Before this week’s trip to California, Mr. Trump directed his aides to devise a major crackdown on homelessness in the state. Officials from the White House and federal agencies were then dispatched to Los Angeles, touring Skid Row and meeting with local authorities. No concrete plans have been announced, but ideas said to be under consideration include using federal resources to get people experiencing homelessness off the streets and into shelters that would be fashioned from unused government facilities. How this would be accomplished — and under what legal authority — is unclear.
Mr. Trump is not wrong to identify homelessness as a large and growing problem. He is right that California — which has the highest number of homeless people in the country, many of whom live on the streets — has some singular issues. But it’s clear he is out not to help the homeless but rather to stigmatize them. How else to explain his comments about police “getting sick” from interacting with the homeless? Or his concern for the people who own property and pay taxes but not for those who aren’t fortunate to be able to own homes? Just as reckless as his rhetoric are some of the ideas for federal action being bandied about, such as citing San Francisco for environmental damage caused by homeless people. This from an administration that is going to enormous lengths to kill California’s clean-air car standards.
Federal involvement in helping cities and states deal with the social, economic and demographic factors of homelessness is long overdue. But it is hard to take Mr. Trump’s interest seriously when his administration has also proposed cutting federal housing dollars and undoing Obama-era rules that aimed to desegregate neighborhoods. Another proposed policy would deny federal housing aid to households that include anyone living in the United States illegally, even when other members are eligible for aid as lawful residents or citizens. And the administration would let homeless shelters refuse shelter to transgender people.
Cities have always been an easy target for Mr. Trump. Given that in 2016 he lost the urban vote by almost 2 to 1, he doesn’t see political risk, only political advantage. And, that sad to say, is all that seems to matter to him.