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Should Trump declare California a national disaster to help homeless? One congressman's idea

Kate Irby, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- A California congressman wants to allow states to apply for emergency funding for homelessness crises in the same way they're granted funding for natural disasters like wildfires or hurricanes.

Promoting the idea as a way to "bridge the gap between Washington and Sacramento," Rep. Josh Harder, D-Calif., announced he was introducing the bill Tuesday. It would allow governors to declare homelessness crises as a state of emergency to receive additional federal funding.

"If we can declare an emergency after a natural disaster which leaves people without homes, we should be able to do the same thing for an economic disaster," Harder said.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and President Donald Trump have been feuding about California's homelessness problem for months. Trump has floated unconventional policies against homelessness, including fines from the Environmental Protection Agency for pollution caused by homeless encampments.

In the last week of 2019 and the first weeks of 2020, Trump frequently railed against Newsom and California's homeless problem, particularly, on Twitter.

"The homeless situation in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and many other Democrat Party run cities throughout the Nation is a state and local problem, not a federal problem," Trump tweeted last week. "If however, the city or state in question is willing to acknowledge responsibility, and politely asks for help from the Federal Government, we will very seriously consider getting involved in order to make those poorly run Democrat Cities Great Again!"

Newsom announced last week that he wants $750 million more in the state budget to go toward helping the homeless, and he sees this money as doing much more to help the problem than what Trump says on Twitter.

"Homelessness is a national crisis, one that's spreading across the West Coast and cities across the country," Newsom said in a statement. "The state of California is treating it as a real emergency."


In California, new data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development suggest homelessness is getting worse. Between 2018 and 2019, a January count found the homeless population in California had grown 16 percent, even as the nationwide homeless population only grew 3 percent. The amount of unsheltered homeless in California is also increasing.

Harder's bill would allow the president to declare a homelessness emergency after receiving a request from a governor of an affected state, according to his office. The declaration would allow federal agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide resources and support to state and local organizations which provide housing, emergency food assistance, transportation, mental health care and job training programs.

"Homelessness is an emergency. Let's call it what it is. Washington and Sacramento need to stop their Twitter feuds and start working together to fix this problem – which everyone knows is only getting worse," Harder said. "My bill will bridge the gap between the President and the Governor and allow us to get the federal support we need to get people off the streets."

(McClatchy reporter Michael Wilner contributed to this report.)

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