Home­less camps a new fo­cus for Trump

White House looks into raz­ing tent com­mu­ni­ties in Calif., a fa­vorite tar­get

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JEFF STEIN, TRACY JAN, JOSH DAWSEY AND ASH­LEY PARKER

Pres­i­dent Trump has or­dered White House of­fi­cials to launch a sweep­ing ef­fort to ad­dress home­less­ness in Cal­i­for­nia, cit­ing the state’s grow­ing cri­sis, ac­cord­ing to four govern­ment of­fi­cials aware of the ef­fort.

The plan­ning has in­ten­si­fied in re­cent weeks. Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have dis­cussed us­ing the fed­eral govern­ment to get home­less peo­ple off the streets of Los An­ge­les and other ci­ties and into new govern­ment-backed fa­cil­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to two of­fi­cials briefed on the plan­ning.

But it is un­clear how they could ac­com­plish this and what le­gal author­ity they would use. It is also un­clear whether the state’s Demo­cratic politi­cians would co­op­er­ate with Trump, who has sought to em­bar­rass them over the home­less­ness cri­sis with re­peated at­tacks on their com­pe­tency.

Trump’s di­rec­tive is part of his broader ef­fort in re­cent months to shine a light on prob­lems in Cal­i­for­nia and a num­ber of ma­jor U.S. ci­ties, in­clud­ing Bal­ti­more and Chicago. He has com­plained about what he says are years of failed Demo­cratic lead­er­ship that have led to sus­tained poverty and crime.

Top of­fi­cials rep­re­sent­ing the White House and the Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment ar­rived in Cal­i­for­nia this

week for a round of meet­ings. A par­tic­u­lar fo­cus has been the skid row sec­tion of Los An­ge­les, of­fi­cials said. The pres­i­dent is di­rectly in­volved with the ini­tia­tive, of­fi­cials said, and has asked for up­dates.

Of­fi­cials rep­re­sent­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment were also part of the tour, ac­cord­ing to two govern­ment of­fi­cials who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to share de­tails they were not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss.

Among the ideas un­der con­sid­er­a­tion are raz­ing ex­ist­ing tent camps for the home­less, cre­at­ing new tem­po­rary fa­cil­i­ties and re­fur­bish­ing ex­ist­ing govern­ment fa­cil­i­ties, two other of­fi­cials said. The of­fi­cials spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause the plan­ning hasn’t been pub­licly revealed. The changes would at­tempt to give the fed­eral govern­ment a larger role in su­per­vis­ing hous­ing and health care for res­i­dents.

The talks are fluid, and con­crete plans had not been reached.

Trump has re­peat­edly as­sailed Demo­cratic politi­cians in Cal­i­for­nia over the state’s grow­ing home­less­ness is­sue, which he has called a “dis­grace to our coun­try.” He has also crit­i­cized lib­eral-led ci­ties such as Bal­ti­more as “rat and ro­dent in­fested.”

Plan­ning also in­volves of­fi­cials from the Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices. An ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial cited the need to act based on con­cerns about dis­ease and sewage prob­lems af­fect­ing the home­less.

City of­fi­cials gave a tour of the Jordan Downs hous­ing project in Los An­ge­les on Tues­day to a team that in­cluded fed­eral of­fi­cials from Veter­ans Af­fairs, the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, the Do­mes­tic Pol­icy Coun­cil, the Jus­tice Depart­ment and HUD, ac­cord­ing to Bra­n­imir Kvar­tuc, spokesman for City Coun­cil mem­ber Joe Bus­caino (D). About six city staffers and six fed­eral of­fi­cials were on that tour.

A White House spokesman said that Trump signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der in June that per­tained to af­ford­able hous­ing reg­u­la­tions and that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is con­tin­u­ing to seek so­lu­tions for home­less­ness. Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der cre­ated a new White House coun­cil on elim­i­nat­ing “reg­u­la­tory bar­ri­ers” that White House of­fi­cials be­lieve in­crease the cost of build­ing new hous­ing. De­vel­op­ers have said th­ese re­stric­tions drive up prices on hous­ing and limit 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 Judd Deere, a White House spokesman. “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 say home­less­ness in Cal­i­for­nia has risen along­side hous­ing and rental prices. That prob­lem has been ex­ac­er­bated by cuts to fed­eral sup­port for hous­ing pro­grams.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) crit­i­cized Trump’s push, say­ing that “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 (D) said in a state­ment that Trump should first cease cut­ting health-care ac­cess for low-in­come Amer­i­cans and curb­ing ac­cess to govern­ment ben­e­fits for im­mi­grants but that “if the Pres­i­dent is will­ing to put se­ri­ous so­lu­tions — with real in­vest­ment — on the ta­ble, Cal­i­for­nia stands ready to talk.”

Los An­ge­les Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) con­firmed in a state­ment on Tues­day that his staff gave Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials a tour of a num­ber of pub­lic hous­ing projects and shel­ters in the city.

Trump pre­vi­ously hinted at po­ten­tial uni­lat­eral fed­eral ac­tion over home­less­ness, telling Fox News that he was “very se­ri­ously” con­sid­er­ing act­ing on the is­sue.

Cal­i­for­nia’s home­less­ness cri­sis has in­ten­si­fied. The num­ber of fam­i­lies ei­ther sleep­ing on the streets or lack­ing ad­e­quate hous­ing has “sky­rock­eted” for most ma­jor Cal­i­for­nia ci­ties, climb­ing at least 25 per­cent over the past sev­eral years, said David Garcia, pol­icy di­rec­tor at the Terner Cen­ter for Hous­ing In­no­va­tion at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley.

“Gen­er­ally speak­ing, all the ma­jor ci­ties have seen in­cred­i­ble in­creases. It’s a cri­sis,” Garcia said.

But the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion may have al­ready taken ac­tions that have ex­ac­er­bated the prob­lem, crit­ics al­lege, such as tight­en­ing im­mi­grants’ el­i­gi­bil­ity for fed­eral as­sis­tance, which risks putting more fam­i­lies on the streets, Garcia added.

Cal­i­for­nia also lacks a “right to shel­ter” law that in other states gives home­less peo­ple tem­po­rary shel­ters, mean­ing a large per­cent­age of Cal­i­for­nia’s home­less pop­u­la­tion end up sleep­ing on the street or in their ve­hi­cles, ac­cord­ing to Diane Yen­tel, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Na­tional Low In­come Hous­ing Coali­tion, a non­profit.

Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters, Cal­i­for­nia has en­acted re­stric­tive zon­ing laws that drive up the cost of hous­ing by con­strain­ing the state’s sup­ply, she said, although some state law­mak­ers are push­ing to relax those limits.

Los An­ge­les’s skid row holds about 5,000 home­less peo­ple, an 11 per­cent in­crease from last year, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics pub­lished this sum­mer by the Los An­ge­les Home­less Ser­vices Author­ity.

The White House this year pro­posed cut­ting the HUD bud­get by about 20 per­cent, elim­i­nat­ing the pro­grams that build and pre­serve homes for the low­est-in­come peo­ple, Yen­tel said. It has also pro­posed cut­ting fed­eral rental as­sis­tance for a quar­ter of a mil­lion fam­i­lies, as well as evicting 55,000 chil­dren from sub­si­dized hous­ing.

Trump’s di­rec­tive comes amid his feud with Cal­i­for­nia politi­cians, in­clud­ing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who rep­re­sents San Francisco.

MARIO TAMA/GETTY IM­AGES

An­to­nio DeSilva plays with his dogs out­side his tent Mon­day in Los An­ge­les, a tar­get of a new White House ini­tia­tive on home­less­ness.

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