White House Council of Economic Advisors recently published in a paper on homelessness that espouses many of the same outdated theories as Mr. Marbut. The problem with that assessment and Mr. Marbut’s approach is that both are devoid of actual data that support the positions held. This congruence is not a coincidence. This approach requires an obstinate disregard of proven objective data while promoting policies that hide rather than end homelessness. It’s an approach that eschews the hard work of building the stock of affordable permanent and supportive housing in favor of the quick, short-lasting perception of success.
It seems the increasingly popular approach by political leaders in today’s climate is to shrink in front of the challenge of homelessness. Rather than address the systemic causes of homelessness, they choose to amplify debunked theories that focus on shaming people experiencing homelessness and employ strategies that make homelessness less visible, giving the illusion that homelessness is being solved. This approach is disdainful because in reality, the number of people experiencing homelessness is not being reduced and our most vulnerable are dying.
These are not qualities of the leadership we need. The work of ending homelessness is too important to accept this strategic setback. We implore leaders at all levels to frame policy around data-driven solutions. We hope the USICH leadership will rejoin us in this fight soon.