The wait is over. Trump was bound to attack homeless people. Now the question is this: As his policies find equilibrium between maximum cruelty and staggering incompetence, how much damage will he do before the nightmare finally ends?
Thus far, his actions have ranged from cynical to silly.
The Trump administration’s “State of Homelessness in America” report — not to be confused with the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) statistical snapshot by the same name — is both of these.
This report, authored by Trump’s Council of Economic Advisors, was released just in time for the president’s toxic visits to Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Typically, when a president weighs in on homelessness, they would consult the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, the collaboration of government agencies that brought you the phrase “making homelessness rare, brief, and one-time.”
There’s no evidence of that here. This report is out of step with all known approaches. The National Alliance’s four-paragraph press statement is, in a word, withering.
“The White House Council of Economic Advisers’ recent report … reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of homelessness, the programs that end homelessness, and the people who experience it. The authors cast doubts, refute progress, and offer disparate theories, while offering no realistic solutions.”
The Council of Economic Advisors is typically three people — in this case, just two — who work within the Executive Office of the President. The current appointees, Tomas Philipson and Tyler Goodspeed, are radical free marketers who have no tolerance for non-theoretical stuff like actual data. Unsurprisingly, at the heart of their report is a call for housing deregulation.
The Council of Economic Advisors has the right problem — housing costs too much — but offer the wrong solution.
Rather than create more housing availability through the Federal Housing Administration loans or subsidies like Section 8, their pretend answer to the housing crisis is to increase profit for developers. Whether regulatory savings get passed on as lower prices for homebuyers and renters is where ideology and reality will surely part ways.
Report highlights include the assertion that “more tolerable conditions for sleeping on the streets” increases homelessness, as does emergency shelter itself. Especially shelter that boasts “a minimal quality level.”
The report also casts doubt on reductions in homelessness through permanent supportive housing and short-term efforts like rapid rehousing, and to attack the idea of Housing First. So much for best practices.
Yet, like the proverbial stopped clock that’s right twice a day, the Council of Economic Advisors did get one thing right.
Requiring that all point-in-time homeless counts occur during the last ten days of January — a policy that began with the first bloom of the Ten Year Plans to End Homelessness — does artificially lower the unsheltered count. We argued that this was a fake “win” when it happened.
This touching concern, however, is less about a more accurate count than asserting the failure of all previous efforts. That points to the larger problem: Trump doesn’t give a rat’s ass about ending homelessness, much less about homeless people.
His strategy is to score political points by blaming liberalism, specifically, the blue-leaning urban centers that have been left holding the bag for federal disinvestment in housing and human services since Reagan.
In an act of profound political cynicism, Trump has mirrored the strategy deployed recently here in Seattle: weaponize fear and disgust, attack homeless service providers as inept and self-serving, double down on policing and shift the political center to the right.
And, attack homeless people themselves as just so much toxic waste.
In a bit of political theater that would be laughable if it weren’t so obscene, Trump has directed the Environmental Protection Agency to fine San Francisco for allowing homeless people to foul the Pacific.
Maybe Trump is on to something here. While there is no evidence that homelessness has infected the water, scientists have seen increased trace levels of fluoxetine in marine animals as use of anti-depressants has risen.Save the oceans: Impeach this president.
Tim Harris is the Founding Director Real Change and has been active as a poor people’s organizer for more than two decades. Prior to moving to Seattle in 1994, Harris founded street newspaper Spare Change in Boston while working as Executive Director of Boston Jobs with Peace. He can be reached at director (at) realchangenews (dot) org
Read the full September 25 - October 1 issue.
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