Trump Plans a Crackdown on California Homelessness

(CITY LAB) , September 12, 2019

The White House is planning a crackdown on people experiencing homelessness in California—a federal intervention in Los Angeles and other cities that is raising red flags among advocates for the homeless and city leaders.

According to a report in the Washington Post, President Donald Trump has ordered White House officials to come up with a solution to the visible homelessness crisis in Los Angeles and possibly other California cities. Officials from the White House, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other agencies—including some who are meeting this week with their counterparts in Los Angeles—are weighing several possible steps, including moving homeless people into facilities administered by the federal government and razing encampments.

The White House appears to be targeting people living in Los Angeles’s downtown Skid Row area, where much of the city’s soaring unhoused population is concentrated. The homelessness rate in the city of Los Angeles spiked 16 percent this year, according to the annual point-in-time count. Officials with the city could not comment on any particular plans or discussions underway.

“Our office learned very recently of the Administration’s plans to visit L.A., to learn more about our strategies for responding to the homelessness crisis,” Alex Comisar, deputy communications director for Mayor Garcetti, said in an email. “We welcome them and look forward to showing them our work to confront this humanitarian emergency.”

As housing costs have boomed in several California cities, the state has seen its homeless population rise substantially in recent years. A federal intervention of the type that the White House appears to be contemplating, including the possibility that sweeps would be paired with mass round-ups and institutionalizations of unhoused residents, would represent something unprecedented, and housing authorities and some city officials responded with wariness to the Post report.

In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed acknowledged the scope of the city’s homelessness problem and highlighted the city’s investments in navigation centers, affordable housing, and supportive housing. She also said she’d welcome more federal support on that front. “The decline in federal resources for affordable housing has been significant, and cities can’t do it alone,” she said in an emailed statement. “But simply cracking down on homelessness without providing the housing that people need is not a real solution and will likely only make the situation worse.” The mayor’s office said it had not been contacted by the Trump administration about a meeting at City Hall or a tour of encampments.