Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
“The only way to wipe out the hundreds of thousands of people, and maybe, across our country, millions of people…and help make our cities clean, safe and beautiful again,” said Donald Trump this week at a quasi-rally back in DC, “is to open up big, cheap tracts of land in the farthest reaches of cities…and create thousands and thousands of high-quality tents.” It’s not really surprising that he proposed street sweeps and detention camps as a solution to homelessness (he thinks detention camps are the solution to many things). But he might find it surprising that there are plenty of Democrats who agree with him.
Compare Trump’s vision of massive tent cities to the plan to “end homelessnessthat Rick Caruso, a Democrat from Los Angeles, has proposed in his campaign for mayor. “We must make temporary accommodation, of which my plan provides for 30,000 beds within a year”, he said. said earlier this year. “I spoke to the manufacturers. There is a surplus of land in the city to do so. As soon as we have a good bed and clean, warm food, people have to leave the streets. Caruso same referenced Fort Bliss facilitiesthe camp built to house migrant children whom the Trump administration separated from their parents – later cited for human rights violations – as a model for its LA shelter beds. “You’re going to offer the bed once,” Caruso said of his strategy for clearing encampments. “You are going to offer the bed, maybe twice. The third time, you’re going to say, ‘I’m sorry, you’ve broken the law now.’
LA doesn’t need to elect Caruso to see the ineffectual cruelty of such a policy. Over the past two years, as its leaders worked to create more permanent housing, Los Angeles erected dozens of small-house villages. Is a plastic shelter so different from a FEMA style tent? — while expanding the city’s anti-homelessness”application areaswhere the police are dispatched to move people and their belongings from one sidewalk to another.
Trump also claimed at the rally that he has a personal interest in clearing encampments at the White House, saying he will. send Secret Service agents to do it. “I saw a group of tents. I would see it happen. I would send people immediately,” he said. “Secret Service, by the way, did a phenomenal job.” Eric Adams shares this interest. Last month, the mayor told the New York Job that he personally tracks encampments on a Google Docs list that he shares with law enforcement who are supposed to clear them. If he sees that the police aren’t using him, he contacts him directly. “I go to my phone, look at the document – this encampment is not here,” Adams said. The city says it has enough Safe Haven beds – single-occupancy emergency beds – to temporarily house people whose living conditions are often destroyed in sweeps, but as local reports have constantly displayedthe city is struggling to provide adequate housing to people looking for it. It didn’t slow down scans.
The practice of removing homeless people from the shared public space by forcing them to accept shelter or face incarceration is not new. Robert Marbut, a pioneer of so-called warehousing policies (and a Trump housing policy official) has spent decades advising cities – for thousands of dollars an hour – for taking his “velvet hammer” approach to homelessness: criminalizing it, erecting massive shelters and controlling access via drug testing, security work and curfews. (Failure to comply with any of these restrictions means sleeping in an outdoor yard for the night.) This approach goes against the federal government”housing first” guidance, and also goes against the growing research showing that the cost and availability of permanent housing causes homelessness, not mental illness and drug use. Marbut, who said he believes in “fourth-grade housing”, refutes the idea that a bed, services or even food should be given to anyone who cannot accept his housing conditions, claiming on his site that “services of all kinds are magnets in the street” and that “these services are enabling in nature”.
Building on Marbut’s legacy is a new wave of anti-camping lawsmany of which have been introduced or reintroduced across the country over the past two years at an astonishing rate, mostly in Republican strongholds: Missouri lawmakers voted last month to outlaw camping on state land and a Tennessee law implemented on July 1 makes camping on public land a crime. In fact, nine bills introduced in six states since 2020 present strikingly similar language to a model bill – the “Reducing Street Homelessness Act” – pushed by a Palantir-backed Texas-based think tank called the Cicero Institute. One of the Cicero Institute’s efforts even succeeded in reversing the policy of a city that had already opted for a more progressive approach: in 2021, a Texas law passed that made street camping illegal in Austin’s public spaces, despite the continued efforts of its Democratic leaders decriminalize homelessness. (A GOP-backed municipal ballot measure also passed the same year, making it illegal to camp anywhere in downtown Austin.)
This is the kind of thing you would expect from Republicans, with the exception of Democratic leaders in Seattle at CC continue to deploy many of the same tactic: keeping homeless people out of public view and relying on the police to do so. And like Trump, many of these officials use the language of crime and lawlessness to justify targeting the homeless. “We are a war zone,” Trump said in his speech Tuesday. “There is no more respect for the law, and there is certainly no more order. Our country is now a cesspool of crime. Months earlier, Adams had said the same thing about New York. He even used the same wartime metaphors: “There are generals in wartime and in peacetime,” he said. “I am a war general.”