WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump took aim at Los Angeles and San Francisco over their problems with homelessness on Tuesday and said he is considering setting up a task force to deal with the crisis.
“We can’t let Los Angeles, San Francisco and numerous other cities destroy themselves by allowing what’s happening," he told reporters aboard Air Force One while en route to California for a series of political fundraisers.
Trump, who previously has described California's homeless problem as “disgusting” and a “disgrace to our country," said he would be discussing the issue further with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.
“The people of San Francisco are fed up, and the people of Los Angeles are fed up,” he said. “And we’re looking at it, and we’ll be doing something about it.”
Trump's visit to California – his fourth as president – comes as he is facing a backlash over his threat of a federal crackdown on homelessness in the state. It also follows on the heels of his Twitter feud with television actress Debra Messing of “Will & Grace.”
Trump, who routinely slams the policies of overwhelmingly Democratic California, will deliver remarks at a fundraising luncheon in Palo Alto on Tuesday and a fundraising dinner in Beverly Hills later that evening. The next day he’ll woo donors at a breakfast in Los Angeles before heading to San Diego for a fundraising luncheon.
Trump's visit comes just a little more than a week after his administration touched off a furor by confirming it had sent officials to California to look for ways to intervene in the state’s growing homeless crisis.
A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, confirmed to USA TODAY last week that a team of federal officials was on the ground in California assessing local homeless camps. The official said the team was conducting a fact-finding mission to learn more about the crisis.
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The news about the Trump administration's plans on homelessness were first reported by The Washington Post, which cited unnamed officials describing a coming crackdown, particularly in cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, which have some of the nation's largest homeless populations.
The report did not specify what actions officials planned to take but suggested that camps could be razed with homeless people moved into either new facilities or refurbished buildings.
In his remarks on Air Force One, Trump complained that homeless people in California are living on "our best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings" where people pay "tremendous taxes."
“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 – hundreds and hundreds of tents and people living at the entrance to their office building," he said. " And they want to leave."
Elected officials and others accused Trump of using the homelessness issue to win over conservative supporters ahead of the 2020 election.
“There’s no question that homelessness is an ongoing problem in California,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “There’s also no question that the federal government could play a productive role in helping address this challenge.”
But, “We won’t help these people by sweeping them off the street, and we certainly won’t help them by putting them in jail,” Feinstein said.
If the administration really wants to help, she said, it could back a bill she is pushing with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, that would direct $750 million a year to provide comprehensive services and intensive care management for the homeless population.
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While homelessness is a challenge for the nation and a growing humanitarian crisis for communities across the country, “the Trump administration’s heartless policies have only exacerbated the matter, harming the most vulnerable in our society and contributing to housing instability,” said Taylor Griffin, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
If Trump truly wants to address the issue, “he can begin with a serious commitment to combating income disparity, investing in housing assistance and expanding affordable housing opportunities for American individuals, families and veterans experiencing homelessness,” Griffin said.
In another sign that Trump’s record on homelessness will remain an issue for Democrats in next year’s election, former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, will kick off a three-day visit to California on Tuesday with a visit to Skid Row in Los Angeles.
A lack of affordable housing is what’s driving homelessness in the state, said Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness.
Erlenbusch said an infusion of federal cash to create affordable housing is needed, not “the counter-productive and punitive ideas the Trump administration is floating.”
“We don’t need internment camps for people experiencing homeless,” he said. “We need a leader who will address the systemic causes of the crisis.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s arrival in California comes just days before one of television’s biggest events – the Emmy Awards, which will broadcast live Sunday night from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles – and on the heels of his Twitter feud with Messing of “Will & Grace.”
Messing drew Trump’s ire for suggesting that a list “of all attendees” at Trump’s upcoming fundraiser in Beverly Hills should be published and for voicing her support for an Alabama church that displayed a controversial anti-Trump sign. One side of the sign read: “A black vote for Trump is mental illness.” The other side said: “A white vote for Trump is pure racism.”
In a Twitter rant, Trump called Messing “a bad ‘actress’” and accused her of wanting to create a blacklist of Trump supporters. He also slammed her as “a McCarthy style Racist.”
California has never been Trump territory. He lost the state to Democrat Hillary Clinton by more than 4 million votes during the 2016 presidential election. Even so, Trump continues to turn to California for campaign cash. His re-election campaign has already raised $4.3 million there, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions.
Please print a list of all attendees please. The public has a right to know. https://t.co/YV4UoxrPHI
— Debra Messing (@DebraMessing) August 31, 2019
Bad “actress” Debra The Mess Messing is in hot water. She wants to create a “Blacklist” of Trump supporters, & is being accused of McCarthyism. Is also being accused of being a Racist because of the terrible things she said about blacks and mental illness. If Roseanne Barr....
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2019
....said what she did, even being on a much higher rated show, she would have been thrown off television. Will Fake News NBC allow a McCarthy style Racist to continue? ABC fired Roseanne. Watch the double standard!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2019
Contributing: Marco della Cava and Michele Chandler
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump in California for fundraisers amid backlash over homeless plan