President Donald Trump visited California this week with Ben Carson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, to discuss the state’s homelessness issue among other topics.
According to data from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, California has the highest number and highest percentage of homeless residents of any state in the country. The city of Berkeley alone has over 1,000 homeless residents, according to this year’s point-in-time count — and the number has been rising in recent years.
Trump has publicly said he is looking into allocating federally owned buildings to be homeless shelters, among other ideas. He also mentioned changing housing policy. Trump’s federal plans for combatting homelessness, however, were not welcomed by all — especially in Berkeley.
“We can’t let Los Angeles, San Francisco and numerous other cities destroy themselves by allowing what’s happening,” Trump said to reporters Tuesday. “We have people living in our … best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings.”
Before the president’s visit, California Gov. Gavin Newsom sent a letter to Trump, asking for federal help with the “national crisis” on behalf of a bipartisan coalition of local and state officials.
Newsom specifically asked for vouchers to assist low-income Americans and veterans with paying rent and finding housing.
“We all agree that homelessness is a national crisis decades in the making that demands action at every level of government,” Newsom said in the letter. “In California, state and local governments have ramped up action to lift families out of poverty by investing in behavioral health, affordable housing, and other homeless programs.”
Carson denied this request in a letter written to Newsom on behalf of Trump, stating that Newsom’s proposals fail to take responsibility as a state for the issue.
This disappointed many people, including Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, who said he believes the solution to homelessness is increased housing.
“If the federal government is serious about addressing our nation’s homelessness crisis, they must provide a humanitarian approach that addresses issues such as affordable housing, income disparities, and mental health,” Arreguín said in an email. “We stand ready to work (with) collaboratively in developing solutions to fix the safety net and lift up our most vulnerable residents.”
Arreguín added that he did not think criminalizing poverty was the answer either.
Local homeless activist Mike Zint said he agreed with efforts to provide housing for the homeless rather than shelters. He said services are important for mitigating the homelessness crisis, and added that HUD could help with this.
“We (homeless people) get wet, cold on warm days, blown by the wind, chased by cops, told to leave, get stepped on by society, and have the richer people crushing us with their unqualified opinions about us,” Zint said in an email. “If the president was serious about helping poor Americans … he would start talking to the true experts in homelessness, the homeless.”