White House officials, along with staff from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Domestic Policy Council, are in California to meet with officials in Los Angeles and other urban areas for a round of talks on homelessness, Alex Comisar, the deputy communications director for L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, told Fox News.
“Our office learned very recently of the administration’s plans to visit L.A., to learn more about our strategies for responding to the homelessness crisis,” Comisar said in an email. “We welcome them and look forward to showing them our work to confront this humanitarian emergency.”
The news of the trip, first reported by The Washington Post, comes amid renewed criticism from the president of officials’ response to California’s homelessness epidemic. Los Angeles has seen a 16 percent increase in its homeless population over last year – more than 36,000 people live on the streets — according to a recent report.
“What they are doing to our beautiful California is a disgrace to our country,” Trump said during a rally in Ohio last month. “It’s a shame. The world is looking at it. Look at Los Angeles with the tents and the horrible, horrible conditions. Look at San Francisco, look at some of your other cities.”
Among the topics being discussed this week are ideas for razing the state’s existing homeless encampments; building new homeless shelters and housing or refurbishing existing units while giving the federal government more oversight of health care and housing; and addressing the homeless population in Los Angeles’ “Skid Row” area.
While officials say that no concrete plans have been made by officials in conjunction with the administration, state and local lawmakers have recently pushed a number of initiatives.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed off on a $214.8 billion budget in June, authorizing $2.4 billion in spending to address the state’s housing and homelessness crisis. The budget allocates $650 million to local governments to build shelters, offer rental assistance and convert hotels and motels to temporary or permanent housing.
In Los Angeles, Garcetti has prioritized Skid Row in his plan to tackle homelessness and is allocating $7 million from the $124 million the state recently approved for improving the health and safety of city residents. The city already spent $20 million last year to expand hygiene infrastructure and street cleanups in the community.
Besides the hygiene initiative, the city has plans to build a bin facility for Skid Row residents to store their belongings, start a cleaning initiative that would hire residents to clean the streets, and construct crisis beds for women in Skid Row at Downtown Women’s Center.
The visit by White House officials comes as lawmakers in Los Angeles debate a plan barring people from sleeping and camping on streets and sidewalks in more than a quarter of the city. The plan, which could be taken up by the City Council as early as Wednesday, would add to existing rules that put about 15 percent of Los Angeles – mainly its city parks – off-limits at night.
If approved, the plan will almost certainly face numerous legal challenges after a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling from last year found that prosecuting homeless people for sleeping on public property when they have no access to a shelter represented constitutionally prohibited cruel and unusual punishment. But local politicians argue that something needs to be done as they search for a way to build permanent housing for the thousands of homeless people living on the city’s streets.
“We need to enforce this plan so that it incentivizes neighborhoods to say yes to building shelters,” Branimir Kvartuc, a spokesperson for City Councilman Joe Buscaino, told Fox News.