After the president threatened to intervene in California, Congress approved new restrictions in December on how the administration could use certain funds for the homeless. The lawyers from the Office of Administration and Budget and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are reviewing that language, and it is unclear whether it would complicate the administration’s efforts to address the situation in California, authorities said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal planning matters.
The White House strategy comes after Trump spent months punishing California’s Democratic officials for the state’s growing population of homeless people. The president’s insistence since last summer that advisors do something about the “unpleasant” problem of homelessness in major cities in the United States stimulated a prolonged effort to find solutions in several federal agencies.
Homelessness in the United States increased for the third consecutive year in 2019, federal officials said in December, mainly due to the continuing increase in California.
In the fall, White House officials were considering taking measures to force the homeless in the cities of California to camp federally, and officials from several federal agencies visited an abandoned site of the Federal Aviation Administration as a place potential to relocate people.
“The president has never been looking for a takeover of the federal government,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere. “The president has seen a problem that state and local leaders have not been able to solve and asked the team to prepare options for consideration.”
Congress included a new and restrictive language in a year-end expense package that sets parameters for a large amount of funds related to addressing homelessness. Administration officials previously thought they had broad discretion to spend these funds, according to a person with internal planning knowledge.
Trump said last week on Twitter that the federal government would help cities fight homelessness if they ask for help “politely.” That marked a change of tone since September, when Trump told reporters about the homelessness crisis in California: “We are seeing it, and we will do something about it.”
The administration’s position seems to reduce the chances of the White House challenging the wishes of state and local officials to implement their own initiatives for the homeless.
Garcetti and HUD Secretary Ben Carson discussed working together in recent days to provide federal assistance to the city’s homeless population, as well as the possible provision of federal facilities, according to a person familiar with the conversation. The conversation was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.
Officials have exchanged letters, and Carson and Garcetti are expected to meet in Washington this month when Garcetti attends a conference of mayors, the person said.
The details of the possible collaboration remain vague and no plans have been finalized. HUD’s homeless count in California was 22.5 percent higher than nine years ago.
The legislation also states that the administration must “receive prior written approval” from the appropriators of the House of Representatives and the Senate before using certain funds recaptured from these grants for other purposes.
The Supreme Court also said in December that it would not review a decision by a trial court that protects homeless people from receiving fines for sleeping outdoors if no other shelter is available. A reversal of the lower court could have paved the way for some of the administration’s more aggressive plans, housing experts said.
Several months ago, Trump was hit by conservative television coverage of conditions in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles and wanted the needles, cardboard boxes and trash cleaned, according to a senior administration official.
Trump was confused that there were restrictions that prevented the federal government from taking over, the person said. Her focus on the problem of the homeless in California also presents an opportunity to try to embarrass the House of Representatives President, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Trump has talked less about the homeless crisis in recent weeks, focusing instead on his political judgment and conflict in the Middle East.
Three days after the White House meeting this month, Trump wrote on Twitter that the homeless crisis “is a state and local problem, not a federal problem,” but that the federal government could help.
“However, if the city or state in question is willing to acknowledge responsibility and politely ask for help from the Federal Government, we will seriously consider getting involved to make these poorly managed Democratic cities go back to being great,” Trump tweeted.
Trump officials have noted the increase in homelessness in major cities in California, but critics said the effort represented a political attempt by the president to shame his Democratic rivals in the state.
The Washington Post reported in September that administration officials were considering wiping out tent camps for the homeless, creating temporary facilities and renovating government facilities. It is possible that the Trump administration has already taken measures that have exacerbated the problem, critics claim, such as tightening the eligibility of immigrants to receive federal assistance, which runs the risk of putting more families on the streets, said David Garcia, Policy Director of the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley.
Trump has blamed Democratic politicians for allowing homelessness to grow in the cities they control. “We cannot allow Los Angeles, San Francisco and many other cities to be destroyed allowing what is happening,” Trump told reporters aboard the Air Force One in September.