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The Consultant Leading the White House Push Against Homelessness

In Texas and Florida, Robert Marbut Jr. sold cities on a controversial model for providing homeless services. Now he’s bringing it to the White House.
Robert Marbut, the incoming director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, pictured in 2011 at the Pinellas Safe Harbor facility in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Robert Marbut, the incoming director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, pictured in 2011 at the Pinellas Safe Harbor facility in St. Petersburg, Florida.Chris O'Meara/AP

Panhandling is a gateway to vice: That’s the claim on which Robert Marbut Jr. has staked his entire career.

According to Marbut, a consultant who’s spent the last decade advising cities on how to manage services for people living in homelessness, those who panhandle on the streets spend 93 percent of the money they receive on drugs, alcohol, or sex. He’s repeated that figure in dozens of appearances before city councils and media outlets, including an interview with NPR’s Rachel Martin in 2014. When the Weekend Edition host pressed for details, Marbut replied, “We’ve done a lot of research.”