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The Trump administration just sent California an unusually strong message about its homelessness crisis: an environmental complaint that waste from people on the streets, like poop, endangers the environment and goes against federal water-quality standards.
“The agency is aware of the growing homelessness crisis developing in major California cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the impact of this crisis on the environment,” Andrew Wheeler, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, wrote to California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, according to the letter obtained by the Washington Post.
“The EPA is concerned about the potential water quality impacts from pathogens and other contaminants from untreated human waste entering nearby waters” Wheeler continued.
Newsom now has 30 days to respond with his plans to remedy the Trump administration’s concerns about failures to enforce drinking water quality laws, according to the letter. While infrastructural woes plague California’s municipal water systems (which sometimes fail to deliver potable water to low-income residents), nothing suggests homeless people are to blame. Trump’s concern, he told reporters last week, has less to do with regulations on water infrastructure and more to do with unfounded fears that syringes are flowing into the Pacific Ocean.
For its part, the EPA letter added the administration is also concerned about “piles of human feces on sidewalks and streets.”
“They have to clean it up,” Trump said of San Francisco, which he visited last week for a series of campaign fundraisers. “We can’t have our cities going to hell.”
Trump’s comments came the same day his administration rejected any further financial aid to address affordable housing in California, which officials say has contributed to its outsized homelessness crisis. (A White House delegation also visited Los Angeles earlier this month to examine homelessness in Skid Row, one of the largest entrenched homeless encampments in the country.)
San Francisco Mayor London Breed reiterated in a statement last week that Trump’s tough talk doesn’t get to the heart of her city’s homelessness crisis — she said her city needs help housing people — and explained that her city’s water is well treated and not contaminated by needles or feces.
California has the largest homeless population of any state, with an estimated 130,000 people sleeping in cars, shelters, or on the streets. San Francisco and Los Angeles are particularly in crisis, with approximately 9,800 and 36,300 homeless people in their cities, respectively.
Still, such a broad oversight letter on pollution is rare for the EPA, according to the Washington Post. The letter cites water quality violations including feces in the San Francisco Bay and more than 200 water systems across the state reporting some level of contamination in the most recent reporting quarter.
Many of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have slammed Trump’s attacks on California’s homeless, too. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro said in Oakland Wednesday night that the administration was treating homeless people “like cattle.” And Beto O’Rourke said last week that Trump’s intent was to “terrorize the homeless.”
Cover image: In this Aug. 21, 2019, file photo, a homeless man sleeps in front of recycling bins and garbage on a street corner in San Francisco.(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)