Homelessness in Los Angeles is a crisis that has vexed government officials for years but Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said Thursday he might have the answer: Religion, and the expansion of federal faith-based programs.
In remarks at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy and Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Globe Policy, Carson moved to ease federal rules governing faith-based programs, and said homelessness in the U.S. could be solved if “every church, synagogue, and mosque adopted one homeless person.”
The assertion punctuated a speech during a conference addressing homelessness in California, which has shot up in recent years amid skyrocketing housing costs, long standing municipal laws that constrain new development, and programs such as the city of L.A.’s Measure HHH that have been slow to get off the ground. There are about 155,000 homeless people in California today, according to HUD, and 59,000 in L.A. County alone, per the L.A. Homeless Services Authority.
The conference included other big other names such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former two-term California governor, who in remarks lamented the ubiquity of homeless from “Los Angeles to San Francisco to the Central Valley,” and how Venice’s famed Muscle Beach was now teeming with homeless.
Carson took centerstage as the political figure with the present-day ability to change homeless policy. The HUD secretary, though, did not criticize or provide housing and development policy analysis regarding how the state of California and cities including L.A. are handling homelessness. Instead, he repeatedly returned to faith-based programs in which federal money is siphoned to social service groups with religious affiliations.
In fact, the one policy proposal Carson brought with him to L.A. was a regulatory change regarding the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which the George W. Bush administration adapted into federal law by executive order in 2002 (then under the moniker, Faith-Based and Community Initiatives).
The Obama administration changed the office’s rules in 2010 with a directive that anyone benefiting from faith-based financial assistance must be made aware of the religious affiliation of the organization providing aid and be given the option of an alternative, non-religiously affiliated provider.
Carson’s proposal — put into the Federal Register Thursday — would simply nix Obama’s change, and return to the Bush administration’s language, deleting “requirements that faith-based organizations provide notices not required of secular organizations.”
As with most proposed federal regulatory changes, a review process now begins with a 60-day comment period.
Carson’s speech comes three weeks after he met with L.A. Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to discuss federal solutions to L.A. homelessness. That meeting resulted in no aid announcements or new policy proposals, though Garcetti generally referred to the “additional resources” of Carson’s support in a public statement following the meeting.
If Carson has been cautious in dealing with L.A.’s homeless crisis, his boss is more forceful, at least rhetorically.
In remarks last September, President Donald Trump excoriated L.A. and San Francisco for letting homeless people live on “our best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings…where people in those buildings pay tremendous taxes, where they went to those locations because of the prestige.”