Separate decisions made on Wednesday by President Trump and HUD Secretary Ben Carson each put blame on California officials for their homeless population.
Carson rejected a request from California officials that included 50,000 more Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers to address homelessness. And later that day, President Trump told reporters that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be citing the City of San Francisco for pollution related to its homeless population. Local officials are refuting this action by Trump.
Trump’s statement follows recent comments suggesting federal intervention to clear homeless people from the streets of Los Angeles and San Francisco. He said the two cities are responsible for the “tremendous pollution” generated by their homeless populations.
“It’s a terrible situation — that’s in Los Angeles and San Francisco. And we’re going to be giving San Francisco, they’re in total violation, we’re going to be giving them a notice very soon. The EPA is going to be putting out a notice…They have to clean it up. We can’t have our cities going to hell,” Trump said.
Trump justified the EPA’s involvement because of what he says are public health hazards from trash and human waste, with a repeated focus on used syringes. His comments echoed those made on Fox News in July during an interview with Tucker Carlson. Trump told Carlson that homelessness and drug use has gotten so bad it is a public health hazard, even mentioning officers getting sick on their beats. It appears that this claim stems from a story about several Los Angeles officers in the same precinct being exposed to typhoid, rather that specifically when working with homeless people.
California has been experiencing an increase in homelessness over the last couple of years. The booming economy has also included skyrocketing housing costs. This has pushed many more working people into homelessness.
California has the largest general population in the country, and also the most homeless people. On any given night, around 130,000 people are homeless. Unlike the Eastern seaboard, nearly 70% of the homeless population are unsheltered, or 90,000 people. There are about 36,000 homeless people in the City of Los Angeles, and nearly 60,000 in Los Angeles County. These numbers rose by 16% for the city and 12% for the county.
Earlier the same day, Secretary Carson rejected a request from California officials for more assistance to address homelessness. It was sent to the president by California Governor Gavin Newsome and local leaders, including the mayors of the state’s 13 largest cities. Part of their request was for 50,000 more Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers that would help provide stable, affordable housing for homeless people trying to find housing in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country.
Carson’s rejection letter put the blame back on state and local officials:
“Your letter seeks federal dollars for California from hardworking American taxpayers but fails to admin that your State and local policies have played a major role in the current crisis. If California’s homeless population had held in line with overall population trends, America’s homeless rate would have decreased. Instead, the opposite has happened, as California’s unsheltered homelessness population has skyrocketed as a result of the State’s over-regulated housing market, its inefficient allocation of resources, and its policies that have weakened law enforcement.”
Secretary Carson writes that homelessness grows when law enforcement’s ability to remove encampments and enforce “quality of life” laws is hampered. He also says that sanctuary policies protecting undocumented aliens increase homelessness, writing that “illegal and inadmissable aliens are increasing housing demand and draining resources.”
President Trump has been at odds with California’s Democratic leadership since the beginning of his presidency. He has been using the rise in homelessness to attack his critics in the state. California state attorneys have filed dozens of lawsuits to block Trump administration policies on immigration, health care, environmental regulations and other issues. Most recently, Trump said that he will cancel California’s waiver under the Clean Air Act that allows it to set higher emissions standards for automobiles.
Trump’s comments have sparked strong reactions from local leaders. San Francisco’s Mayor London Breed rebutted the president’s claim about waste flowing into the ocean, noting the city has one of the best wastewater treatment systems in the country. She also pointed to the city’s commitment to addressing homelessness. San Francisco will be adding 1,000 new shelter beds and is seeking a $600 million bond to build more affordable housing and provide more mental health and addiction services.
Scott Wiener, a state senator from San Francisco, said that the president’s policies have promoted the rise in homelessness. “Donald Trump is a slumlord who has spent his presidency pushing people into homelessness by taking away health care, food assistance and affordable housing funds. He has no credibility on housing and homelessness.”
But even in these liberal cities, local officials are enacting laws to get homeless people off of the streets. The Los Angeles City Council recently extended restrictions for where people may park and sleep in their vehicles. The City Council is also considering restrictions on where people can sleep in public places. Public sleeping would not be allowed within 500 feet of schools, parks or other public venues.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors recently voted to join a legal challenge to a court ruling that decriminalizes homelessness. The City of Boise, Idaho, is challenging a ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which says that cities cannot arrest or fine homeless people for sleeping in public unless there are enough accessible shelter beds. If Boise’s challenge is successful, the case could be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court.