Dennis Karimi, 30, sits on a couch that also serves as his bed at a homeless encampment located under the 118 fwy in Pacoima, Calif. on July 22, 2019. Caltrans wants to oust everyone from this location, but it has been delayed due to a legal challenge. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

PALO ALTO – President Donald Trump arrived in California late Tuesday morning amid growing questions over his administration’s plans to get involved in the state’s homelessness crisis.

After a visit to the San Francisco Bay Area, the president landed at Los Angeles International Airport at roughly 4:15 p.m. PDT.

Trump is in the state for a two-day visit, with stops for fundraising in Palo Alto, Beverly Hills and San Diego. The fundraisers are expected to bring in $15 million and will benefit Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee composed of the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee.

In recent months, Trump has used the issue of homelessness to bash the deep-blue state in advance of the 2020 election. While aboard Air Force One on Tuesday, he addressed the issue with reporters, saying that he is considering the creation of an “individual task force” as a possible solution to homelessness, without providing more details.

“We can’t let Los Angeles, San Francisco and numerous other cities destroy themselves by allowing what’s happening,” he said, adding that the homelessness crisis is prompting residents of those cities to leave the country. “They can’t believe what’s happening.”

“We have people living in our ... best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings ... where people in those buildings pay tremendous taxes, where they went to those locations because of the prestige,” he said. “In many cases, they 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. And the people of San Francisco are fed up, and the people of Los Angeles are fed up.”

The president said that he plans to discuss the topic further with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who is joining him Tuesday in the San Francisco Bay Area and then in L.A.

According to Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore, he and Carson will meet Wednesday to discuss housing issues, including homelessness. The meeting was requested by Carson.

California officials have largely been wary of the Trump administration’s intentions, concerned that the president wants to use homelessness and urban ills as a wedge for the 2020 campaign. But they have said that they are willing to work with Trump.

In a letter issued Monday and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom and mayors and county supervisors from across the state, state officials asked for 50,000 more vouchers that would aid people most affected by California’s housing crisis. They also urged the Trump administration to provide incentives to landlords to accept vouchers.

“That’s a pretty remarkable opportunity, if they’re sincere in their desires,” Newsom said at a news conference. “If they’re insincere and this is, God forbid, about something else – politics, not good policy – then they’ll reject it outright. I hope that’s not the case.”

Last week, officials from Trump’s administration spent several days in Los Angeles meeting with city and county officials and homeless advocates. To the dismay of some local officials, the administration has said little publicly about any plans. Some speculate that the goal is to clear homeless encampments by moving people into government-run shelters on federal land.

On Monday, the White House floated a new goal: deregulation of the housing market to increase the supply of apartments, condominiums and homes.

Last week, representatives from the Department of Justice discussed possible “workarounds” with Los Angeles law enforcement union officials to deal with court settlements, rulings and lawsuits that have limited the way the LAPD can carry out enforcement efforts at encampments.

While Trump addressed homelessness in Air Force One, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke of Texas campaigned on skid row, denouncing reports that the president is considering a plan to sweep people off the streets of Los Angeles and force them into shelters in warehouses.

The former El Paso congressman met with advocates at the Downtown Women’s Center, where he vowed to strengthen federal efforts to combat homelessness.

O’Rourke said the path out of homelessness “cannot be using the police to sweep people off of the streets, to warehouse people out of sight and out of mind.”

Of California’s roughly 130,000 homeless people, some 90,000 were unsheltered as of last year. Within the city of Los Angeles, the number jumped in 2019 to more than 36,000, a 16% increase. In the county, the number is just shy of 59,000 – a 12% bump over last year.

For Trump, he has indicated in interviews that scenes of homeless people who appear to be mentally ill and walking around mounds of trash in cities are unacceptable. In fact, he said, they’re “inappropriate.”

During a speech at a Republican conference in Baltimore on Thursday, Trump said his administration has given “notice” to California, though it was unclear what that “notice” was.

“Clean it up,” he said. “You’ve got to do something. You can’t have it. These are our great American cities and they’re an embarrassment.”

In preparation for Trump’s arrival, protesters across the state mobilized Tuesday.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, roughly 200 protesters with the Backbone Campaign, Raging Grannies and Vigil for Democracy gathered at Rossotti Field in Portola Valley – a short distance from the Palo Alto mansion where the fundraising event was being held. The mansion, the former home of Scott McNealy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, is on the market for $96 million.

Police cars and motorcycles from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department and from cities throughout the county lined Alpine Drive from Interstate 280. Along the way, some protesters held signs calling for Trump’s impeachment as shuttle vans filled with donors rolled by.

Teslas, Mercedes and hybrid cars passed by, with drivers mostly beeping their horns in support. One cyclist yelled slurs at the protesters.

Curious neighbors also joined the raucous gathering. 


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