Donald Trump has recently set his sights on fighting homelessness in California: a worthy goal for any executive, but one that Trump appears to be pursuing with his typical brand of hairbrained callousness that makes it almost certain that the vulnerable people on California’s streets won’t benefit.
As the Washington Post reported on Wednesday, Trump administration officials recently “toured” a building formerly used by the Federal Aviation Administration near Los Angeles as a possible location to, uh, “relocate” homeless people. It’s strange to speak of “relocation” as opposed to “converting the building to a homeless shelter” by the federal government, in and of itself a complicated and problematic move, but the whole thing sounds extremely half-baked, like the Trump administration just wants to clear out Skid Row and just sweep all of its people into an unused warehouse somewhere. Per the Post’s reporting:
It also remains unclear how the federal government could accomplish getting homeless people off the streets of Los Angeles, or what legal authority officials would use to do so.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the administration is considering razing tent camps, creating new temporary facilities or refurbishing government facilities as part of Trump’s directive on homelessness. The changes would attempt to give the federal government a larger role in supervising housing and health care for residents.
Some administration officials expressed skepticism that the federal government wanted to get in the business of operating a large homeless shelter in Los Angeles. There were also questions about the feasibility of turning the FAA facility into a shelter and how it could legally be done.
Right, so, let’s take stock: questionable legal authority, making homelessness a federal issue as opposed to funding local grassroots efforts, and the obvious logistical challenges of turning a random government building into a place suitable to house people. Certainly no way any of that could go wrong! But, never fear, at least senior administration officials told the paper that “forcing” people into the facilities wasn’t (yet) under consideration.
“We’re not rounding people up or anything yet. You guys in the media get too ahead of yourselves,” one official told the Post.
Oh we’re not rounding people up yet! Great news! Per the Post, the administration plan would encompass LA, which has one of the most dire homelessness and housing crises in the country, and several other major cities in the state. One way to ease this is certainly building and funding more shelters in the places that people need them (the better way is building more permanent housing and expanding the social safety net to keep people off the street in the first place), but Trump’s plan for new federal mega-facilities doesn’t inspire much confidence so far, per the Post:
The administration’s delegation divulged little information to city officials about what they were doing in Los Angeles when they were not with city representatives.
“They were very cagey with us about what they were doing,” said a Los Angeles city official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid. “Our only understanding from them coming into this was they wanted to poke around and learn more about what we were doing out here. All this stuff about cracking down and sweeping people out of skid row was a total surprise to us.”
It’s also hard not to view this as yet another effort by the Trump administration to mess with California, a Democratic stronghold, and its politicians. Two days ago, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti sent a letter urging Trump to fund programs currently fighting the issue. The mayors of San Francisco and Oakland, long struggling with their own homelessness crisis, also offered serious skepticism about the plan.
At best, this is a scattered, disorganized idea. At worst, it’s a brazen, heartless attempt to sweep human beings under the rug to make it look like the streets of LA are more welcoming to a certain kind of person. The fallout from all this, when it comes down, will inevitably land heaviest on the people at the bottom.