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The Trump administration reportedly wants to raze homeless tent cities across California and send people living in them to temporary government facilities. But local legislators want another solution instead: cash for more affordable housing.
On Tuesday, a delegation from the Trump administration visited Los Angeles’ “Skid Row,” one of the largest entrenched homeless encampments in the United States. The officials’ visit happened as the Washington Post reported that officials might move to push some of California’s homeless people, including those in L.A., into new or rehabbed homelessness facilities. But it’s not yet clear whether such a proposal would be legally viable.
It’s also not clear whether California cities would even want what Trump’s reportedly offering. San Francisco Mayor London Breed — who runs a city with massive homelessness crisis the president has criticized in the past — said she’d rather have housing support for homeless people than an initiative that would potentially destroy their belongings.
“We need federal support and resources to build more housing for people living on the streets,” she said. “Simply cracking down on homelessness without providing the housing people need is not a real solution.”
It’s unclear what any new homeless facilities would look like, if they’ll happen, or where they’d be placed.
Officials in Los Angeles were skeptical too, especially considering the Trump administration has previously attempted to cut funding for some affordable housing programs. Their county, where approximately 60,000 homeless people live, has faced a ballooning homelessness crisis amid a shortage of affordable housing units.
"The best help that we could get from the federal government is stop immediately the policies that are making people homeless, that are keeping people in poverty," Los Angeles Councilman Mike Bonin told KABC, L.A.’s ABC affiliate.
Los Angeles’ Mayor Eric Garcetti, however, wasn’t so quick to shoot the idea down entirely and said he’d welcome the Trump administration’s involvement.
“To cut to the chase, if you are committed to working with America’s cities and local leaders to address the national epidemic of homelessness there’s a lot you and your Administration can do,” Garcetti said in a letter to the president Tuesday. “While homelessness has increased in cities across the United States in recent years, it’s a problem that predates your administration and mine.”
Trump’s administration has twice proposed eliminating the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates federal efforts to address the issue. The Trump administration also proposed steep cuts to the affordable housing programs some say are necessary to helping ease street homelessness.
Trump has also previously come under fire for his comments about California’s homelessness crisis, largely driven by cities’ skyrocketing living costs. In a July interview regarding the West Coast’s homeless issue, with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, Trump said “perhaps they like living that way.”
During a rally in Ohio last month, Trump also said that “nearly half of all the homeless people living in the streets in America happen to live in the state of California," Trump told the crowd. “What they are doing to our beautiful California is a disgrace to our country.”
The potential Trump administration policy to remove homeless people from their encampments could be unpopular with the West Coast activists who argue police sweeps amount to a civil rights violation. In L.A., many activists have started forming a campaign around needing “services not sweeps.” Some homeless people are unable to get into shelters because they’re too restrictive or overly crowded, activists say. Others note that shelters are just temporary stopgaps to address an issue that begins and ends with affordable housing.
Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, told USA Today he sensed the Trump administration would do more harm than good if it got involved.
"My first reaction is that it felt like internment camps for people experiencing homelessness," he told the paper. "The president doesn’t seem to have any grasp of the homeless crisis not only in California but around the country."
Cover image: A homeless individual adjusts his tent on Skid Row street in Downtown Los Angeles on Friday, May 31, 2019. (Jeff Lewis/AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)