Robert Marbut is a Trump appointee whose punitive approach to combating homelessness upends the proven “Housing First” policies historically used by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates the federal response to homelessness across 19 agencies. Housing First prioritizes permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness before addressing chronic concerns like substance abuse issues or mental health disorders and has been long championed by housing advocates and the USICH itself.

Marbut, however, favors what he calls “Housing Fourth,” which provides homeless individuals housing only after they correct behaviors that caused them to become homeless in the first place — failings that Marbut sees as personal, not systemic. He advised cities and municipalities to use his “velvet hammer” strategy to criminalize panhandling, banish homeless services to city outskirts, and treat food and shelter as privileges for people experiencing homelessness.

The dehumanizing strategies Marbut proposes are right in line with the acceleration of the Trump administration’s moves towards criminalizing homelessness. Advocates and Congressional leaders from both parties fear that Marbut will push a harmful agenda rooted in his controversial policy ideas as the USICH Executive Director.

75 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,” and housing advocates have criticized Marbut’s “dehumanizing and ineffective methods.” Members of the Senate Banking Committee sent Marbut a letter probing his plans to address homelessness, and a group of bipartisan lawmakers have urged Marbut to keep the USICH “committed to evidence-based methods.”

We sued the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness for failing to release records we requested on Robert Marbut’s appointment. We had filed three FOIA requests seeking:

  • All correspondence between HUD or USICH officials and 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.

To learn more about Robert Marbut and what he’s been up to, read up on our latest Behind the Scenes series here.

January 6, 2020

We sent Freedom of Information Act requests to both HUD and USICH seeking records related to Marbut’s appointment.

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April 1, 2020

We sent another FOIA request to USICH seeking communications between Marbut and state and local governments.

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May 21, 2020

We filed suit after HUD and USICH failed to produce any records.

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Robin Thurston

Deputy Legal Director

Litigating challenges to unlawful actions, abuses of power, and threats to democracy on behalf of those who are harmed.

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Cory Hansen

Legal Analyst

Focusing on banking, finance, labor, tax, and trade issues.

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