During a visit to California earlier this week, President Trump made it clear who he believes to be the true victims of the homelessness crisis: luxury real estate owners.
“We have people living in our… best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings… where people in those buildings pay tremendous taxes, where they went to those locations because of the prestige,” Trump said. “In many cases, [the owners] came from other countries, and they moved to Los Angeles or they moved to San Francisco because of the prestige of the city, and all of a sudden they have tents. Hundreds and hundreds of tents and people living at the entrance to their office building. And they want to leave.”
Yes, there is a homelessness crisis in this country and its epicenter is in California, where about 130,000 people experience homelessness on any given night and almost 250,000 public school students experienced homelessness at some point during the 2016-17 school year. What the president’s remarks obscure is that homelessness isn’t a crisis for wealthy property owners, it’s a deeply human problem with devastating effects on the people, particularly the children, who experience it.
The president’s comments came as his administration has increased its focus on homelessness, which has over the past few weeks produced some profoundly unsettling news. Last week we learned that administration officials have been discussing rounding up people living in tent camps and placing them in government facilities. This week, the White House Council of Economic Advisors issued a report titled “The State of Homelessness in America” that suggests, vaguely, that police officers could be enlisted to fight homelessness. That report also discounts federal programs that fight homelessness and overstates the role regulation of the housing market plays in creating and perpetuating homelessness.
If the president were serious about fighting homelessness, of course, he could call for more investment in affordable housing and existing programs proven to fight homelessness. Instead, he has proposed making the problem worse by requesting an 18 percent cut to the HUD budget that would have zeroed out important affordable housing investment programs and put thousands and thousands of families at risk of homelessness by underfunding housing assistance programs.
This crisis requires federal investment, not the abdication of responsibility the President and his advisors have proposed. Yesterday, I participated in a briefing on Capitol Hill hosted by the Opportunity Starts at Home Campaign and called for a dramatic increase in funding for federal housing assistance programs that would lift millions out of people in families with children out of poverty and keep many of those families from experiencing homelessness.
Until he starts to talk about real solutions, the president’s talk about homelessness another attempt to use places like California, Chicago, and Baltimore as political foils, portraying them as overrun with poverty, homelessness, violence, and litter. The president has to learn that homelessness is not a political tool and the cost of this crisis falls on the people experiencing homelessness, not luxury real estate interests. Homelessness is a human crisis requiring an empathetic solution.