xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Carson should look to Baltimore for ideas on how to run HUD

Dr. Ben Carson, who cites having grown up in an inner city as his relevant experience for the top job at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, should look to those cities as experts in urban policy, especially around the issue of homelessness.

While not a Baltimore native, Dr. Carson's ties to Baltimore are strong. As a student in Baltimore City, I remember learning about his achievements as the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. (Dr. Carson retired in 2013.) Now Dr. Carson has an opportunity to revisit our city and learn from nonprofit providers in the community, city leadership and people experiencing homelessness.

Advertisement

While it's almost a cliche that cities are laboratories, it's true that cities are at the forefront of policy experimentation. For instance, through the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, mayors in 702 cities across the country (including Baltimore) have pledged to end homelessness by targeting a segment of the population of people experiencing homelessness — in this case, veterans — and providing them with permanent housing opportunities. To date, 20 cities have achieved the goal.

The Mayors Challenge takes a housing first approach, which means finding permanent housing for individuals and families experiencing homelessness as quickly as possible. This strategy began in Los Angeles and is incorporated in the homelessness strategies of cities around the country, including Baltimore's The Journey Home project, a 10-year plan to serve the more than 2,700 Baltimoreans experiencing homelessness (we are about eight years into the citywide plan). In Fiscal Year 2016, HUD adopted housing first as a policy priority, encouraging its grant recipients to follow this model.

Advertisement

Cities are taking a leading role in implementing innovative solutions to homelessness, but the Mayors Challenge is strongly supported by the federal government. The initiative was announced by the White House and amplified by HUD Secretary Julian Castro, who in some cases personally urged cities to participate. The call to action to end veterans homelessness is also supported by the U.S. Department of Veterans affairs and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

In addition to supporting initiatives like the Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness, the major role the federal government plays in supporting homelessness initiatives in cities is funding. In Baltimore City, the Mayor's Office of Human Services Homeless Service Program is responsible for obtaining and administering federal grants for street outreach, emergency shelter, transitional housing, rapid re-housing, permanent supportive housing, meals programs and so on. This is done in collaboration with the city's continuum of care, which is comprised of over 70 Baltimore City nonprofit service providers and advocacy organizations.

Baltimore City receives about $20 million annually from HUD, 85 percent of which is dedicated to permanent housing. That funding supported about 45 permanent housing projects in Baltimore City in 2015.

The largest award, $3.7 million, was allocated to Behavioral Health System Baltimore, which addresses mental health and substance use disorders through early intervention, treatment and recovery. The largest sub-population of those experiencing homelessness in Baltimore is comprised of individuals and families suffering from chronic substance abuse.

Two new projects were funded by HUD in 2015, including $1 million for Healthcare for the Homeless to house 65 individuals. Other programs target certain segments of the population of people experiencing homelessness in Baltimore from chronically homeless individuals and families, to persons with HIV/AIDS, to victims of domestic violence and unaccompanied youth.

HUD funding decisions take a toll on these programs, which was the case earlier this year when Baltimore nonprofit and faith-based organizations lost about $3.8 million in federal funding due to the federal agency's shift in priorities toward permanent housing for the homeless.

Dr. Carson said little about urban policy during his own presidential campaign, so his plan for the direction of the $48 billion agency is unknown. Rather than disavow Dr. Carson, I hope that he looks to the example set by cities — including our own Baltimore — in setting bold goals and using empirically proven strategies to achieve them.

Katherine Klosek is a senior implementation adviser at the Center for Government Excellence within Johns Hopkins University; her email is katherine.klosek@gmail.com.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement