Moving homeless people to outlying “tent cities”
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While Trump has honed a law and order message, filling his speeches with graphic accounts of violent crime and grim assessments of American cities, he has particularly focused on images of people living on the streets. Trump’s solution is to move the homeless into “tent cities” on the outskirts of metropolitan areas, staffed by medical professionals and built to house hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people.
“The only way to remove homeless encampments and reclaim our city centers is to open up large plots, large tracts, of relatively inexpensive land on the outskirts of various cities and bring in professional health, psychiatrists, psychologists and drug rehabilitation specialists and create tent cities,” Trump said Aug. 6 at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas. “You don’t have time to build buildings, you can do it later, but you have to get people off the streets. We have to bring back, we have to reclaim our cities.
In a July speech in Washington, Trump acknowledged the idea would be controversial, but argued it would be an improvement. “Now some people say, ‘Oh, this is so awful’ – no, what’s awful is what’s happening now,” he said.
There is no up-to-date national data on people without homes, but shelter officials in 15 states told the Post they are seeing an increase in the number of people seeking services, in part due to the rise of the cost of living. Trump’s assertion in July that tent cities might be needed for “probably millions of people” is dubious, however; in January 2020, approximately 580,000 people were homeless across the country, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Trump’s speech in Washington coincided with the alliance’s conference, triggering an outpouring of concern among the 1,300 attendees and leading the group’s chief executive, Ann Oliva, to respond from the stage.
“The image he was trying to paint is that homeless people are dangerous and therefore need to be kicked out so that we can get on with our lives, and that’s just not true,” Oliva said in an interview. “Spending a ton of money on newly built encampments that don’t have a plan to get people back to safe, affordable housing doesn’t sit well with me.”
Oliva, who led homelessness programs at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, said it was unclear which federal agencies might have the authorities or resources to implement Trump’s plan. . Unrelated to federal property or federal crimes, US authorities would have no jurisdiction to act without the cooperation of local authorities.
Any homeless relocation plan would have to comply with a 2019 federal appeals court ruling called Martin v. City of Boise, which ruled that an ordinance could not prohibit sleeping in public without providing alternatives. “Until there is an option to sleep indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent homeless people for sleeping outdoors,” the court wrote. The ruling stands after the Supreme Court rejected a high-profile offer to reconsider the case. Judges should consider whether Trump’s tent cities could meet that standard.
During his speech, Trump suggested that as president he ordered the Secret Service to clean up homeless encampments in Washington. (A Secret Service spokesperson said this has never happened. “The Secret Service does not enforce state and local laws, and we have not and would not participate in clearing camps of sans -shelter in the District of Columbia,” communications chief Anthony Guglielmi said in an email.)
Trump’s proposal recalls a 2019 venture by HUD officials, along with the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Justice, to use Federal Aviation Administration facilities as sites for displaced homeless people. This initiative never materialized.
The “tent city” plan also resembles some state efforts. A recently passed state law in Missouri directs money to temporary camps instead of permanent housing. The city of Miami this month scrapped a controversial plan to relocate homeless people to tiny homes on a barrier island.