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HUD’s Dr. Ben Carson chides Seattle’s approach to homelessness

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. (File photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Dr. Ben Carson, United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under the Trump administration, says it’s time to set aside ideology and focus on solutions to homelessness in Seattle and beyond.

Rantz: ‘60 Minutes’ badly botches Seattle homelessness

Carson told KTTH’s Jason Rantz that high rent does play a factor, but there are other issues to consider as well.

“You have the largest regulations, the largest rent numbers, and subsequently the largest number of people who can’t afford the rent. But you have to recognized that as a society, we have done something that is almost unpardonable,” he described. “Back in the 80s, in our attempt to become compassionate, we took mentally ill people and tossed them out on the street.”

Coupled with an opioid crisis and other drug addictions, Carson said we’ve created an environment for a crisis. He believes bad policy also contributes to the problem.

“When you tell people this is a public space, therefore you can camp here, you can do whatever you want here, that’s not what a public space is,” he pointed out. “A public space is supposed to be available for the public. That means for all of the public, not for a group of people to come squat on and make everyone feel uncomfortable.”

Carson said leaders sometimes believe that line of thinking is compassionate, but in actuality, it has the opposite effect. He said local leaders need to acknowledge that we have citizens who have extreme needs and determine what they need for a “kind of life that will be acceptable.”

Good services, including counseling, also play a role in the solution.

For Seattle specifically, Carson believes the city needs laws that don’t encourage homelessness to move in. And second, for the people who are already living on the streets, he said the answer is “Housing First, Second, and Third.”

“Get them off the street. Housing Second is figure out why they were there in the first place. Housing Third is fix it. That’s what real compassion is,” he described. “If you just grab them and take them off the street and don’t do anything else, all you’re doing is inviting a continuation and an expansion of the problem.”

System failing to address Seattle homelessness

Carson said that in most cases, it’s not that policymakers are purposely trying to exacerbate the problem, it’s just that they haven’t thought the solution through, and don’t study the impact of their policies.

He suggested we really examine cities that don’t have a homeless problem, such as Tokyo, as well as cities in the Midwest. That being so, he also acknowledged the cost of living in many of those areas is much lower than places like San Francisco, which has a high rate of homelessness.

While it’s easy to blame one side or the other, Carson said it’s time to forget about the blame and concentrate on results, including long-term.

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