Exclusive Interview: Ben Carson on How to Help Homeless in Your Community

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Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to announce a powerful new tool to help the homeless and needy in communities across America.

The “Find Shelter” tool is designed to connect needy families and individuals with housing, food, clothing, medical, and other local resources, Carson explains. He says the website will help to meet the practical needs of many Americans as the pandemic continues.

We also cover these stories:

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls President Donald Trump a “clear and present danger” before the House’s vote to impeach him again.
  • Trump releases a statement calling for peace in the nation.
  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announces plans to end the city’s affiliation with Trump businesses. 

“The Daily Signal Podcast” is available on Ricochet, Apple PodcastsPippaGoogle Play, and Stitcher. All of our podcasts can be found at DailySignal.com/podcasts. If you like what you hear, please leave a review. You also write us at [email protected]

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Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.

Rob Bluey: We are joined on “The Daily Signal Podcast” today by Secretary Ben Carson, who has led the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the past four years. Secretary Carson, thanks so much for joining us today.


Ben Carson: It’s absolute pleasure. Thank you.

Bluey: It’s not your first time speaking with The Daily Signal and we appreciate all of the contributions you’ve made over the past four years. Your department has certainly been busy on a number of fronts. And I’d like to start today with a new resource for Americans that you’ve developed called Find Shelter. Can you tell us about it?

Carson: We’re very excited about this particular tool. Basically, a lot of times you’ll see people out on the street. Sometimes they’re begging. Sometimes they have signs and they look disheveled.

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And nevertheless, they’re within a few blocks of a place where they can get help, where they can get a bed, where they can get food, where they can get health services, clothing, all of these things are available. But they don’t know about it. They don’t know where it is, and no one else does either.

So what we’ve done is created an app that you can put on your phone, so that you can just scan the QR codes that are located in various public places that say “Find Shelter.”

Or, you can just take your phone and go to HUD.gov/FindShelter and it will give you a list of all the places. And [it will] not only provide you a list of where they are, but it also provides you the telephone numbers, the website, directions for how to get there—all the things that you would need to be able to take advantage of this situation.

So you no longer have to feel helpless, or you say, “I want to help that person, but they’ll probably just take it and spend it on drugs,” and you’re conflicted. Now you got a way that you can definitely provide them some help.

Bluey: Thank you for that explanation. Again, as you mentioned, Find Shelter is available at HUD.gov/FindShelter. I’ve had a chance to look at it myself, and it’s a great tool that allows the visitors to HUD’s website to search for places that, as you said, provide shelter or help with needs like clothing, health care, and food.

How do you hope that this will help relieve the homelessness problem that we have in America and others who may be in need?

Carson: Many of the shelters that you go to actually have people there who are trained professionals in terms of how to get people off the street and how they get them into some type of a help program, and aim them toward, at some point, becoming self-sufficient. But they’ll never get that if they just wander around on the streets, which so many people do.

And a lot of them also are associated with health clinics, and with addiction centers, and with mental health facilities. We are a very compassionate country and we have a lot of facilities that are available to people, but it’s not particularly helpful if they don’t know how to get to them.

Bluey: That is so true. I plugged in my own ZIP code and a few others ZIP codes, and it is a comprehensive list that you have assembled. So thank you for doing that.

There’s a map which makes it quite helpful to see where they are in your community. What was your inspiration for embarking on this project?

Carson: I was driving down the route that I usually drive to go to church, and there was this homeless man with a sign. And I kept seeing him different places.

I started thinking, “There must be a good way to help this fellow.” And we just started talking about it, saying, “What is the best thing that you could do for this guy?” And as we discuss it and looked at these possibilities, it was putting him in contact with the resources in the areas where he keeps showing up.

And the other thing about a lot of the shelters is they are frequently associated with various nonprofits or faith-based organizations, which can actually develop a relationship with these individuals. And it’s that relationship, along with the caring, that can very often make the critical difference in a person’s life.

The federal government admittedly gives that a lot of money and has programs. They don’t develop relationships with people, and that’s why some of the results are not as good as we’d like to see.

Bluey: Thank you for speaking to that. Those community organizations are doing tremendous work all over our great country.

I understand you’re also making available downloadable, printable posters and palm cards. What are some of the ways that you hope Americans can help spread the word about Find Shelter and make sure that this resource is utilized?

Carson: I hope that people will in fact go to our website, read about the program, familiarize themselves with it, memorize themselves with the aides that are in their own neighborhood.

But yes, in fact, download some of the posters and put them up in the places where you see homeless people. And put them up around libraries, and public housing authorities, and police stations, and fire stations where people can easily see them and then access that.

You can also carry around some palm cards in your pocket. And instead of giving them a dollar, give them a palm card, give them something that can really help them.

Bluey: Secretary Carson, the coronavirus pandemic has clearly had an impact on a great many Americans. What are some of the steps that you’ve taken at HUD? And do you anticipate the Find Shelter tool helping those who are facing hard times because of the pandemic?

Carson: Absolutely. It would be very helpful to those individuals. We have done on a number of things in terms of working with the landlords and working with forbearance so that they can still manage to survive.

Because a lot of times we don’t think about the landlords. Their business is their livelihood. And if everybody is not paying, obviously, they go out of business. They go out of business, then a bunch of people wind up on the streets. So, there’s a domino effect there.

And that’s why we have been particularly concerned, not only with the renters themselves, but also with the landlords and the apartment providers.

We have a toolbox of things that are available to whoever is in charge of a multi-family, that gives them a number of resources that are available to them.

Bluey: That’s really, really great to hear. And during this pandemic, you have personally championed the idea of neighbors helping neighbors, to help those Americans who may be more vulnerable.

Do you have a favorite example, or some of the ways that you have been inspired by what is happening in our communities during the pandemic?

Carson: I know one of the EnVision Centers in Kentucky had a food van and they started going around and distributing food, particularly to the elderly who are sheltering in place. And made it possible for them to continue to have a reasonable life without worrying about exposing themselves.

It’s such an important concept because a lot of communities have migrated to just “Let’s lock everything down and close all the businesses, and somehow that’s going to help us.” It doesn’t really help. And we can see that from the statistics.

But what does help is if we look at the vulnerable people in our society—those who are over the age of 65 and those with comorbidities—and we teach each family, and each social group, who the vulnerable people are and what do you do to make sure that you don’t infect them.

You can go to work, you can go to school. But what do you need to do to protect the vulnerable people? That would be a much more intelligent way to do things.

Bluey: And of course, we had you in our prayers, Secretary Carson, as you battled the virus yourself. And so we’re glad to have you back healthy and in the position you are to make sure that you’re able to help others.

Carson: Thank you. I appreciate that. And I would just caution everybody, this is a serious disease. Don’t take it lightly. Be careful in the way that you do things, but it doesn’t mean that you have to shut your life down.

Bluey: You and I have talked in the past about some of the trends we’ve seen in America on homelessness. Do we know yet how coronavirus has impacted some of those numbers?

Carson: Because we have been aggressive with forbearance, and moratoriums, and foreclosures, and various things like that. And of course, we disseminated $12 billion worth of CARES funds—a large portion of that going to make sure that people were able to stay in their homes, but that can’t last forever.

And that’s what we have got to get people to understand. The economy was exceedingly strong and has been able to withstand a real belly punch, but that’s not going to go on forever.

We have to begin to think what we’re going to do because the coronavirus pandemic will have its effect, and it is going to have its effect, but that effect can be mitigated if we think ahead. We don’t wait for the crisis to hit.

And I will give Congress some credit in terms of making funding available for the … CARES Act. Because if you destroy the economic infrastructure, a lot more people will die of poverty than would ever die of the virus itself.

We have to think about that, but we also have to divorce politics and really start thinking about the survival of our citizens.

What do we have to do in order to get an economy that is thriving once again—so that they can make a living, so that they can begin to enjoy the American dream and not be just worried about barely surviving?

Bluey: Even outside of coronavirus, I know that that’s been a passion for you as a secretary of housing and urban development. What are some of the accomplishments that you are most proud of at HUD over these past four years?

Carson: So, there’s a whole lot of them. First of all, I’ll say, please go to HUD.gov and look on the accomplishment page. It’s actually more than a page, its a lot of stuff.

But some of the key things, we brought financial stability to the organization. You used to always hear these stories about fiscal mismanagement, you don’t hear those anymore.

Now, we’ve brought in a terrific CFO—that office had been neglected for almost a decade—and had Integrity Task Force, which crossed all the silos and brought real financial control. It’s one of the reasons that we were able to withstand this pandemic, because our Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund was so strong.

A lot of people have been saying, “You guys have the accumulated a lot of money. Let’s cut all the premiums.” If we had done that, we wouldn’t have had the resources that we needed when that time came. You also have to be ready for the rainy day. So that was critical.

We’ve been able to put up almost 100 EnVision Centers and they’re having a powerful impact in the communities where they are bringing multiple federal agencies in line with state and local agencies, all under one roof so that people can access those things and began to climb the ladder of success.

… That young mother who has three children and never finished high school can find out how to get child care, how to get her GED, how to get more advanced training so that she could become self-sufficient and teach that to our children, so we can begin to break those cycles of the dependency.

Working as the chairman of the Opportunity and Revitalization Council, the Opportunity Zones have sped all over the place, have lifted hundreds of thousands—and projecting a million people soon—out of poverty, providing for almost 500,000 jobs, creating situations where people are getting the kind of training which will lift them out of poverty, which will give them independence.

Those are things that make them very mobile. Those kinds of things are incredibly important. And it goes on and on, but our major thing has been self-sufficiency as opposed to dependency because that makes all the difference in the world of a person’s life. And we have frequently taken a more paternalistic attitude.

Pat people on the head, “There, there, you poor little thing, I’m going to take care of all your needs.” That’s not really helping people. That’s making people dependent.

What we need to be doing is giving them the mechanism, showing them a mechanism, helping them to climb those ladders of opportunity. And that is much more fulfilling and satisfying for them, and for society at large.

Bluey: That is true, Secretary Carson. And thank you for going through some of those accomplishments. Those are certainly notable things. And as you said, much more detailed list available on HUD’s website.

Carson: Let me just mention one other thing. And that is that we have just an incredible staff. I always say we have the ugliest building, but the best people.

Just to show you how different they are from so many bureaucracies, a group of young people came to us almost two years ago now, talking about what was happening to young people who were aging out of foster care—a quarter of them ending up homeless, or even a larger number, inadequately housed.

And our staff was able to put together in four months a program called Foster Youth to Independence, or FYI, to give these young people not only a voucher so that they could have a home, but the wraparound services—the kinds of things that your family generally provides.

Can you imagine being 18 years old and all of a sudden being on your own with no family and no support? We’re providing those kinds of things, and it’s been a tremendous success. And the program’s rapidly growing. We hope, eventually, there will be no kids aging out of foster care that don’t have support.

Bluey: That would be great news, Secretary Carson. Thank you for sharing that story with us.

So many of our listeners at The Daily Signal have been inspired by your message, even prior to becoming a secretary of HUD. What are your plans next? Anything you’d like to share with our audience about what’s in your future?

Carson: I will remain involved in the public sphere, working on self-sufficiency, but also working on what I perceive as something that has great potential to destroy our nation. And that’s the hatred and division that is going on.

And we need to learn how to compromise with each other. When you live in a diverse society, taking a “my way or the highway” attitude doesn’t work. And also, the “eye for an eye” attitude, “You did this to me, I’m doing it to you.”

“Eye for an eye” attitude leads to blindness by everybody in the long run. And we just need to rethink who we are as a nation. Rethink about the incredible importance of the United States of America to the world.

Before the United States was on the scene, you had all these despotic leaders who would just trample on anybody who was weaker than them. And don’t think that the world won’t go back to that if the United States fades.

So, we have obligations both to ourselves, our own people, and to the people of the world, and those are the kinds of things I’m going to be working on.

Bluey: I’m grateful to hear that and thank you for leaving us with those words of wisdom today. I hope our listeners will take that to heart and follow that path. We certainly appreciate you sharing that with us.

Secretary Ben Carson, thank you for your leadership of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and telling us about the new tool that your department has created called Find Shelter. Again, you can find it at HUD.gov/FindShelter.

Carson: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure being with you.

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