Robert Marbut’s Unfounded Attack on Homeless Men
On June 20, 2017, “homeless consultant” Robert Marbut addressed the Greater Chico Homeless Taskforce in Chico, CA.
Before presenting the results of his own investigations into homelessness in Chico, Marbut warned against the “co-mingling” of adult homeless men with children of homeless families. According to Marbut, the basis for alarm is a 2014 study on homelessness, “A Hidden Crisis: Findings on Adverse Childhood Experiences in California“. Marbut made the following remarks (which have I transcribed):
“If you’ve not read this study, this [holds up a hard copy of the study] should be required reading for everybody. It’s an incredible study and I don’t have time to develop it, but I’ll just give the quick summary. The short version is, you shouldn’t ever mix single men in any environment in terms of the accumulated stressors…they call it “toxic stress,” the formal name of the research is ACES [Adverse Childhood Experiences]. It’s a very long and complicated analysis, but the short version is [that] in the general public, most people from 0 to 8 years old in their life have one to two stressors. 60% have 0 to 1 stressors, but in the world of homeless cohabitation where you’re mixing adult males with families with children, your stressors will run about 4 to 6 a week. Whereas a person…60% of California adults sampled…1,700 people sampled adults, and when you looked at that, the averages 60% had 0 to 1.
“And the reason why 4 [stressors] is magical, here’s the difference between 4 stressors or more, and 0 to 3 stressors. There’s a tipping point at 4 that’s just…it starts to inflect at 3, but at 4 it totally changes.
“Here’s what happens when you have 4 or more [stressors] versus the 0 to 3:
• 12.2 times more likely to attempt suicide
• 10.3 times for injectable drugs
• 7.4 times to become an alcoholic
• 5.1 times that have medical/clinical depression
• 2.9 times more likely to smoke
• 2.4 times more likely to have a stroke
And what’s interesting about the data, a lot of people out of common sense would say you have the mental health data, behavioral health data, but what this study also said is severe medical issues were in the 2 to 3 times group, mental health issues were sort of in the 8 to 12 times group:
• 1.9 times more likely to have cancer
• 1.6 time more likely to have diabetes
• 39% higher chance of being unemployed
“And so, if you haven’t seen this study it’s an incredible study, it’s a California-based study, and it will change your view on how the mechanics of co-mingling, and in this community, children co-mingle on the street, in the parks, in the plazas, at the agencies, and that’s just one issue to get through.”
Though I have disagreements with a number of his interpretations of the data, I want to focus on only two, namely:
1. “The short version is you shouldn’t ever mix single men in any environment in terms of the accumulated stressors.”
2. “[I]n the world of homeless cohabitation where you’re mixing adult males with families with children, your stressors will run about 4 to 6 a week.”
After having quite thoroughly gone through the study (which includes both an Executive Summary and a robust and detailed discussion of the results of the study itself), I can say, unequivocally, that neither Marbut’s claim (1) nor claim (2) is supported anywhere in the study. In fact, the only place in the entire study where homelessness is mentioned is briefly in a sentence in the first paragraph of p. 2 that states:
“New research is underway to establish other traumatic events, such as exposure to community violence, bullying, homelessness, discrimination, and involvement in the foster care system, as ACE indicators.”
I am not claiming that homelessness per se is not an ACE indicator. In fact, as a layperson having conducted no studies at all, I would be surprised were homelessness not an ACE indicator. But that’s not the point of Marbut’s claim (1) or (2). In a nutshell, Marbut’s assertion is that the study, “A Hidden Crisis: Findings on Adverse Childhood Experiences in California”, supports the claim that co-mingling adult males with families with children causes 4 to 6 ACEs a week. But that claim is supported nowhere in the study.
On July 1, 2017, I emailed Prof. Marbut at his two email addresses asking for clarification, but never heard back from him.
Given these facts, one can only conclude that either (a) Marbut is referring to additional data not included in this study, (b) Marbut is extrapolating from data presented in this study to his conclusions in claims (1) and (2), or (c) Marbut is intentionally fabricating data to demonize single homeless men. If (a), then Marbut has a professional duty to disclose the source of this additional data; if (b), then Marbut has a professional obligation to describe the rationale for his extrapolation; if (c), then Marbut’s credibility and his professional and moral authority have been undermined and the results of his own study here in Chico should be ignored.