“It’s a phenomena that started two years ago,” Trump said, drawing a connection with the early days of his time in the White House. “It’s disgraceful.”
The numbers of homeless people in the United States has stayed relatively level in the three years between 2016 and 2018, ticking up from 550,000 to 553,000 last year. But these numbers represent a significant drop over the past decade. An average of 630,000 people experienced homelessness per year between 2007 and 2012, according to federal data. And an average of 580,000 people were homeless a year between 2012 and 2015.
Trump’s comments perplexed homeless assistance groups in Washington, left curious about what the president’s direct role may have been.
While this year’s point-in-time count dipped below 10,000 homeless people in the capitol region for the first time in nearly two decades, advocates credited sustained focus on resources like permanent housing and substance abuse treatment, said Michael L. Ferrell, the executive director of the service nonprofit D.C. Coalition for the Homeless.
“I don’t have a clue to what he’s referencing,” Ferrell told The Washington Post on Tuesday. “Those resources definitely predate the Trump administration.”
“Homelessness on his watch has not ended," Ferrell said, referring to Trump.
The president went on at some length, painting a dark picture of life in some U.S. cities without giving specifics for how he would address the issue.
“Police officers are getting sick just by walking the beat,” he claimed. “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."
“We have to take the people,” he said. “And we have to do something.”
Trump did not mention the word homeless during the segment, so it was difficult to glean his exact meaning or how he would address the issue. He blamed liberals and “sanctuary cities.”
“When we have leaders of the world coming in to see the president of the United States, and they’re riding down a highway, they can’t be looking at that,” he said. “They can’t be looking at scenes like you see in Los Angeles and San Francisco. … So we’re looking at it very seriously. We may intercede. We may do something to get that whole thing cleaned up.”
He also said he personally “ended” some issues in this regard in Washington but did not elaborate.
“You know, I had a situation when I first became president,” Trump said, “We had certain areas of Washington, D.C., where that was starting to happen, and I ended it very quickly. I said, ‘You can’t do that.’ ”
The Trump administration has eyed federal housing programs for deep budget cuts despite recent successes in reducing homelessness.
In April, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers raked Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson for reduced public housing assistance and community development grants.
“Low-income households face an affordable housing shortage across the country, and in many locations that shortage is reaching crisis levels,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told Carson.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.