Why you should care
Because solving homelessness is not quick or easy.
You’d be hard-pressed to visit Los Angeles or San Francisco in recent years and not notice a swelling tide of street homelessness. As of January, Los Angeles counted 36,000 homeless people (up 16 percent from the year before) and San Francisco had 9,700 (up 30 percent from 2017). For these cities and others, it’s a human crisis — not to mention a sanitary and economic problem — with complex causes rooted in the soaring cost of living, a breakdown of the social safety net, addiction and more.
President Donald Trump looks at people sleeping on the streets and sees liberal failure.
As America has realigned politically into blue cities and inner suburbs vs. swaths of exurban and rural red, Trump — despite a career rooted in America’s largest city — relishes taking aim at the problems of Democrat-ruled urban America. Typically this has focused on crime in places like Chicago and Baltimore. But lately, he’s turned to homelessness.
Even with good faith efforts, it will take a decade. It’s a glacier, not an ice cube.
Eric Rice, University of Southern California professor, on California’s homeless crisis
In July, Trump told Tucker Carlson on Fox News that homelessness in Los Angeles, San Francisco and elsewhere is “a phenomenon that started two years ago.” He added: “We may intercede. We may do something to get that whole thing cleaned up. It’s inappropriate.”
Unlike a replacement for Obamacare or any number of other Trump pronouncements, it appears there was actual follow-through on this vague pledge. Trump administration aides toured Los Angeles’ infamous skid row in recent days and ahead of the president’s visit to California this coming week. The purpose of a trip to a state where political leaders reflexively treat Trump like a proverbial sidewalk turd is to raise money for his reelection campaign. But Trump could use the Cali visit to make some news on homelessness.
According to The Washington Post, an emerging administration plan includes mass housing in government facilities. But since it’s illegal to sweep people off the street against their will, that would be tough to pull off.
Eric Rice, a professor of social work at the University of Southern California who’s done innovative work using artificial intelligence for homeless interventions, scoffs at the mass housing idea.
“That kind of ghettoization of the people who are experiencing homelessness only exacerbates the marginalization and disenfranchisement of that group of people,” he says. “It might look good in terms of, as you drive past a corner where there used to be a tent, you don’t see a tent. But that person is still homeless.”
What would work? More investments in federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs, Rice says, such as “rapid rehousing” subsidies that have proven effective in getting people off the street — and keeping them there.
HUD Secretary Ben Carson, whose agency has proposed increasing homelessness grants for the coming year, is reportedly visiting Los Angeles soon too. The view of local leaders toward the Trump administration was summed up well when Branimir Kvartuc, an aide to a city councilman, told the Los Angeles Times: “Show us the money and let us spend it.”
That would require both a measure of trust in local Democrats from the White House and a willingness to work within the system on something incremental. That’s doubtful, especially considering that California long ago planted its flag as the capital of the #Resistance, and Trump always leans toward attention-grabbing — often fantastical — ideas.
The question then becomes how long homelessness holds the president’s attention as an issue. It’s not as urgent as immigration or health care to his reelection prospects, and it certainly does not lend itself to a quick political win.
“Even with good faith efforts, it will take a decade” to solve Los Angeles’ homeless problem, Rice says. “It’s a glacier, not an ice cube.”
Sounds like we’re back to Greenland.