Does President Donald Trump care about homeless people?
Nothing in his past suggests that he has any empathy for the poor. His “philanthropies” have been exposed as self-serving shams. His fiscal policies, like his 2017 tax package, are squarely focused on making rich people richer. They have pushed America’s income inequality to further extremes, creating an even greater imbalance between the super-wealthy and everyone else.
Most damning: The Trump administration has sat idly on the sidelines as homelessness has reached crisis levels in many American cities. Worse, his administration has proposed cutting funds for programs that can help prevent homelessness.
So, it’s odd to see Trump suddenly develop concerns about extreme poverty and homelessness. Of course, he only seems interested in pointing out such poverty in California, the home state of some of his fiercest critics. The president has dispatched a team of his staffers to “investigate” homelessness in Los Angeles. Yesterday, he raised the issue in San Francisco during a visit with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.
It sounds like an exploitative and half-baked strategy for his 2020 re-election campaign: Come to California, feign shock at the skyrocketing levels of homelessness, mock Democratic leadership and go home.
Unfortunately, as the Washington Post reported last week, Trump may have more in mind than a few Twitter barbs. The Trump administration is “considering razing tent camps” and suggesting that “policing may be an important tool to get [homeless people] off the street.”
Someone might want to inform the president that these tactics have already been tried. Extreme levels of homelessness are an old story in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Both cities have, over the years, tried hardball tactics like removing tent camps and using police to harass homeless people.
They didn’t work. You can’t force people off the street if they don’t have anywhere to go. Neither can mass arrests solve a problem rooted in decades of local, state and federal policy failures on the issues of poverty and mental health.
Trump’s already under fire for imprisoning immigrants in ill-equipped, impromptu camps, where many have suffered and some have died. Does he think it’s smart to use police to force vulnerable homeless Americans into new government camps because they can’t afford a place to live?
Of course, the most likely outcome of Trump’s posturing on homelessness is that he will quickly lose interest and move on to other dramas. Sad. America needs a president who cares about homelessness. That’s because homelessness isn’t just a local or state problem. It’s a reflection of policy failures at the highest levels of government.
Homelessness in America skyrocketed during the Great Recession, which was rooted in a bipartisan failure to regulate financial markets in the best interests of working families. This resulted in the collapse of the housing market, which spread to the stock market and sent foreclosure rates spiraling. Many people who could previously afford rent – and some who had owned their own homes – ended up on the street.
Yes, California’s leaders should be deeply ashamed by the fact that an estimated 130,000 people in our state can’t afford shelter. But President Trump, who only started paying attention to the issue after three years in office, also shares in the shame and the blame.
If he really wants to address the problem, next time he should skip the photo-op and come to Sacramento. He should meet with Gov. Gavin Newsom and Mayor Darrell Steinberg, two leaders who have spent many years grappling with the homeless crisis.
They certainly have some ideas about how the federal government can help get people into shelter. The question is whether Trump is interested in solutions to homelessness, or whether this is all just another publicity stunt for his 2020 campaign.
The answer seems quite obvious, but you never know.
Mr. President: We dare you to do better.