President Donald Trump has been on a tear about homelessness over the past week, spreading a lot of misinformation about what the real issue is and how to address it.
Earlier this week Trump lamented the nation’s homelessness crisis ― not because so many Americans are unable to afford safe and stable housing, but rather because it’s supposedly affecting the “prestige” of California cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“In many cases [people] came from other countries and they moved to Los Angeles or they moved to San Francisco because of the prestige of the city, and all of a sudden they have tents. Hundreds and hundreds of tents and people living at the entrance to their office building. And they want to leave,” Trump told reporters Tuesday.
The next day, Trump claimed that San Francisco’s homelessness crisis was creating a “terrible situation” with needles and other trash flowing into the ocean, and that he plans to order the Environmental Protection Agency to cite the city for the pollution.
“They have to clean it up,” he told reporters Wednesday. “We can’t have our cities going to hell.”
Mayor London Breed and an official with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission both said Thursday that the supposed problem does not exist.
“To be clear, San Francisco has a combined sewer system, one of the best and most effective in the country,” Breed said in a statement to HuffPost. “No debris flow out into the Bay or the Ocean.” Public Utilities Commission spokesman Tyler Gamble told the San Francisco Chronicle: “We haven’t had any (recent) problems with syringes.”
But Trump is not the only one who gets it wrong on homelessness (though he has a responsibility to get it right given the platform and power he holds as U.S. president). Here’s a fact-check on some all-too-common and harmful stereotypes about people who are unhoused:
Fact: Homelessness is a serious problem nationwide.
Affordable housing is a crisis across the country, and more than 500,000 people were homeless in the U.S. on a given night in January 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. While there’s been a decline in the number of homeless Americans over the last decade, last year saw the first increase in recent years, per the HUD report.
California is one of the states with the worst rates of homelessness, and over the past couple years, homelessness has spiked in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles.
To address the issue, advocates and experts have long called for more government investment in affordable housing and support services for homeless and housing-insecure people.
Myth: Most homeless people live on the streets.
Of the roughly half-million Americans homeless on a single night in 2017, about two-thirds (65%) were living in shelters or transitional housing, while about one-third (35%) were “unsheltered,” or living on the street or in abandoned buildings, according to HUD.
These figures vary by region: In the San Francisco Bay Area in 2017, about 4,350 of 7,500 homeless people were considered “unsheltered” ― or 58%.
Many people who are homeless are also not in shelters or on the street, but living in their cars or “doubled up” at friends’ homes ― situations that can be unsustainable and even unhealthy.
When you ask someone on the street why they became homeless, no one’s going to say it’s because of decades of federal disinvestment in affordable housing.Shahera Hyatt
Myth: Most homeless people are mentally ill.
About 20% of people who were homeless had a serious mental illness, according to a 2016 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report. For homeless people living on the streets, those figures tend to be higher. People with mental health issues can be particularly vulnerable to becoming homeless, and once they’re homeless, it can be hard to access care.
“When folks say that people become homeless because of a mental health issue or a substance use issue, I usually like to say, ’People don’t become homeless because of those issues, it’s because we don’t have a system in society to support people having a mental health crisis or a substance use issue,’” Shahera Hyatt, director of the California Homeless Youth Project, said in a conference speech last year.
“Because not all people having those issues experience homelessness,” she added. “It’s the folks living in poverty who often lack the social safety net to buoy them through the storm.”
Myth: Most homeless people are addicts.
About 17% of people who are homeless also suffer from a chronic substance use disorder, according to HHS. Mental health and substance abuse issues can be connected, as people suffering from mental illness who lack access to treatment may try to “self-medicate” with drugs or alcohol.
Myth: Most homeless people on the streets in big cities like LA come from out of state.
It’s a common misconception that people who are homeless around the country move to big cities like Los Angeles or San Francisco because of the better weather or social services.
Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein perpetuated this myth earlier this week, telling a HuffPost reporter that “part of the problem” around homelessness was that “a lot of people come to the state who are homeless.” “People just gravitate,” she said of the Los Angeles area.
A 2018 reportfrom the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority says otherwise: Only 13% of homeless people in Los Angeles who were “unsheltered” ― or living in the streets or vehicles ― were from out of state. About 75% lived in the county before they became homeless, and 65% had lived in the county for more than 20 years.
Feinstein’s team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Myth: It’s their fault they’re homeless.
As the National Alliance to End Homelessness puts it, “The solution to homelessness is simple ― housing.” Yet affordable housing is hard to come by in America. Over the past few decades, housing costs have risen far faster than incomes. And homeless advocates say that governments at the federal, state and local levels have not done enough to make more affordable housing available.
“When you ask someone on the street why they became homeless, no one’s going to say it’s because of decades of federal disinvestment in affordable housing,” Hyatt told HuffPost in 2016. “It’s much easier to look around and see people in the streets as the problem — and not see it’s the broken system.”
People of color in the U.S. also experience homelessness at higher rates than white people do, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Black Americans, for instance, make up more than 40% of homeless people, but only about 13% of the total U.S. population.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Saying it’s time to “put politics aside”, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti hosted a delegation of Trump Administration representatives Tuesday as part of an effort to address what he called a homeless “humanitarian crisis”.
As part of the meeting, the mayor accompanied the unidentified delegates on a tour of the city’s Unified Homelessness Response Center, a pair of homeless shelters and the Jordan Downs public housing complex, officials said.
Garcetti then released a public letter to President Trump in which the mayor appeared to strike a cooperative tone, describing homelessness as “a problem that predates your administration and mine.”
“We must put politics aside when it comes to responding to this heartbreaking humanitarian crisis,” Garcetti wrote. “I hope you will provide
the federal assistance that is needed to help cities stop homelessness in America and help our veterans and most vulnerable of citizens. This is our watch. This is our time. This must be done. I look forward to working with you and your administration on this issue.”
“Any day that our nation’s federal leaders are willing to listen to Americans living in our 19,000 local communities across this country about the
challenges that they face is a good day,” he added.
The delegation’s visit comes just months after a Fox News segment in which Trump blamed the homeless crisis on “liberal” Los Angeles and California political leaders were to blame for homelessness and that he may “intercede” to “get that whole thing cleaned up.”
This comes on the heels of a Washington Post report indicating President Trump has ordered a “sweeping crackdown” on homelessness statewide, including discussions on federal involvement “to get homeless people off the streets of Los Angeles and other areas and into new government-backed facilities”, officials told the Post.
Among the proposed plans is an effort to raze existing homeless camps in the city and move people into government-backed facilities, according to the Post.
“There are things the federal government could do,” says Jack Pitney, Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College, “It could increase housing opportunities. It could increase the availability of group homes for people with mental disabilities. There’s lots of real things the federal government could do but it’s not entirely clear President Trump in interested in doing any of them.”
City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, chair of the city’s homeless and poverty committee, reacted to the report by calling the president’s agenda “concerning”.
“It sounds an awful lot like internment and this administration does not have a good track record,” O’Farrell said, alluding to what he called the government’s policy of putting “children in cages” in U.S. immigration detention centers.
Mario Guerra, Budget Chairman for the California Republican Party, welcomes Trump’s involvement: “If this is a political thing, who cares? We need solutions. We need to fix our problem. The California Legislature has let this problem go.”
In July, Garcetti told CBSLA he would “welcome [Trump’s] involvement” in the issue and “would be more than happy” to invite the president himself to walk the streets of L.A.
The homeless outreach agency that was meant to move hundreds of people from the streets into housing, shelters or treatment for mental illness and substance abuse has failed dramatically to meet the goals of its contract with the city of Los Angeles, according to an audit released Wednesday by Controller Ron Galperin.
The audit found that, despite having more than doubled its staff of outreach workers in the last two years, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority missed seven of nine goals during the 2017-18 fiscal year and five of eight last fiscal year.
“The goals that were set by the city are not unreasonable,” Galperin told The Times. “Quite frankly, they are [setting a] pretty low bar to begin with. If you can’t meet the low bar, that’s a problem.”
Outreach workers were supposed to place into permanent housing 10% of the homeless people they assessed. But in the fiscal year that ended in June, they placed only 4%, the audit reported. The goal was 20% for placing people in shelters, but they achieved only 14%.
The discrepancies were greater for referrals to treatment: 6% for substance abuse and 4% for mental health. Both had goals of 25%.
At a news conference Wednesday, Galperin called those results “shocking.”
The authority’s “outreach is fundamentally limited because it is reactive instead of being proactive,” he said. “Much of the outreach has been consumed with responding to calls about homeless encampments throughout the city of Los Angeles.”
LAHSA, as the authority is commonly known, issued an equally biting response that was distributed in writing at the news conference.
Peter Lynn, the authority’s executive director, called the audit misleading, saying it studied only measures that are ill-suited to determining the effectiveness of homeless outreach and looked at only the fraction of LAHSA’s system that is covered by the city contract.
“It ultimately says nothing about LAHSA’s outreach efforts, which contacted record numbers of our homeless neighbors in the year it studied,” he said in the statement.
Heidi Marston, the authority’s chief program officer, gave a more measured reaction. Marston said federal privacy rules prevented LAHSA from accurately reporting mental health and substance abuse referrals. As a result, she said, the agency no longer uses those goals.
“The report did a good job of pointing out where some of the gaps were,” she said after the news conference, “and we agree that proactive outreach is the way to go as opposed to reactive outreach.”
The main problem with the system, she said, is that it is unbalanced — heavy on engagement with homeless people, but short on shelters and housing.
“We have 30,000 people who have said to us: ‘Yes, we want resources. Yes, we want shelter.’ But yet we don’t have anything to offer them,” Marston said.
While attributing some of the shortfalls to the underlying shortage of affordable housing and treatment resources in the city, the audit criticized the city for setting fuzzy goals that weren’t linked to the scale of the homelessness crisis and knocked the authority for not being able to meet them.
In its 2019 count, LAHSA reported that there were close to 60,000 homeless people living in the county, with more than 36,000 of them in the city. All but about 25% live on the streets.
Galperin said the audit, which began last year, took months to complete “partly because getting accurate and consistent numbers from LAHSA has been a challenge.”
The authority, according to the audit, “lacks a rigorous performance review process for its outreach activities. Moreover, data-driven decisions about the deployment of resources are not made because the information is neither timely nor accurate.”
LAHSA provided the controller’s office with four different versions of its outreach numbers, each one significantly different, Galperin said. A chart in the audit showed the percentage of homeless people placed into shelters dropping from 64% in the first version to 19% in the last.
The authority attributed those changes to the loss of some records during a transition to a new data system.
The audit also faulted a report by the authority that it placed 21,000 people into permanent housing last year. Not only did the number include placements made by other agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, it included duplicates by counting individuals or families that fell in and out of homelessness during the year, the audit said.
The report also faulted LAHSA’s participation in cleanups of homeless encampments by the city’s Bureau of Sanitation for contributing to its failings with outreach. The authority estimated that cleanups accounted for 67% of its outreach time in the city.
“In many cases, they are required to talk with people that are already working with homeless service providers,” the report said. The city should “rethink its outreach policies and more sufficiently find a balance between a proactive outreach strategy and an effective response to ‘hot-spot’ encampments.”
The audit sharply criticized the goals set by the city in its contract with LAHSA.
The goal that 25% of homeless people with a substance abuse disorder would be connected to appropriate treatment “supplies no indication about what the 25% target represents,” it said. “Even if LAHSA had met its 25% target, only 167 … would have received substance abuse treatment,” it said.
In a written response, Lynn said those numbers reflected a flaw in the audit. “Metrics around mental health and substance use are not appropriate … when evaluating outreach,” the statement said.
Marston added that outreach is “about how well we interact with them. It’s about the quality of the interaction.”
Galperin said the city and authority should recast goals that are understandable and specify the number of people expected to receive assistance, rather than using a percentage. LAHSA also should adopt a data-driven outreach system modeled after the CompSTAT policing model used by police departments across the country, including the LAPD.
A Seattle initiative links homeless customers with charitable businesses.