Trump taps consultant who urged food ban on homeless to lead council

By Katy O'Donnell

The Trump administration has tapped Robert Marbut, a consultant who has urged cities to stop feeding the homeless, to lead the agency that coordinates the government's response to the crisis, drawing a rebuke from a top housing advocate.

The administration last month pushed out Matthew Doherty, an Obama appointee, as executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. Marbut will take the helm pending confirmation by the council at its Dec. 10 meeting, Jennifer Rich, a spokesperson for the group, confirmed on Wednesday.

As a consultant who advised cities on how to reduce homelessness, Marbut advocated putting unsheltered people in “24/7 programming” to treat addiction and other issues — and to stop feeding them.

“You can't be feeding on the street,” Marbut told NPR in a 2014 interview. “But likewise, you have to provide and enhance and sometimes create programs that address the root causes because hunger is not the root cause of homelessness.”

Marbut is also a critic of the “housing first” approach adopted by many cities, a policy that advocates providing permanent housing as a first step in dealing with homelessness.

“I’m pretty controversial, because I often say, ‘Having a home is not the problem for the homeless. It’s maintaining a financial stability that allows you to maintain your homestead,’” Marbut told NextCity in 2015.

Still, he referred to efforts to arrest the homeless as “gimmicks,” potentially putting him at odds with the White House, which floated increased policing as a tool to combat homelessness when it released a report on the issue in September.

“If you use ordinances to criminalize and you do not provide alternative services, you do not provide correct engagement,” Marbut said in the NextCity interview. “Those gimmicks don’t work. They make you feel good for an hour.”

Marbut has also advocated moving homeless people to large “campuses” with onsite treatment — an approach that alarms housing advocates like Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, who called his appointment “potentially a big step backwards.”

“He clearly has a patronizing, condescending and blaming approach — which, while it may hide homelessness, especially from downtown businesses, it does nothing to end or even alleviate homelessness,” Yentel said.

“It’s absurd and it’s dangerous,” Yentel added.

Doherty's ouster last month as head of the Council on Homelessness drew criticism from housing advocates concerned about the administration's tough new approach to the problem.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has been tussling with the Trump administration over housing and homeless issues for months, announced Wednesday that he was bringing Doherty in to advise his administration on homelessness.

Doherty will remain in D.C. and work as an “advisor/consultant” to the Newsom administration, he tweeted Wednesday afternoon.