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Nomination of ‘Dr. Drew’ for homeless commission is pulled after outcry

Drew Pinsky speaks onstage at the 2019 iHeartRadio Podcast Awards Presented
David “Dr. Drew” Pinsky rose to fame through his nationally syndicated radio show “Loveline.”
(Getty Images for iHeartMedia)

A celebrity doctor nominated to a local homeless commission has been pulled from consideration after community members objected and mounted a Twitter campaign accusing him of promoting policies that criminalize homelessness.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger announced Monday evening that she had withdrawn her nomination for Dr. David Drew Pinsky, known as “Dr. Drew,” for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, a 10-member commission appointed by city and county elected officials.

Barger, who represents the 5th District, said she was dismayed that anyone would question “the appointment of a doctor with a passion for addressing these issues when a new voice is clearly needed.”

She said the nomination and the outcry it generated — including a #DumpDrDrew Twitter campaign — had become a distraction from important conversations about care for people experiencing homelessness.

“We need to face the sad reality of homelessness in Los Angeles: Individuals are dying on our streets from preventable causes due to mental illness and substance abuse,” Barger said. “I hope we can move past pettiness and instead focus our time and energy on working to solve the hard problems, rather than looking for excuses to place blame.”

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In an interview Tuesday, Pinsky said he rejected homeless outreach advocates’ claims that he supports criminalizing homelessness and is “categorically under no circumstance” in favor of it.

“The lack of state mental health services has rendered people to the streets, the nursing homes and the prisons, and they don’t belong in any of those places,” he said.

L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger recommended Dr. David Drew Pinsky, more commonly known as “Dr. Drew,” to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority commission, prompting outcry among some homeless service advocates.

Generally, the county Board of Supervisors unanimously approves appointments to local boards and commissions at the beginning of its meeting, as part of its consent agenda. The appointments are rarely, if ever, seen as controversial.

By Monday evening, more than 100 people had submitted public comments asking the supervisors not to approve the nomination. Fewer than five people wrote in supporting Pinsky’s nomination.

“Please for the love of god do not appoint Dr. Drew to work with the homeless in any capacity. This is a frustrating, pathetic joke. Please treat the unhoused legitimately as human beings,” one resident wrote.

Pinsky, 62, has a license to practice medicine in California and is certified through the American Board of Internal Medicine and American Board of Addiction Medicine. He attended the University of Southern California’s medical school, according to his state medical board record.

The “Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew” physician rose to fame through his nationally syndicated radio show “Loveline,” which was adapted for MTV and aired in the late ’90s. With actor and co-host Adam Carolla, he regularly doled out sex and relationship advice to loyal fans.

In recent years, Pinsky homed in on the homelessness crisis, disputing that it was caused by a lack of housing; he argued that it was primarily driven by a significant need for mental health and addiction treatment.

L.A. homeless rights advocates have pointed out that Pinsky has regularly overreported on his show and in public appearances the number of homeless people who have a mental illness or substance use disorder.

Pinsky said in an interview Friday that he’d known Barger for more than 10 years and wanted to be on the LAHSA commission to learn and offer his professional insight after working in the addiction field for several years.

“Every day, I wake up mortified” about homelessness in L.A. County, said Pinsky, who lives in Pasadena. “I talk about it a lot with people who will listen, and Kathryn Barger is someone I know, and I’ve just been expressing my gravest concerns about the lack of progress and the continued body count. She suggested I serve on this committee.”

The appointment not only drew ire from local advocates but prompted strong criticism from the National Coalition for Housing Justice, which published a letter signed by a some of the country’s largest homelessness and housing advocacy groups.

The coalition said it doesn’t typically weigh in on local issues, but the efforts to combat homelessness in L.A. County are too important not to.

“Appointing a celebrity who is unqualified and misinformed to a position that makes critical decisions on homelessness policy and program design is both dangerous and alarming,” the leaders wrote.

The letter pointed to Pinsky’s statements that it is a “hoax” that the housing crisis is what is driving homelessness, and opinions he has expressed supporting the threat of jail to force someone into shelter.

Beyond his statements about homelessness, “Dr. Pinsky has promoted anti-immigrant rhetoric, claiming ‘a large immigrant population coming in carrying parasites and tuberculosis’ has contributed to public health challenges in homeless encampments,” the leaders said in their letter.

Pinsky on Tuesday called this characterization of his comments “not just insulting but disgusting” and said he comes from a family of immigrants — his paternal grandparents came to the U.S. from Ukraine — and that he has served immigrants as a physician for many years.

“Please check the facts before you say allegations that are not just disgusting but extremely injurious to people’s professional standing,” he said.

Barger did not say in her statement who she was appointing to the LAHSA commission as a replacement.

Times staff writer Benjamin Oreskes contributed to this report.


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