President Trump appointed Robert Marbut as executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) on December 4, following the ousting of former USICH Director Matthew Doherty in November (see Memo, 11/25). Dr. Marbut, a community college professor and consultant to cities on homelessness, is expected to be confirmed to the position by USICH during the agency’s December 10 meeting. NLIHC has serious concerns with the appointment, given Dr. Marbut’s dehumanizing and ineffective methods, all of which are not based on evidence or best practice.
Dr. Marbut rejects “Housing First,” a proven strategy for reducing homelessness that prioritizes finding safe, stable, accessible housing for people experiencing homelessness before addressing other problems, like substance abuse or untreated mental health issues. The efficacy of the Housing First model is supported by two decades of research and has been identified by USICH as a best practice for ending homelessness.
Dr. Marbut describes his approach to combating homelessness as “Housing Fourth,” calling for large-scale shelters with treatment facilities where people experiencing homelessness “earn” their right to beds within the shelter. While he says he does not support large-scale arrests of people experiencing homelessness, Dr. Marbut has called for cities to stop “enabling” homelessness by providing free meals, which he calls “street feeding,” and allowing people to sleep in public spaces. He has also endorsed expanding law enforcement’s authority to arrest people experiencing homelessness for violating minor ordinances.
In addition to drawing criticism from homelessness advocates, the appointment has been met with disapproval from members of Congress. In a press statement, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) stated, “It is a problem that the Trump Administration’s designee to head the Interagency Council on Homelessness may believe that it’s more important to stop churches from providing food to homeless people than it is to find those people homes. If true, this is yet another example of this administration obstructing efforts to end homelessness in this country.”
Representatives Lacy Clay (D-MO), Gwen Moore (D-WI), and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) are circulating a congressional letter expressing concern about President Trump’s pick of Dr. Marbut to lead USICH. “We are profoundly disappointed in your decision to fire the head of [USICH], Matthew Doherty, and replace him with Robert Marbut,” the representatives state. “Mr. Marbut is, among our many concerns, unqualified, unprepared, and disdainful of the mission of the critically important federal agency which he has been appointed to lead. . . . Mr. Marbut rejects over a decade of learning, research, practice, and bipartisan agreement that ‘Housing First’ ends homelessness. He ignores ample evidence of the underlying cause of homelessness – our country’s severe shortage of homes affordable to its lowest income renters – and instead blames homelessness on what he perceives as moral failings.”
Read the representatives’ letter at: https://bit.ly/2LDVoOR
Read Senator Brown’s press statement at: https://bit.ly/2riUMqS
Learn more about nominee Dr. Marbut’s approach to addressing homelessness at: https://bit.ly/34QAi7k