For the first time in his presidency, Donald Trump spoke at length about homelessness this week.
In a scattered interview with Tucker Carlson that aired Monday, Trump made a series of misleading or false statements about the homeless crisis in the U.S., where over half a million people don’t have a stable place to sleep.
Specifically calling out leaders in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles, Trump drew a false parallel between his inauguration and a rise in the country’s homeless population, calling it “a phenomenon that started two years ago.” (In fact, homelessness has generally decreased over the last decade.) Trump also claimed that he single-handedly ended homelessness in D.C. (He hasn’t.)
Trump then targeted the officials running those cities, saying they “are run by very liberal people, and the states are run by very liberal people. Do these governors or mayors, do they really think this is a positive? Do they really think it’s OK? It’s not. It’s destroying their city.”
In response, mayoral administrations of several cities have condemned Trump’s remarks, calling them cruel and ineffective.
They also have a message for him: We’re happy to accept more federal assistance, if you’re serious about giving it.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti referred to Trump’s comments as “political cheap shots [that] don’t solve difficult problems.”
But he added: “I welcome any investment this administration wants to make in our local, and what is a national, problem.” A recent count in Los Angeles estimates there are nearly 60,000 homeless.
And in the capitol, lawmakers have struggled to address D.C.’s need for more homeless services.
While the District government has seen a double-digit reduction in homelessness among families over the last several years, it has struggled to make similar strides with homeless individuals. There were a total of over 6,500 homeless people in D.C. as of late January, with the number of homeless adults rising about 3% since the same time last year.
But in his interview with Carlson, Trump claimed that he ended homelessness in D.C. because he was embarrassed to host world leaders in the city. (“When we have leaders of the world coming in to see the president of the United States and they’re riding down the highway, they can’t be looking at that,” Trump said.)
“I was personally alarmed by the president’s remarks, not only just the false insinuations around his involvement, but also around unsheltered people,” says Laura Zeilinger, the director of D.C.’s Department of Human Services, which is responsible for implementing and managing programs for the homeless. “We’re talking about people. It was absolutely offensive and despicable, the language he used, the way he dehumanizes people who are experiencing homelessness, and our neighbors.”
Zeilinger adds that the District would welcome a commitment by the federal government to invest more in homeless services.
But as she points out, the Trump administration has only ever recommended making cuts to the federal department of Housing and Urban Development, the agency responsible for distributing housing grants to municipalities. The administration recommended cutting HUD’s budget by over $9.5 billion in fiscal year 2020, a change that was not ultimately approved by Congress.
Those proposed cuts have led the D.C. government to allocate more of its own money over the last two years on services for homeless and low-income residents.
“We have no idea what the president was referencing,” Zeilinger says of the president’s claim that he ended homelessness in D.C. when he took office. “The progress we’re making is clearly because of the commitment of the mayor and city council to fund the strategic plan [to end homelessness].”
Cover: Homeless people move belongings from a street near Los Angeles City Hall as crews prepared to clean the area Monday, July 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)