If there is any one thing that could make a person unfit to head up federal housing policy in the United States, it would be his belief that poverty is a “state of mind.” Despite centuries and decades of intelligent discussion, research and policymaking on the subject, here comes Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of the federal agency Housing and Urban Development since January, to tell us we’re all mistaken. Yes, all those great thinkers on the subject, Martin Luther King, Jr., Milton Friedman, Mother Teresa. All wrong. No, your economic distress, your child’s suffering, is caused by your thoughts.
Naturally then, Carson thinks that solving homelessness doesn’t require building millions more units of housing for ordinary people. It just requires people to think themselves rich. All around him, if he chose to look, Carson could see the stagnant wages, technological job loss, dismantling of our national cash assistance program, landlords’ refusal to accept public assistance vouchers, and an absence of construction of low income housing that are causes of the poverty he says can be cured with thinking differently. When he uses his access to the media to say that poverty is a state of mind, he condemns homeless and poor American families to continued struggle, and continued poor bashing. How reckless can this rich man be? It’s astonishing to hear a black man condemning black children to poverty, and insinuating on national radio that if they are in a homeless shelter or haven’t eaten tonight, it is because there is something wrong with the way their parents think.
At the same time Dr. Carson is talking like this, New York City is grappling with crisis levels of homeless children; so many, that our school system has a dedicated department, Students in Temporary Housing, that attempts to lessen the emotional and practical harm done to children’s education by not having a place to live. Every day, I meet with families of three and four people who rent a single bedroom, because they can’t pay a rent for an apartment of their own with their wages. While these families suffer, Carson does nothing to move America toward a rational housing policy; it appears that he has no plans to create the estimated seven million units of affordable housing that the National Alliance to End Homelessness has assessed the United States needs.
Maybe this is Carson’s housing policy plan: have homeless kids click their red shoes together three times and repeat, “there’s no place like home.”
Upon confirmation it was known that Carson was no housing expert, but you would think with his six figure HUD salary, he might be bothered reading up on his subject. He could read New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s fall 2016 report showing that the number of New York City homeless families has swelled 68 percent since 2007; we have 60,000 people residing in shelters, 23,000 of them children. In his own Detroit, Michigan, an unconscionable 57 percent of children live in poverty. Carson believes those children they can end their desperate economic situations by thinking positive.
Another part of the U.S. poverty conundrum that goes undiscussed, especially by elites like Carson, is that since the Bill Clinton Welfare Reform—changing Aid to Families with Dependent Children to the state controlled Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF—states have been systematically pilfering the funds intended to alleviate the desperation and want of poverty. Carson doesn’t have any working knowledge of TANF.
The website of Johns Hopkins University states that while director of pediatric neurosurgery there, Dr. Carson took on “seemingly impossible operations, giving children hope for a second change at a healthy and normal life.” If only he understood that poverty kills children too, and he is shirking his responsibility for housing American children by professing that poverty is an individual failing.
He is not the first politician, to spew ridiculous statements about poverty, of course. There was Ronald Reagan and his armies of Cadillac driving welfare “queens” that no one ever saw except him; there was Bill Clinton, because of whom we have the current failed, state run welfare system instead of federal control, and Mitt Romney and his misworded assertion that he didn’t need to care about the 47 million Americans in poverty. So Carson is not the first. However, he is the latest and he is supposed to be employed helping to house Americans. Dr. Carson has no knowledge of economics nor commitment to creating housing policy as HUD Secretary. He should step down from his plum post before we have more Americans homeless than we have housed.