In an act of hypocrisy that is extreme, even when compared to the serial outrageousness we have come to expect from Washington in recent years, the Trump Administration has taken initial action seeking to criminalize homelessness by relocating people experiencing homelessness from the streets of Los Angeles and other California cities to federal facilities. While appropriate federal investment is desperately needed to address the growing crisis of homelessness in cities across the nation, federal efforts to criminalize homelessness, or to create warehouses to move the homeless out of sight and out of mind are clearly not the answer.
The Trump Administration is complicit in the continuing growth of homelessness. While it did not start under its watch, the administration has offered no positive proposals to address homelessness nor its main underlying cause — the lack of affordable housing. Rather, the administration has proposed significant budget cuts to HUD’s affordable housing and homeless funding every year. Other actions, such as repeated attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, cuts to SNAP benefits, and cuts to housing assistance for undocumented individuals in public housing, all undercut state and local efforts to end homelessness.
The growth of mass homelessness beginning in the 1980’s began with massive cuts to federal housing assistance for public housing and the Section 8 program. Federal funding to specifically address homelessness has never been at a level commensurate with the need nor adequate to end homelessness.
Currently, HUD holds a yearly national competition for funding to award its Homeless Assistance grants to local communities. In January, HUD announced the distribution of $2.2 Billion in such grants. However, the vast majority of HUD funding was needed just to renew existing projects housing formerly homeless persons. Nationwide, 91.3% of projects funded were renewal projects, with only 5.8% ($126 million) being new housing or service projects. Of these 71% of renewals (totaling $2 billion) were for permanent supportive housing – applications to keep those who were housed through those projects remain housed.
In California, only 4.5% of the $415 million of HUD grants funded new projects to house those currently on the streets or in shelters – the remaining funding was needed just to keep those previously housed from losing their housing.
Meanwhile, California has committed $1 billion of state funding, and Los Angeles voters approved two $2 billion bonds to address homelessness.
If the Trump administration was serious about ending homelessness in California and across our nation, it would call for a massive new investment of funding for homeless assistance and affordable housing.
We need to demand that the President and Congress significantly increase its funding for homeless assistance programs — to not only continue to house those previously housed who need continued assistance to remain housed, but also to provide new housing those currently living on the streets. Incremental increases are not sufficient.
They must also restore affordable housing funding across the board to the levels necessary so that those experiencing homelessness are not continually competing for limited housing with those living at risk of homelessness, on fixed incomes, or working at minimum wage jobs.
We know how to end homelessness through a combination of affordable housing, health care, and social supports. Criminalization and warehousing of the homeless are not the answers.