According to data from the U.S. Treasury Department, California communities received nearly half a billion in federal grant money to fight homelessness in 2018. California couldn’t come close to providing its current levels of emergency shelter, housing vouchers, health services for the indigent and permanent supportive housing without significant assistance from Washington.
Under the Obama administration, federal resources were steered toward a “housing first” model that prioritized permanent supportive housing and allowing people to access housing without preconditions such as sobriety or job training. While the Trump administration has yet to officially deviate from that bipartisan approach, recent personnel decisions and public comments from the president have California homeless advocates and housing officials fearful that a federal “crackdown” on homelessness is looming.
What exactly a “crackdown” would entail remains an object of fear, loathing and uncertainty for the Newsom administration. A 2019 report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers blamed California’s homelessness woes on regulatory barriers to building new housing and lax enforcement of laws against loitering and public nuisance. The report also cast doubt on the efficacy of permanent supportive housing, prompting a homelessness expert at the University of California San Francisco to compare the White House’s findings to climate change denial.
Some fear the Trump administration intends to try to force homeless people living on California’s streets to move to former federal armories and other converted federal buildings. While experts says the legal and practical obstacles to such widespread sweeps are considerable, officials at the federal department of Housing and Urban Development have reportedly scouted and inquired about properties across the West Coast. Trump could also issue an executive order that strips funding from cities that tolerate public encampments, beefs up law enforcement resources to deal with homelessness, and directs funding to shelters and away from permanent supportive housing.