As Trump Visits LA, White House Suggests Increased Law Enforcement to Combat Homelessness

Originally published in Yo!venice on September 16, 2019.

White House Council of Economic Advisers release report on state of homelessness in America day before president visits California

By Sam Catanzaro


President Trump is expected to be in Los Angeles and the Bay Area Tuesday for fundraisers, just one day after White House economists suggested that increased law enforcement could be used to combat increases in homelessness in cities throughout California.

“Of course, policies intended solely to arrest or jail homeless people simply because they are homeless are inhumane and wrong. At the same time, when paired with effective services, policing may be an important tool to help move people off the street and into shelter or housing,” reads a report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), released Monday titled “The State of Homelessness in America”.

In a call with reporters, Acting CEA Chairman Tom Philipson highlighted homelessness in California, especially in the City of Los Angeles, partly blaming recent spikes on state and local policies. According to one administration official, Trump has asked aides to figure out “how the hell we can get these people off the streets.”

Local organizations serving people experiencing homelessness, however, are asking the president to address the need to provide health care, along with housing, to vulnerable individuals in Los Angeles during his visit to the City this week.

“During his visit to our state, we hope the president will take the time to understand this issue and seek humanitarian and meaningful solutions,” said Elizabeth Benson Forer, the CEO of Venice Family Clinic. “Proposals aren’t enough. Action is needed now. Success will depend not only on funding for homeless programs but on all programs that serve those in need – from affordable housing to the continuation and extension of Medi-Cal coverage.”

Forer and Venice Family Clinic leaders met on last Tuesday with a member of the administration’s team, Rear Admiral Susan Orsega, director, Commissioned Corps Headquarters, that was visiting Los Angeles to learn more about the City’s homeless programs.

“Our experience shows that health care is critical to the success of housing many of those experiencing homelessness,” Forer said. “Many have experienced trauma in their lives, and providing health care, including injectable medications for mental health issues, helps establish the connections needed to get people experiencing homelessness to consider shelter and helps ensure they succeed in housing programs.”

President Trump’s visit also comes as moving through LA City Council is a proposal that would prohibit sleeping within 500 feet of schools, among other locations including the Venice Beach Boardwalk and parts of 3rd Avenue near Rose Avenue, two areas where homelessness is especially visible.

The Venice Beach Boardwalk. Photo: Sam Catanzaro.

Councilmember Mike Bonin, who represents Venice, has come out against increased criminalization of homelessness saying “the heart of LA’s homeless problem is that that for decades we have focused on criminalization instead of solutions…Every time we criminalize, homelessness gets worse.”

Standing in the face of this proposal, and ultimately any solutions proposed by the White House, is a federal court ruling last year in the case Martin v. City of Boise which barred cities from punishing individuals from sleeping on public property unless they provide sufficient and accessible indoor housing.

“As long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property,” reads the ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which includes both Idaho and California.

In the decision, which ruled a City of Boise law penalizing homelessness unconstitutional, citing the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the Eighth Amendment, the court did give cities leeway to prohibit sleeping in public in certain situations.

On August 22 the City of Boise filed a petition in the U.S. Supreme Court seeking review of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Martin v. City of Boise, formally asking the Supreme Court to consider the case.

“If the 9th Circuit’s ruling is allowed to stand then cities will not have the tools they need to prevent a humanitarian crisis on their own streets. We hope the Supreme Court takes this case to restore the power of local communities to regulate the use of their streets, parks, and other public areas,” said Mayor Boise Dave Bieter.