CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The executive director of Charleston’s Covenant House wants the new secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to visit West Virginia’s Capital City to see the positive effects her group’s work has had on homelessness.
“I think he’ll be open to looking at the successes of it,” said Ellen Allen with Covenant House, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing homelessness and improving lives in the Kanawha Valley.
Following Dr. Ben Carson’s confirmation, Allen told MetroNews she had “cautious optimism” about how Carson would lead the department focused on the housing needs of Americans.
HUD’s work directly affects Covenant House.
“I think Dr. Carson’s background gives him a unique voice to truly champion our work,” Allen said.
Carson is a past director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Considered a pioneer in neurosurgery, he retired from medicine in 2013. In 2015, the Republican launched an unsuccessful campaign for president.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, Carson’s mother, Sonya, who had limited education and cleaned houses to keep the family afloat financially, made education a priority for her sons who she raised, at times, in public housing.
“I’m hoping he’ll examine how public housing gave him a stable home to grow up in and, ultimately, flourish and that’s something that I think could be replicated throughout our country with adequate funding,” Allen said.
“I hope he’ll champion that.”
The scarcity of affordable housing is the “overwhelming” cause of homelessness, according to Allen, who said finding ways to address a restoration of funding for low-income housing programs should lead Carson’s priorities.
Following decades of budget cuts, she estimated there’s a shortage of 7.2 million units of affordable housing across the United States.
One federal program to address that is called “Housing First,” an approach that offers permanent, affordable housing as quickly as possible for individuals and families experiencing homelessness. After that, support services are provided.
Previously, housing came only when a number of conditions were met.
Allen said it’s a good investment since “the cost of homelessness is much more costly than housing someone.” Since 2012, homelessness has declined in Kanawha County by 24 percent, she said.
Housing fairness is also an issue in Allen’s view. The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination, but Allen said such discrimination persists — adding to homelessness.
She said the criminalization of homelessness in parts of the U.S. must also be addressed, meaning local measures that prohibit sleeping or camping in public spaces along with eating, sitting or asking for money.
For 2017, under President Barack Obama, HUD’s proposed budget included more than $48 billion in discretionary funding and $11 billion in new mandatory spending over ten years with an emphasis on supporting 4.5 million households through rental assistance.
Allen said she’s hopeful HUD remains a funding priority with President Donald Trump now in the White House.
Last week, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) were among the “yes” votes for Carson’s confirmation.
“I’m confident that Dr. Carson will listen to the needs of rural America as he executes the mission of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, including making housing affordable and accessible to all West Virginians,” Capito said in a statement.
Manchin applauded Carson’s “willingness to serve.”
“I believe he understands that the housing and development needs facing West Virginia are different than those facing America’s urban communities and I look forward to working with him to improve the lives of West Virginians,” Manchin said.
The U.S. Senate vote was 58-41.
“We are prepared to hold Carson accountable if HUD policies and funding fail to adequately address housing issues affecting our most vulnerable citizens,” Allen wrote in a statement.
In a later interview, she said this of Secretary Carson: “I’m certainly going to give him a chance.”