“It’s a shame. The world is looking at it.”
A few weeks ago, President Trump remarked about Los Angeles’ growing homeless population.
“Look at Los Angeles with the tents and the horrible, horrible, disgusting condition,” the President told reporters on Air Force One.
“We’re looking at it, and we’ll be doing something about it,” he said.
The president’s trademark cavalier disgust toward Skid Row is reflective of his administration’s abject approach to dealing with the homelessness crisis itself; he’s already “doing something about it.” Not only has the administration’s 2020 fiscal year budget forecasts a 16 percent cut for Housing and Urban Development, (further cuts amounting to $2.8 billion are in store for the crucial Public Housing Operating Fund) but it has expressed interests in rounding up the homeless of Skid Row and other areas and forcing them into giant federal camps in a morbidly counter-intuitive attempt to curb unsanitary conditions.
However, the startling cruelty of this episode is a microcosm of an endemic shame, the atrocity of homelessness and the lack of a holistic solution from administrations long preceding Trump notwithstanding.
The cost of housing in the United States places a burden on working and income-assisted people and should be interrogated thoroughly. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reported in February that in not a single U.S. county, a renter earning minimum wage and working 40 hours a week can afford a two-bedroom apartment. In Connecticut alone, they estimate that you would need to work 101 hours a week for $25.40 an hour in order to do so. Various researchers have concluded that barely climbing wages can’t seem to keep up with skyrocketing housing and rental costs.
It shouldn’t be surprising, though. A cursory examination of how and to whom wealth is distributed in the United States reveals hidden-in-plain sight answers. Income inequality is the worst it has been since the Census Bureau started documenting it in 1967.
The causes transcend the legacy of the austerity cuts Trump’s HUD has promised to continue. Wall Street and the big banks were never held fully accountable for their role in the mortgage crisis and recession of 2008 because the agencies like the Securities and Exchange Committee and the Department of Justice basically chose not to, betraying the fact that they exist to allow such unchecked abuse to happen in the first place.
Finally, then, when corporate welfare, austerity, and already-privileged financial institutions are promised protection, something needs to absorb the damage that’s left behind: homelessness must become a crime. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty cited some disturbing statistics in their recent publication No Safe Place: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities. Based on research on 187 cities throughout the U.S. started in 2009, the report states that “33 percent of cities make it illegal to loiter in public places throughout the city;” 43 percent “prohibit sleeping in vehicles.” Bans on merely sitting and lying down in public are also cited, and elsewhere, accounts of police harassment and profiling of the homeless are well-documented. What’s more, all-out crackdowns on homeless camps like the Trump administration’s plans aren’t a precedent, they’ve already been tried in the very state he complained about.
While crooked policies and their corporate puppeteers have dictated the situation, mainstream discourse suffers by proxy. We don’t collectively think of having a literal roof over one’s head as a human right. Just because the very function of our economy is predicated the notion that you shouldn’t have the right to be protected from the elements, to a sanitary toilet, and protection from harassment or unsolicited physical harm, doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to them.
The president is right. It is a shame. The world is looking at it. And, if we want to do something about it, we need to demand our leaders begin recognizing that the same economic landscape which created Donald J. Trump allows for homelessness and poverty to flourish.
Joseph Oliveri is a student and Assistant Editor of The Echo, Western Connecticut State University’s student-run newspaper.