A vast federal initiative to help people without homes in every state in America sounds like a fine idea. But not under the Trump administration, which is initiating a barbaric federal crackdown on homelessness.
Donald Trump has characterized homelessness as a crime instead of working toward affordable housing solutions that strengthen communities. No wonder that even the response from the homeless population has been trepidation. Kourtney Milligan, a 29-year-old who has been living on the streets of Los Angeles for nine months, wishes the president would “change his tone.”
“[Trump’s speech] is very aggressive and very hateful. A lot of people who are homeless have been abused and hurt. We need solutions,” Mulligan said.
Trump’s preoccupation with homelessness apparently began during an interview with conservative television personality Tucker Carlson during which he opined that rising homelessness will “ruin” American cities.
“We’ve got to get the whole thing cleaned up,” said Trump. “Some of them have mental problems where they don’t even know they’re living that way. In fact, perhaps they like living that way … We cannot ruin our cities. And you have people that work in those cities. They work in office buildings and to get into the building, they have to walk through a scene that nobody would have believed possible three years ago.”
Trump even worried that “other world leaders can’t be looking at that,” sounding as though homelessness was primarily a cosmetic issue, like the unswept trash and debris in front of his hotels.
Homelessness is a tragic occurrence for those facing it; it’s not a matter of appearances.
Since then, Trump has appointed his own Council of Economic Advisers to study homelessness.
The council made militant recommendations, stating that “policing may be an important tool to help move people off the street and into shelter or housing.” Two administration officials, who have spoken under anonymity, said the crackdown on homelessness may entail massively relocating the thousands in California to “government-backed facilities.”
There is something profoundly wrong with this picture.
It’s so distorted that the language being used so far conjures images of armored cars and troops forcibly removing weak, confused and unprepared indigents to quarantine zones.
Solutions have never been in the Trump administration’s purview. In fact, Trump’s restructuring of federal housing assistance programs has been abominable. The administration has proposed raising fees on recipients of federal housing and cutting the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s overall budget by 20 percent.
Trump has even cut nutritional assistance and curtailed access to affordable healthcare.
The forces of hunger, inability to pay for food, healthcare or finding a livable place are the strikes against the economically marginalized that lead families to think, “Why not save money by living in the van?” or lead individuals to succumb to drug addictions, enhancing their susceptibility to homelessness.
The most successful interventions prioritize housing. This means getting people without homes inside homes, in safe environments, even before placing them in employment. In fact, housing vouchers are the most immediate way to help people cover the burden of market rents.
Trump’s report doesn’t recommend additional funds for vouchers. It recommends harsher police measures to break up large homeless encampments; these measures futilely drive the homeless from one city to another. Trump recommends easing zoning regulations on developers building new housing under the theory that more commercial housing will lead to more units of affordable housing, with no policies to mandate affordable housing units.
It is hard enough to find affordable housing anywhere in this country, a fact Trump ignores by brushing the issue away, or relocating it to other cities.
Darryl L. Wellington is a Fellow at Community Change and lives in Santa Fe.