More questions than answers with Carson heading HUD
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Despite a bleak state budget, the state of Connecticut is doing something incredible.

Through the concerted efforts of legislators, advocates, town officials, and activists, the state has ended chronic homelessness among veterans, and homelessness among veterans in general.

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Make no mistake: There will always be people who fall down the economic ladder to homelessness, but because of significant dedication, and a willful retooling of its emergency response system, Connecticut has created an environment in which the incidence of homelessness is becoming brief, and non-repeating.

The state is working to end chronic homelessness - - the most pervasive and expensive kind – by the end of this year. No one’s said for sure, but Allison Cunningham, CEO of Columbus House, a New Haven homeless shelter, said at that organization’s annual meeting this month that the state is closer than ever to reaching its goal.

And that’s not just Connecticut. Virginia announced that it ended homelessness among veterans in November 2015. A long list of cities have also met the challenge to end veteran homelessness – including Houston, Winston-Salem, Mobile, and Las Vegas.

All this has been accomplished by unique public-private partnerships, including state agencies, local nonprofits and the behemoth U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That federal agency’s role has been critical.

HUD began with a 1965 Rose Garden ceremony, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Housing and Urban Development Act. Johnson, who was building his Great Society, said the act “would become known as the single most valuable housing legislation in our history.”

That wasn’t hyperbole. Today, with $38 billion in rental assistance to 4.5 million low-income families, HUD’s creation of an affordable housing market – and its role in eliminating homelessness -- cannot be overstated.

This is serious business. Stable housing is the foundation on which families can build a strong economic future, and now the President-elect has chosen his one-time rival, the retired neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, to head the $47 billion department and the mind boggles, reels, and falls over.

As with several of Trump’s other suggested appointees, Carson brings to his new job a marked disdain for what he calls the “social engineering” practiced by HUD, as if providing housing is an evil thing. Looking at Trump’s choices of other appointees and advisors, the New York businessman appears to favor people who will dismantle federal agencies from the top down.

(Google “Myron Ebell” climate change denier and “EPA.”)

Why Carson? Hard to say.

Carson grew up poor in Detroit, raised by a mother who sometimes, according to the New York Times, relied on the government for food assistance. Carson himself wrote that as a student he received free glasses from his school, a unique kind of social engineering that appears to be acceptable.

In a 2015 Washington Times op-ed, Carson compared the Obama administration’s attempts to desegregate (a word he put in quote marks) to “failed socialist experiments” of the ‘80s.

He said there are “reasonable ways to use housing policy to enhance the opportunities to low-income citizens,” but suggested government was not one of them. 

Where Dr. Carson intends to find the answers, God knows, and She’s not telling.

During the recent bruising election season, scant little was said about actual housing policy. In fact, poverty was barely mentioned.

And so, in light of the lack of information, we are forced to comb through the crumbs of his public speeches and writings. In 2013, Carson spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast. He eviscerated President Obama’s policies to the point that one Fox News contributor called for a Carson apology.

In that speech, Carson, a devout Seventh-day Adventist, paraphrased Prov. 11:9, a verse that says the godless destroy neighborhoods (“but through knowledge, the righteous escape.”).

So during the confirmation process, let us pray for knowledge. Those neighborhoods could use some protecting.

Campbell is a journalist, author and distinguished lecturer in journalism at the University of New Haven. She is the author of Dating Jesus: Fundamentalism, Feminism and the American Girl and the upcoming Searching for The American Dream in Frog Hollow. Her work has appeared in the Hartford Courant, Connecticut Magazine, The New Haven Register and The Guardian. Follow her @campbellsl


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