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CARSON: A New Vision For Helping Families

When I was a young boy growing up in Detroit, my mother needed help to provide a roof over our heads, which we thankfully received through the strength and generosity of our extended family. These many years later, other families need similar housing assistance, and I now lead a federal agency that provides this critical support to more than 5 million households annually.

For generations, the idea of the government providing housing assistance meant one thing—helping to pay the rent. But we must think about how we can help families access and move beyond that assistance. In other words, we must consider how to help them become self-sufficient.

As a physician for many years, I learned that I could treat a patient’s symptoms, or I could treat the patient. Treating a patient’s symptoms may help in the short term, but it rarely cures a long-term ailment. In my current position as Secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), I am trying to apply this same holistic mindset through an innovative new approach to community and government assistance called EnVision Centers.

The idea is simple. Assemble a team of stakeholders from many disciplines in a central location where they can offer intensive support to low-income families struggling to get ahead. EnVision Centers are specifically designed to help households achieve self-sufficiency through economic empowerment, educational advancement, character and leadership development, and health and wellness training. This is treating the patient.

Many of the services low-income families need already exist. EnVision Centers will bring together government and non-profit services together under one roof so that residents and communities can easily access them. By assembling programs in one space, HUD is leveraging existing funding and supportive services—whether its job training, mentorship, or health services—in a holistic manner.

But EnVision Centers would do more than centralize services. They would coordinate a wide range of federal agencies, state and local partners, non-profit organizations, private companies, community and faith-based groups—all coming together in an unprecedented partnership to provide the full range of necessary support and outreach.

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions, so no two EnVision Centers will be alike. They will be designed by local communities with input from residents who understand the unique needs of their neighborhoods.

But one thing will be consistent, EnVision Centers will be places that HUD-assisted residents can go to access the services they need to climb the ladder of opportunity.

The EnVision Centers will be located in buildings that already offer some services, so they are already funded and staffed. The new programs and services provided by the stakeholders HUD organized will not add additional cost to the Centers. By collocating existing programs in one space, HUD is leveraging existing funding and wrap around services in a cohesive manner.

HUD is in a transition period, moving away from measuring “success” by the number of persons participating in our programs. If we want to measure real success, we need to consider the number of persons who no longer require our programs, and those who gain the financial independence to now be able to rent, or even buy, their own homes. After all, you would not gauge success by the number of patients entering a hospital; rather, you would focus on the number of people exiting the hospital healed.

Across this country, many unassisted households are waiting to get access to some form of housing assistance, many for nearly a decade. If we succeed in helping families to become self-sufficient, more families will be able to access the housing assistance they so desperately need.

George Washington Carver once said, “where there is no vision, there is no hope.” If we ever hope to succeed in helping families, we need to envision a new path forward — one that focuses on the whole family and not just the roof over their heads.

Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, Sr., M.D., is the 17th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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