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By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Homeless person in San Francisco, California (Image source: Public domain)
Donald Trump has told White House officials to launch an effort to address the homelessness in Calfornia, seeing it as a growing crisis, according to four government officials.
The planning for this effort was boosted in recent weeks with officials considering getting the homeless off Los Angeles streets as well as those in other cities and into new government-backed facilities.
This could be an interesting policy, as Trump and California don't always get along. But that could be the idea, to highlight the problems in California, just as he has been doing with Chicago and Baltimore, referring to the latter as "rodent-infested." He has laid blame for the issues on Democratic leadership in those cities.
Officials with the White House and Housing and Urban Development hit California this week for meetings with a focus on the skid row section of L.A., according to the officials. Justice Department officials were also part of the tour.
One idea being considered is demolishing existing tent camps, building new temporary facilities, and rehabbing existing government facilities. This would give the government an increased role in supervising housing and health care.
Trump has repeatedly referred to the California homelessness problem as a "disgrace to our country."
While his remarks about Baltimore were aimed at House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), he also got his digs in against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and her district in this same manner back in July.
"Speaking of failing badly," he tweeted, "has anyone seen what is happening to Nancy Pelosi's district in San Francisco. It is not even recognizable lately. Something must be done before it is too late. The Dems should stop wasting time on the Witch Hunt Hoax and start focusing on our country!"
Los Angeles city officials gave the visitors a tour of the Jordan Downs housing project on Tuesday. The visitors included officials with Veterans Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Domestic Policy Council, the Justice Department, and HUD, according to City Council member Joe Buscaino's spokesman, Branimir Kvartuc.
A White House spokesman announced Trump signed an executive order back in June that deals with affordable housing regulations. He added that the administration is looking for new solutions to solve homelessness.
The executive order created a new White House council to eliminate "regulatory barriers" that White House officials believe drive up the cost of new housing. However, developers claim it's the restrictions that increase the prices on housing and affect the supply.
"Like many Americans, the president has taken notice of the homelessness crisis, particularly in cities and states where the liberal policies are combining to dramatically increase poverty and public health risks," said White House spokesman Judd Deere.
"President Trump has directed his team to go further and develop a range of policy options for consideration to deal with this tragedy."
Housing experts, however, claim homelessness has risen in California alongside housing and rental prices and that it was made worse by cuts to federal support for housing programs.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) noted, "Yet again, this is bravado for Trump's base with no interest in the actual policy experts' recommendations to solve an issue."
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement that Trump needs to first stop cutting health care for those with a low income and stop limiting immigrants' access to government benefits.
If the president is willing to put serious solutions — with real investments — on the table, California stands ready to talk," he issued.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti confirmed via a statement that his staff gave administration officials a tour of public housing projects and shelters.
Back in July, Trump told Fox News' Tucker Carlson, "You take a look at what's going on with San Francisco, it's terrible. So we're looking at it very seriously. We may intercede. We may do something to get that whole thing cleaned up. It's inappropriate."
"Now we have to take the people and do something. We have to do something," he added.
The homeless in California is a growing problem. The number of families sleeping in the streets or not having adequate housing has "skyrocketed" for many major cities in the state and has climbed 25 percent over the past several years, said the policy director at the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California at Berkeley, David Garcia.
"Generally speaking, all the major cities have seen incredible increases," he added. "It's a crisis."
Adding to the problem, California does not have a "right to shelter" law that other states do. This provides homeless people temporary shelters, and without that, a large percentage of the state's homeless sleep on the streets or in their cars, according to Diane Yentel, National Low Income Housing Coalition president and CEO.
She adds that there are also a number of restrictive zoning laws that increase the cost of housing.
"Homelessness in California is absolutely a crisis that demands action from the federal, state, and local level," Yentel said, "but it's hard to imagine the Trump administration is acting in good faith to solve it when they have made so many efforts in the last two years to worsen the crisis."
Among those efforts, she calls out the White House proposal to cut the HUD benefit by 20 percent, eliminating programs that build and renovate homes for low-income people, a proposal to cut federal rental assistance for a quarter of a million families, and evicting 55,000 children from subsidized housing.
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