A newly displaced homeless camp is seen while Los Angeles Police officers guard a Harbor Freeway ramp during the visit of President Donald Trump in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. Trump began a California visit on Tuesday, saying he will do "something" about homelessness but offering no specifics beyond the mention of creating a task force. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Details lacking: Housing head in LA, addresses homelessness

September 18, 2019 - 8:03 pm
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Trump administration continued to show an interest in California's homeless crisis Wednesday but offered little in the way of help or specific solutions as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development toured a Skid Row shelter in Los Angeles and called for cooperation among federal, state and local governments.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson was noncommittal about what he could offer, saying the administration was considering all options, including re-using vacant federal buildings for shelters.

Carson targeted some of the main hurdles to providing more housing: myriad regulations and opposition from people who don't want poor people living nearby. He said his agency might offer grant preferences to cities that try to remove those barriers to affordable housing.

The visit came as President Donald Trump spent a second day in the state raising money for his re-election campaign, and the day after he once again took a swipe at California's homeless issue.

"We can't let Los Angeles, San Francisco and numerous other cities destroy themselves by allowing what's happening," Trump said Tuesday.

He vowed to do something about the problem but only mentioned creating a task force.

A delegation of federal officials last week toured shelters, health care facilities and the city's widespread homeless encampments after the president directed them to develop policy options to the national crisis of people living on the streets.

With close to 60,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County, tents are clustered on sidewalks throughout the city, in vacant lots and under highway bridges. The state's other metropolitan areas have similar situations.

While Trump has smeared Los Angeles, San Francisco and other big cities' homeless woes as disgraceful and faulted the "liberal establishment," the problem is much broader, and courts have limited what cities can do to clean up encampments.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to join an effort to get the U.S. Supreme Court to review a decision that restricts efforts to bar homeless people from sleeping on sidewalks in Western states.

The board voted 3-2 to file a motion supporting Boise, Idaho, in its efforts to overturn a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said it was unconstitutional to arrest or otherwise sanction homeless people who sleep on sidewalks when there aren't enough shelter beds.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas voted in favor, saying he was fed up.

"The status quo is untenable," he said. "We need to call this what it is — a state of emergency," Ridley-Thomas said in a statement.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl voted against the motion, saying in a social media post that it would "criminalize poor people who have nowhere else to go."

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he would welcome Trump's help to end homelessness if he contributed federal dollars or property that could be converted into shelters, though he said he would "believe it when I see it."

Before more money is spent, Carson said there needs to be more effective use of available housing vouchers. Many of those, including 35% designated for veterans, are not being used, he said.

"Let's maximize their use and then, if we need more resources, let's supply them rather than just throwing more resources at a system that is not effective," Carson said.

Asked if Californians should take the Trump administration's sudden interest in the issue as sincere given the friction between the state and the president, Carson said things work best when all levels of government can work together with advocates, nonprofits and faith-based organizations and advocacy groups.

"Trying to create friction, demonizing each other, it's not going to work," he said.

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