By Jake Bittle for The Nation
During a fundraising trip to California this week, President Donald Trump hinted at his administration’s imminent crackdown on the state’s homelessness crisis. Speaking as he disembarked from Air Force One in the Bay Area yesterday, he deplored the fact that “we have people living in our best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings, where people in those buildings pay tremendous taxes.” The problem had gotten so bad, he said, that “our policemen on the beat are getting sick.”
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Ben Carson flew to California the same day to detail the administration’s plans for dealing with the crisis. Carson was vague on the details of the administration’s approach, but previous reporting in The Washington Post had suggested that,
…the White House was proposing to demolish tent cities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, increase the “role of police” in monitoring homelessness, and potentially incarcerate the homeless in government-run facilities.
“The local government should back the police up,” Carson said. “People can make it very clear without having a big policy change whether they support law enforcement.”
Carson’s boss has frequently bashed California for political points, taking aim at everything from the state’s “sanctuary city” policies to its forest management. And the real problem of homelessness in California is a cudgel Trump will use to attack the Democrats ahead of the 2020 election. Yet as bad as Trump’s ideas are, they aren’t unique—in fact, they sound a lot like Democrats’ existing proposals in liberal cities.
Until now, the Trump administration has mostly ignored the issue of homelessness, leaving federal supportive housing grants almost untouched. After around a decade of improvement, overall US homelessness rates have started to rise again, albeit by just half a percentage point. Still, the White House’s disregard has probably been good for the country’s unhoused.
Now that Trump is again disparaging California, the administration is bringing its characteristic mix of cluelessness and cruelty to bear on the crisis. The administration’s view of the issue, described in a Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) report released this week, is that a major driver of homelessness is “the tolerability of sleeping on the street.” It also speculates that “the extent of policing of street activities may play a role” in reducing unsheltered homelessness. The phrase “affordable housing” appears just twice in its 41 pages.
Ahead of Trump and Carson’s California visit, HUD sent a team of officials to Los Angeles and other California cities on what administration officials called a “fact-finding mission” to meet with local homelessness officials and visit encampments. The details of the “mission” are unclear, but The Washington Post reported that officials expressed interest in destroying encampments such as Los Angeles’s Skid Row, increasing police presence, and forcing homeless populations into an unused Federal Aviation Administration facility in nearby Hawthorne. (One government official told the Post that the latter was “the stupidest idea I have ever heard.”)
[The complete SEPTEMBER 18, 2019 article may be found here.]
Jake Bittle is a freelance writer. He was formerly an editorial intern at The Nation and the editor in chief of the South Side Weekly, a nonprofit newspaper that covers the South Side of Chicago.