Trump, as he is wont to do, ran with it, even though he didn’t seem to have much to say besides, It’s bad and we’re going to do something about it.
Let’s take the exchange piece by piece:
CARLSON: You’ve come to where we are now Osaka or Tokyo, and the cities are clean. There’s no graffiti. No one going to bathroom on the street. You don’t see junkies.TRUMP: It’s very nice, isn’t it?CARLSON: Very different from our city.TRUMP: Yes. Well, no, some of our cities —CARLSON: Some of our cities. But New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, they’ve got a major problem with —TRUMP: It’s very sad.CARLSON: — with filth. Why is that?TRUMP: It’s a phenomena that started two years ago. It’s disgraceful. I’m going to maybe — and I’m looking at it very seriously — we’re doing some other things that you probably noticed like some of the very important things that we’re doing now. But we’re looking at it very seriously, because you can’t do that.
1) Measuring “filth” and decay is somewhat subjective, but Trump’s idea that this “started two years ago” is a very curious one. As Eli Rosenberg noted in his write-up of Trump’s comments, overall homeless numbers in the United States have been relatively stable in recent years and are actually down relative to a decade ago. There have been significant increases in some big cities on the West Coast, though, including San Francisco and Los Angeles. So this isn’t made up out of whole cloth.
2) Trump assures that he might do something and also that he’s looking at doing something. But he also says that he’s already doing something — including “some of the very important things that we’re doing now.” Got it?
TRUMP: You can’t have what’s happening — where police officers are getting sick just by walking the beat. I mean, they’re getting actually very sick, where people are getting sick, where the people living there living in hell, too.
There was some uncertainty as to whether this all referred to homelessness — since the word isn’t actually spoken in the exchange. But this makes it clear it is, because Trump has talked about police officers getting sick from walking the streets before.
Here’s what he said at a fundraiser in Iowa last month:
You see what’s happening in California, where they just announced a plan to give free health care to illegal immigrants, when it could very well be used — all of that money — to provide housing and hospitalization and medical for the rising number of homeless people. Then the Democratic-run cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco — do you see what’s happening to those cities? Can you even believe it, what’s going on there? People are getting sick just by walking down the street. They’re getting actually sick, including police officers, who are incredible, the job our law enforcement does is incredible.
Trump then proceeds to put on his psychiatrist hat and suggest that maybe some homeless people prefer to be homeless because of “mental problems”:
TRUMP: Although 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. They can’t do that.
Homeless advocates generally regard the idea that people choose to be homeless as a dangerous myth, though there is some evidence that people choose to be on the streets rather than turn to shelters.
TRUMP: 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.And this is the liberal establishment. This is what I’m fighting. They — I don’t know if they’re afraid of votes. I don’t know if they really believe that this should be taking place. But it’s a terrible thing that’s taking place. And we may be —You know, I had a situation when I first became president, 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.” 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. I really believe that it hurts our country.
Trump makes clear twice in this exchange that he regards homelessness as a problem for working professionals and foreign leaders who happen to come into its proximity. (He’ll return to this idea later by invoking himself.)
As to what he’s actually done about it personally? It’s not clear. Homeless numbers in the D.C. area are the lowest since 2001, according to one study. But they had been dropping before Trump came into office, including a sharp drop in 2016, Barack Obama’s final year as president.
TRUMP: They can’t be looking at scenes like you see in Los Angeles and San Francisco. San Francisco, I own property in San Francisco, so I don’t care except it was so beautiful. And now areas that you used to think as being, you know, really something very special, you take a look at what’s going on with San Francisco, it’s terrible.So we’re looking at it very seriously. We may intercede. We may do something to get that whole thing cleaned up. It’s inappropriate. Now, we have to take the people and do something. We have to do something.Our immigration laws are a disgrace and the Democrats can get together with the Republicans and solve the problem quickly. One meeting. Democrats in California even voted to give free health care to illegal aliens instead of helping homeless Americans in Democrat run cities.
It’s worth noting that even as Trump talks about doing something at the federal level about homelessness, his budgets have called for the elimination of the organization that coordinates the federal response to homelessness, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. There are certainly other ways the problem could be tackled, of course, rather than through that specific council. Last week, Trump established via executive action the White House Council on Eliminating Barriers to Affordable Housing Development, a benefit of which the White House says is combating homelessness.
The White House has also issued grants of $2 billion for local agencies dealing with homelessness — up slightly from $1.9 billion in previous years.