The Washington Post reported last week that Donald Trump directed his aides to figure out “how the hell we can get these people off the streets.” The president’s approach to homelessness seemed rather vague, and it prompted all kinds of speculation about what, exactly, the administration was prepared to do.
But lingering in the background was a related question that was just as difficult to answer: why has this piqued Trump’s interest? Assuming that it’s unrelated to personal concerns about the wellbeing of those who are forced to live on the streets, what’s the motivation behind the president’s push?
There’s reason to believe Fox News has something to do with it – the network has spent a fair amount of time focusing on homelessness in cities led by Democratic officials – but as the Washington Post reported late yesterday, Trump elaborated on his personal perspective for the first time yesterday.
As he arrived [in California], Trump claimed that he had personally heard complaints from tenants in the state, some of them foreigners. He expressed sympathy for real estate investors here and other Californians whose property values or quality of life are threatened.
“In many cases, they came from other countries and they moved to Los Angeles or they moved to San Francisco because of the prestige of the city, and all of a sudden they have tents,” Trump said. “Hundreds and hundreds of tents and people living at the entrance to their office building. And they want to leave.”
In Los Angeles and San Francisco, Trump said, people are living on the “best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings … where people in those buildings pay tremendous taxes, where they went to those locations because of the prestige.”
There is something oddly perfect about this. The president is eager to address homelessness in part because of conversations he claims to have had with foreign real-estate investors.
Given Trump’s own private-sector enterprises, his comments yesterday made it sound as if he’s motivated by the concerns of people like him.
It was against this backdrop that the White House Council of Economic Advisers issued a report yesterday on the “state of homelessness in America,” which, among other things, suggested homeless shelters are part of the problem. USA Today noted:
The argument: Some people would be able to find their own housing if they were turned away from shelters.
“While shelters play an extremely important role in bringing some people off the streets, it also brings in people who would otherwise be housed, thus increasing total homelessness,” the report states.
I guess we’re supposed to believe the homeless prefer shelters to private residences?
This was apparently among the reasons the Center for American Progress’ Heidi Schultheis described the White House’s document as “a Putin-esque embarrassment of disinformation.”
The problem is not that homelessness is starting to receive the public spotlight; the problem is what Team Trump intends to do about it and why.