WASHINGTON -- Although the White House has vowed to take action to combat homelessness in Los Angeles and other cities, President Donald Trump's options are limited without cooperation from the courts, Congress and local and state governments.
Administration officials have floated a range of potential plans -- including using police to clear skid row and other encampments, reducing regulations for building new housing, and increasing temporary shelter space by making federal facilities available or erecting temporary structures.
Advocates and officials in California say they would welcome a truly cooperative effort with Washington.
But some warn that Trump, who has attacked liberal cities and often pitted himself against California in particular, may try either to push legal limits to punish homeless people or to take more symbolic action that would further stigmatize the population.
"The federal government has enormous power, obviously, and you always want to believe that there might be the opportunity for a real partnership on a life and death set of issues," said Darrell Steinberg, the Democratic mayor of Sacramento who is the co-leader of a state homeless task force. "But you can't help but be cynical when it involves this president and his consistent pattern of behavior."
White House spokesman Judd Deere blamed "over regulation, excessive taxation, and poor public service delivery" for a dramatic increase in homelessness, with attendant public health risks, in recent years. The homeless population in Los Angeles County rose by 12% last year, to nearly 59,000, according to official estimates.
"Homelessness has become a crisis that cannot be ignored," Deere said.
He said Trump, who ordered a team of advisers to visit encampments and other sites in Los Angeles in September, had asked for "a range of common-sense policy options" to solve a problem that Deere claimed some governors and mayors have ignored.
Deere would not detail the administration's options or provide a timeline for action from Trump.
But administration officials recently asked for the resignation of the head of a federal agency that oversees the federal response to homelessness. Matthew Doherty, an Obama administration holdover, served as director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.