Records Would Reveal Role Robert Marbut Played in Crafting the Administration’s Punitive Homeless Policies

Washington, D.C. — Today, Democracy Forward sued the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) for failing to release requested records regarding Robert Marbut, the newly appointed Executive Director of USICH — the office tasked with coordinating the federal response to homelessness across 19 agencies. The withheld records could expose Marbut’s involvement in the Trump administration’s shift away from evidence-based Housing First policies and the degree to which he is bringing his punitive approach to homelessness into the administration.

“Robert Marbut’s record makes his appointment to lead the federal response to homelessness deeply concerning,” said Democracy Forward Senior Counsel Robin Thurston. “The public has a right to know about how and why he was chosen to lead USICH.”

Robert Marbut was tapped to lead USICH last December after Matthew Doherty, an Obama administration appointee, was pushed out as the Trump administration accelerated its plans to criminalize homelessness. The selection of Marbut — a homeless policy consultant who championed a “velvet hammer” strategy focused on banning panhandling and discouraging cities from providing social services and food without drug testing — raised serious concerns.

Seventy-five House members called Mr. Marbut “unqualified, unprepared, and disdainful of the mission of the critically important federal agency which he has been appointed to lead.” Housing advocates have criticized Marbut’s “dehumanizing and ineffective methods,” and in January, 12 senators sent a letter probing Marbut’s plans to address homelessness.

In recent months, the Trump Administration has embraced using law enforcement as a means of addressing homelessness and has moved away from the Housing First model, which prioritizes permanent housing for the homeless before addressing chronic concerns like substance abuse issues or mental health disorders. The model has been long favored by housing advocates and the USICH itself. Marbut, however, says he favors “Housing Fourth,” which calls for providing homeless individuals housing only after they solve the behaviors that caused them to become homeless in the first place  failings that Marbut sees as personal, not systemic.

In order to better understand Marbut’s appointment as Executive Director of USICH, Democracy Forward filed three FOIA requests for records including:

  • All correspondence between HUD or USICH officials and Marbut or Marbut Consulting, as well as any correspondence by HUD or USICH officials discussing Marbut’s appointment
  • All correspondence related to “Housing Fourth,” “velvet hammer,” or Haven for Hope
  • All correspondence between Marbut and state or local governments
  • Any calendar entries that include Marbut as an invitee

The suit was filed on May 21, 2020 in the District Court for the District of Columbia.

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Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.

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