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Trump considers jumping in on Los Angeles’ homelessness problem

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 9/11/2019 By Kevin Fagan, Tal Kopan and Sarah Ravani

After labeling California’s homelessness crisis a “disgrace,” President Trump has sent a fact-finding team to the state to look into addressing the problem and possibly clamping down on encampments — but the team is apparently sticking only to Los Angeles for now.

The reaction from Northern California, where officials said they’ve heard nothing from the Trump administration about any new push on homelessness, cut straight to cynicism and frustration.

“I don’t know what they’re doing. I’ll believe it when I see it. Nobody has contacted us,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed. “You think I know what’s going on in his (Trump’s) head?”

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said that “it’s always hard to tell with this president if he is trying to produce a media sound bite or actually produce policy.”

“To me, this feels like more pre-election posturing at the expense of our most vulnerable residents, whether it’s immigrants or our homeless,” she said.

On Tuesday, Trump administration officials visited Los Angeles “to learn more about the city’s response to the homelessness crisis,” according to a statement from Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Los Angeles, like most other communities along California’s urbanized coast, has seen significant increases in the number of homeless people over the past two years. At a campaign rally in Ohio last month, Trump lambasted Los Angeles for “horrible, horrible conditions” on its streets.

“What they are doing to our beautiful California is a disgrace to our country,” the president said at the rally. He also mentioned San Francisco as part of the problem.

Garcetti, however, said in a letter to the president Tuesday he appreciated the visit from administration officials and hoped it would be followed up with helpful action.

“To cut to the chase, if you are committed to working with America’s cities and local leaders to address the national epidemic of homelessness, there’s a lot you and your Administration can do,” Garcetti wrote in the letter, obtained by The Chronicle.

Sources told The Chronicle that the federal visitors to Los Angeles mentioned the possibilities of building new facilities and renovating existing ones, and that the federal government might play a large role in overseeing health care and housing. They also discussed how to crack down on street encampments. The latest Trump action was first reported by the Washington Post.

The visit and on-site talks involved officials from the White House, Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Domestic Policy Council.

“Like many Americans, the president has taken notice of the homelessness crisis, particularly in cities and states where the liberal policies of overregulation, excessive taxation, and poor public service delivery are combining to dramatically increase poverty and public health risks,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere.

“In June, the president took action and signed an executive order to confront the regulatory barriers to affordable housing development, a leading cause of homelessness. President Trump has directed his team to go further and develop a range of policy options for consideration to deal with this tragedy.”

Rep. Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, was dismissive of the visit to California. She said she doesn’t believe that Trump’s proposed crackdown on the problem is “serious.”

“I think the fact that the president raised it, he’s just raising it as a way to slam California, as though he just noticed there’s homeless people and we never did,” she said. “So he’s going to come and save the day, when he has never said or done anything positive toward California.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s chief spokesman, Nathan Click, said he would welcome the president’s help in addressing the state’s homelessness crisis, but he was a bit defensive about Trump’s earlier tone toward the state.

“In his first eight months as governor, Gavin Newsom has made addressing homelessness and housing insecurity a top priority,” Click said. “As a result, the state is doing more to help local governments fight homelessness and expand proven programs than at any point in state history. But let's face facts: Homelessness is a national crisis.

“If the president is willing to put serious solutions — with real investment — on the table, California stands ready to talk,” Click said. “He could start by ending his plans to cut food stamps, gut health care for low-income people, and scare immigrant families from accessing government services.”

No Trump delegation appears to have made its way to San Francisco, Oakland or Santa Clara County, according to officials there.

Breed said that despite the tone Trump has taken on homelessness, she would welcome discussions of any help the president might want to send to her city.

“The fact is the federal government has underfunded affordable housing to San Francisco and the state of California for years now, leaving it to cities to come up with their own resources and solutions to address this significant issue,” Breed said. “We welcome the opportunity to receive much-needed financial support to invest in affordable housing.”

Schaaf said if the president “is sincere about helping California with its homelessness problem, he will help us produce affordable housing, not sweep our fellow humans from the street. But it’s difficult to believe that a president who proposed an $8.8 billion cut to HUD this year has any sincerity about actually helping address the causes of homelessness.”

Schaaf added that over the last several years, the federal government has cut funding for housing vouchers and funding that supports homeless shelters.

“That has exacerbated homelessness, not helped it, particularly in a high housing cost area like California,” she said. “Our homeless residents need compassion, not a crackdown.”

Taylor Griffin, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said that so far Trump has only exacerbated homelessness.

“Homelessness is a challenge to the conscience of our nation and a growing humanitarian crisis for communities across our country,” she said.

“If the president truly wants to address the issue, he can begin with a serious commitment to combatting income disparity, investing in housing assistance and expanding affordable housing opportunities for American individuals, families and veterans experiencing homelessness.”

San Francisco Chronicle staff writers Alexei Koseff and Emily Fancher contributed to this report.

Kevin Fagan, Tal Kopan and Sarah Ravani are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: kfagan@sfchronicle.com, tal.kopan@sfchronicle.com, sravani@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @KevinChron, @TalKopan, @SarRavani

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