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Trump pushes for federal crackdown on homeless camps in California

It’s unclear how the White House could accomplish this and what legal authority it would use.
  • Author: Jeff Stein, Tracy Jan, Josh Dawsey, Ashley Parker, The Washington Post
  • Published September 10

Los Angeles County investigator Kelli Blanchard looks around a tent Sept. 11, 2017, in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump has ordered White House officials to conduct a sweeping crackdown on homelessness in California, citing the state’s growing crisis, according to four government officials aware of the effort.

The talks have intensified in recent weeks. Administration officials have discussed using the federal government to get homeless people off the streets of Los Angeles and other areas and into new government-backed facilities, according to two officials briefed on the planning. But it is unclear how they could accomplish this and what legal authority they would use.

Top officials representing the White House, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Domestic Policy Council arrived in California this week for a round of talks. A particular focus has been the "skid row" section of Los Angeles, officials said.

Also under consideration is razing existing camps for the homeless, two officials said. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the planning hasn't been publicly revealed.

Other ideas include the creation of new facilities or refurbishing of existing facilities that would give the federal government a bigger role in supervising health care and housing, among other things, these people said.

The talks are fluid, and concrete plans had not been reached.

The effort comes after Trump repeatedly criticized Democratic politicians in California over the state's growing homelessness issue, which he has called a "disgrace to our country." The president is directly involved with the initiative, officials said.

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Planning also involves officials from the Department of Health and Human Services. An administration official cited the need to act based on "rampant diseases" as well as sewage problems.

Although White House officials have expressed the desire for these facilities to be created soon, a final plan has not been completed.

Breelyn Pete, an aide to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, told Politico that a "very large delegation" of Trump administration officials is in town to discuss the homelessness issue with the mayor's office.

Trump previously teased potential unilateral federal action over homelessness, telling Fox News that he was "very seriously" considering acting on the issue.

"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," Trump told host Tucker Carlson in July. "Now, we have to take the people and do something. We have to do something."

The number of families either sleeping on the streets or considered "under-housed" has "skyrocketed" for most major California cities, climbing by at least 25 percent over the last several years, said David Garcia, policy director at the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at University of California, Berkeley.

"Generally speaking, all the major cities have seen incredible increases. It's a crisis in California," Garcia said.

But the Trump administration may have already taken actions that have exacerbated the problem, including by tightening immigrants' eligibility for federal assistance, which risks putting more families on the streets, Garcia added.

Trump's directive comes amid his feud with California politicians, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who represents San Francisco.

Trump has called California a "disgrace to our country" at a rally earlier this year, and has fought with the state's Democratic lawmakers over a number of issues ranging from homelessness to protections for immigrants.

At a rally earlier this year, he said: “What they are doing to our beautiful California is a disgrace to our country. It’s a shame.”