A group of officials from the Trump administration said last week that they want to learn about homelessness ought to be a hopeful sign.
It should be a good thing the federal government, with all its experts and money and other resources, is interested and wants to help.
If President Donald Trump wants to come in and work on serious solutions, that would be great. If the federal government wants to stop its disinvestment in affordable housing or throw its support behind a bill to appropriate $13.27 billion in mandatory emergency funding throughout five years to federal housing programs, that would be helpful.
But, sadly, help is not what to expect from the Trump administration.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the president wants to conduct a sweeping “crackdown” on California’s homeless, razing encampments and moving homeless people into “government-backed facilities.” A Trump spokesman said the president blames “liberal policies of overregulation, excessive taxation and poor public service delivery” for homelessness and poverty in California, which he called “a disgrace.”
Who knows exactly what Trump’s plans are? The concern is that he views homeless people the way he views undocumented immigrants seeking asylum — as dangerous, as a burden on society, as offensive to “real” Americans.
In a July interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News, Trump made it clear that his concerns were not so much for the homeless themselves as for the people who work near them, for police officers on the beat and for foreign visitors who might come to visit. (They “can’t be looking at that,” he said.)
If Trump imagines he can strong-arm homeless people into government shelters or de facto detention centers, he should snap out of that reverie right now. Homeless people are not undocumented immigrants. Besides, it’s not clear what legal authority he would have to do so.
Trump has called homelessness a “tragedy.” He’s certainly right. But it would be tragic to look at the poorest, most vulnerable people on the streets and see merely a problem that needs to be swept away.
Last Tuesday, those Trump officials who say they are concerned about homelessness visited the Unified Homelessness Response Center in downtown Los Angeles, toured skid row and visited the Jordan Downs housing project, among other things. Maybe they saw how few bathroom facilities homeless people have, began to learn about what programs worked for formerly homeless people and talked to those who have jobs but still can afford only to live in their cars.
But one visit isn’t going to be enough.
And they should take the time to hear from formerly homeless people who are now housed.
Maybe they will listen to outreach workers talk about what it takes to gain the trust of a homeless person on the street.
Maybe they will see that this is a complex issue that takes a combination of solutions — and more federal aid, not less.
— Los Angeles Times