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Trump Taps Pillar Of San Antonio Homeless Policy To Federal Homeless Agency, Criticism Follows

Haven For Hope
Haven For Hope

Robert Marbut Jr. was named as the next head of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness Wednesday. This largely unknown independent agency coordinates homlessness policy across more than a dozen federal agencies. 

Marbut may prove controversial as President Trump’s choice. The former San Antonio city councilman and first CEO for Haven for Hope — Bexar County’s consolidated shelter and homeless services campus — espouses views on addressing homelessness that many argue are out of step with current approaches. He has been critical of “housing first” policies as well as street feeding programs. 

The appointment drew swift rebukes from top homeless advocates like Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, who said in a tweet.

“Robert Marbut’s references to “street feedings” turn my stomach. Extraordinarily and purposefully dehumanizing language. ”

President Trump has signaled he wants a different strategy and has been increasingly vocal against homelessness in left-leaning cities and states. 

Marbut consulted with cities on homelessness for years. In the past he has argued for policies that drive homeless men and women to services rather than meet them on the streets. Some say these policies are used to criminalize people without homes. 

Related | The Source: Ordinances Attempt to Drive Homeless to Services

Robert Marbut Jr.
Credit Wikicommons
Robert Marbut Jr.

In many interviews Marbut has said he disagrees with “housing first” policies that put people in homes before trying to address mental health and addiction issues, pointing to his work at Haven For Hope which interweaves treatment with housing efforts.

“The first 2,000 people who went through Haven for Hope had a 12 percent higher success rate than the national average than housing first,” Marbut told TPR in 2015. 

He is an ardent critic of so-called “street feeding” programs, arguing the process only enables people to remain on the street and doesn’t address the root cause of their homelessness.

“The best thing to do is to locate a feeding program… with the core treatment programs that deal with mental health and substance abuse,” Marbut said on TPR’s The Source in 2015.

Back in 2015, San Antonio was in the midst of an uproar about ticketing people feeding the homeless. Despite counseling cities used this ticketing approach, Marbut was adamant that he didn’t agree with it.  

“If we’re trying to have homeless people graduate from the street, that happens when you’re in a 24/7 program. On one side, the far-right has a tendency to want to arrest people, that’s simply doesn’t work. Likewise the far-left has this idea that there’s no accountability in recovery and it’s ok to hang out on a park bench,” he said. 

All indications are that he may have been brought in to facilitate a stronger, “far-right” strategy though.

The Washington Post reported in the fall that the administration was considering raising tent camps in California and placing the people who live there in temporary facilities, the legalities of such a move are still in question.  Critics say practice simply hides homelessness rather than addressing it. 

Marbut will be confirmed to the post pending a vote at the Interagency On Homelessness’ Dec. 10 meeting. 

Related | The Source: After Dismissing Cheever Citation, Pondering City’s approach to Homeless

Marbut ran a consulting company on homelessness from San Antonio for several years. It’s unclear if he still runs it as the website no longer functions.

His history in the city extends beyond the homeless though. He has advised several politicians on both sides of the aisle, including former Mayor Henry Cisneros in the 1980s. Marbut reportedly coined the name of the indoor downtown stadium, the Alamodome.

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive.

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