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Housing Secretary Ben Carson Discusses Homelessness Solutions After LA Visit


How do you fix homelessness in Los Angeles? Well, Ben Carson has ideas. As Housing and Urban Development secretary, he is the Trump administration's point person for housing. He's been on a bus tour around the country. He has just visited LA, a visit that was not guaranteed to go smoothly given what Carson's boss, President Trump, has had to say about the city's homeless problem.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's a shame. The world is looking at it - look at Los Angeles with the tents and the horrible, horrible, disgusting conditions.

KELLY: When I spoke with Ben Carson earlier today, he described the homeless camps in LA differently.

BEN CARSON: You know, when you look in the faces of some of those homeless individuals, it really tears at your heart strings - the loss of hope, the hollowed-out faces and eyes. And you see the camps, and, of course, there's a lot of unsanitary conditions there. As a physician, that concerns me greatly.

KELLY: Carson told me he has been to LA a few times over the last year, and he's been talking with the Democratic mayor of that city, Eric Garcetti, about possible solutions to homelessness.

CARSON: Well, first of all, we talked about, how do we get the people off the street? - maybe utilizing federal and state territories and the ability to put up structures that will allow people to have a clean bed and, most importantly, some of the wraparound services - medical services, as well as things that can get them back on their feet. People who are addicted to drugs - you know, we have to deal with that.

KELLY: Right, substance abuse counseling, mental health counseling - you mentioned national and federal territories. Explain what you mean. This is just land on which to build shelters. Are you making some more available?

CARSON: We are talking about that. I think that will be a part of the solution.

KELLY: I just - sorry, I just have to press you on that. You're talking about it; it's not something you're ruling in or out at this point.

CARSON: Well, I don't necessarily want to make this the official announcement. Talking about it...

KELLY: But you're hinting that an official announcement is coming.

CARSON: An official announcement will be coming soon, yes.

KELLY: OK. What about money for some of those other resources that are needed that you described there?

CARSON: You know, there are lots of sources of money, as you may well know. The governor has about $2 billion set aside for homelessness. This is probably a good time to use some of it. And if we provide a place to put people and we provide health care and other types of services, I think all of us sitting down together, we can come up with what's necessary to not only get people off the street but to keep them off the street.

KELLY: I want to follow on something you said. You mentioned $2 billion in California funds and that this would be a good time to spend it. Obviously, there are local funds, state funds, federal funds. Since you are in control of the federal funds, I want to ask, how do you square the ambitions to help with the homeless crisis in LA with the proposed cut to your budget, to HUD's budget? The White House budget for the next spending year calls for $9 billion in cuts. That's 15% of your budget.

CARSON: The one thing that we always make sure of is that the people that we are taking care of will be taken care of in the budget. So the amount of money that has been designated by the president's budget will see no evictions and no taking of people off programs that they're already in.

KELLY: So you're OK with this, with a $9 billion cut?

CARSON: Well, it's a bilateral process. You know, you propose a budget. Congress proposes a budget. You arrive at a final budget. People jump up and down about the budget. But it always ends up going up and...

KELLY: Well, because Congress votes to keep it higher, right?

CARSON: Congress isn't in charge of the budget, but they're also responsible for an enormous debt that young people are going to have to pay.

KELLY: We played there the comment from President Trump talking about the horrible, horrible, disgusting conditions in LA - his words. Do his comments make it harder for you to work productively on this issue with state leaders, with local leaders?

CARSON: Well, there's no question that there's been inflammatory language coming from both sides, and I've requested of people to just try to tone it down. There's plenty of blame to go around, and there will be plenty of credit to go around as well.

KELLY: HUD Secretary Ben Carson - Secretary Carson, thank you.

CARSON: It has been a pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.