That is indeed true. One estimate indicates 9 percent of those experiencing homelessness are veterans, nearly 38,000 individuals in total.
The mention of people experiencing homelessness might seem like something of a non sequitur, an unusual topic that had found its way into Trump’s speech. As The Washington Post has reported during the past week, though, Trump’s administration has quietly been planning a crackdown on homeless camps in California, including visiting unused government facilities to determine if they could serve as housing.
An administration official wanted to assure The Post that things hadn’t progressed too far, telling Jeff Stein, Josh Dawsey and Tracy Jan that “we’re not rounding people up or anything yet.”
From New Mexico, Trump on Tuesday flew to the San Francisco Peninsula in California. San Francisco is one of the cities that have been an apparent target of Trump’s frustration over homelessness, and, we learned Monday, that problem overlaps with America’s veterans.
Trump was asked about possible plans to address homelessness on the flight and said it was something he was considering.
“We can’t let Los Angeles, San Francisco and numerous other cities destroy themselves by allowing what’s happening,” Trump said, according to a report from the White House news pool. “And I’m speaking to tenants — in some cases foreign people, foreign tenants — but they have where they’re tenants in buildings throughout various cities in California, and other places … where they want to leave the country. They can’t believe what’s happening.”
He mentioned police getting sick of addressing homelessness problems, then returning to those tenants.
“We have people living in our … best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings and pay tremendous taxes, where people in those buildings pay tremendous taxes, where they went to those locations because of the prestige,” he said. “In many cases, they came from other countries, and they moved to Los Angeles or they moved to San Francisco because of the prestige of the city, and all of a sudden they have tents. Hundreds and hundreds of tents and people living at the entrance to their office building. And they want to leave.
“And the people of San Francisco are fed up, and the people of Los Angeles are fed up,” he added. “And we’re looking at it, and we’ll be doing something about it.”
When The Post first reported on the possibility that Trump wanted to address the homelessness issue, we noted it had been something of a focus of conservative media. Back in July, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson raised the issue of homelessness and urban decay in an interview with Trump. Then Trump inexplicably declared it was “a phenomena that started two years ago” and blamed Democratic leaders.
His answer on Tuesday makes a lot more sense. The focus of his concern, as presented to reporters on Air Force One, wasn’t Americans or veterans, but foreigners who rent or buy high-end real estate, people who get frustrated at seeing those experiencing homelessness at the entrance to their office buildings. It’s the sort of complaint that might resonate with someone who owns real estate in major U.S. cities that is used for housing or office space.
Someone, in other words, like Donald Trump, whose Trump Organization owns 30 percent of what used to be known as the Bank of America tower in San Francisco, an office building in that city. The Trump Organization also owns properties in Los Angeles and, of course, New York City. Trump has been in the business of appealing to real estate investors for a lot longer than he’s been in the business of running the United States, so it’s not really a surprise he would view the homelessness problem through the lens of someone who needs to get people to see Trump Tower as the pinnacle of refinement.
Trump is well aware of how people experiencing homelessness can make a property less appealing. As CNN reported during the campaign, Trump once proposed housing people who are homeless in one of his buildings — in an apparent effort to oust rent-controlled tenants from the property.
It’s remarkable, though, that Trump went as far as to frame this as a concern for foreign tenants. Foreign investors are central to much of the high-end real estate market, prompting Donald Trump Jr. in 2008 to remark that “[i]n terms of high-end product influx into the U.S., Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” But even if that is a central concern of Trump’s in this case, it seems odd to mention it explicitly. To the rally crowd, concern for the veterans. To reporters, it’s apparently about tax bases and appealing to the foreign market.
These, it seems, are the sorts of immigrants that Trump is happy to welcome, the sorts who want to ensure the properties they buy are prestigious. If we need to move those experiencing homelessness to an old FAA building, so be it.