U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson on Thursday urged California leaders to work with the Trump administration to solve the state’s growing homelessness crisis, drawing skepticism from some attendees at a forum in Los Angeles.
“This is the can-do nation. We’ve overcome much more difficult problems than this. But when we have overcome them, we have overcome them together,” said Carson at the event held at the University of Southern California. The forum was hosted by the USC Price School of Public Policy and the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy, with the goal of examining solutions to the crisis.
Specifically, Carson called for streamlining regulations such as zoning and density restrictions that he said block the construction of housing.
“It becomes a labyrinth because of all these things that are layered on top of each other,” he said. “Can we fix that? We absolutely can. Again, it comes back to working together. We’re not enemies.”
Carson also said the federal government would soon unveil a faith-based initiative to tackle homelessness nationwide. He said the government would call on every church, temple and mosque to “adopt a homeless person” and help them “get back on their feet” within a year.
President Trump has repeatedly criticized Democratic leaders in California for the state’s homelessness problem. Late last year, White House officials told The Washington Post that Trump planned to “crack down” on the state, but no specific plan has materialized.
State Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, echoed the comments of several state leaders about working with the federal government, saying he was skeptical and hadn’t seen any new funds or proposals to help the situation.
“I am open to any funds, don’t get me wrong,” Santiago said at the forum. “I just have a very hard time believing that it’s a genuine approach and not a political ploy.”
How bad is the crisis?
California has more than 150,000 homeless people, according to a recent federal report. That’s an increase of 30,000 over the past decade, according to Gary Painter, chair of the USC Department of Public Policy, who spoke at the forum.
Looking deeper at the numbers, Painter said that black Californians make up a disproportionate share of the state’s homeless population at 30 percent while they are just 6 percent of the overall population.
“Those numbers are staggering. It is a crisis. We can do better and we must do better,” former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said at the event.
Solutions to the emergency
Throughout the half-day forum, California state and local leaders discussed how to solve the problem. Several stressed the need to push back against a ‘no-growth mentality’ in California, as Schwarzenegger described it, one that has blocked needed housing and services for those on the streets. Others, such as San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, stressed the need for greater mental health and drug treatment services.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who co-chairs Gov. Gavin Newsom’s task force on homelessness, said California won’t truly solve the problem unless it requires local governments to house homeless residents.
"We are tacitly saying that this isn't important enough," without a state mandate, Steinberg said.
To address homelessness in Sacramento, the mayor has called for the rapid expansion of tiny home construction. He has also pushed for creating a $100 million affordable housing trust fund, which the City Council supported last month. The fund would issue bonds to raise grant and loan money for affordable housing projects.
New Poll Results
Results from a USC survey released on Thursday show homelessness remains a top concern among Californians.
The poll found 22.9 percent of respondents placed homelessness or housing as their top issue in an open-ended, unaided question.
That was followed by climate change at 14.8 percent and immigration at 9.2 percent. The survey also found that 37.5 percent said they were afraid that they or a family member could become homeless. This number was even higher among Latinos at 47 percent, according to the poll.
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