Former President Donald Trump‘s plan to end homelessness is to criminalize it, an idea critics find appalling.
“Under my strategy, working with states, we will ban urban camping wherever possible,” Trump said in a video released Tuesday. “Violators of these bans will be arrested, but they will be given the option to accept treatment and services if they’re willing to be rehabilitated.”
There were nearly 600,000 Americans experiencing homelessness last year, and according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), there has been an organized effort across the country to make homelessness illegal. Several states have already enacted bills along these lines, including Texas, Tennessee and Missouri, NAEH states on its website.
In California, the state with the largest homeless population, Trump in 2019 demanded their removal from Los Angeles and other cities in the state, The Washington Post reported at the time, stating Trump pushed for White House officials to get homeless people off the streets and into government-backed facilities.
The same year, Trump also riffed on then-Representative Elijah Cummings‘ Maryland congressional district, which he said was filled with homeless and called Baltimore “disgusting” and “rodent infested.” Trump critics responded by sharing photos of neighborhoods in Republican-controlled districts that also depicted homelessness, poverty and waste.
Newsweek reached out to representatives for Trump, the National Coalition for the Homeless and NAEH for comment via email.
Trump in 2020, according to the Associated Press, pushed to end former President Barack Obama’s House First initiative, which prioritized finding homeless people a place to live with no requirements. After housing is secured, the person is then offered social services, like job training, addiction treatment and counseling.
Trump’s latest plan, released as he seeks the Republican nomination for president, is unconstitutional and will dissuade people from seeking assistance when they truly need it, Alan Mills, executive director of Uptown People’s Law Center, told Newsweek in a phone interview Tuesday. Mills said Trump’s remarks left him feeling appalled but unsurprised by the former president’s antics based on Trump’s long history of anti-homeless agendas.
“It is blatant in the Constitution that you can’t arrest people just because they don’t have a home,” Mills said. “But more importantly, it doesn’t work. People are not homeless because they’re afraid of punishments. People are homeless because they don’t have a home.”
The civil rights lawyer said any time homelessness is criminalized, it results in people being much less likely to reach out to social services or nonprofit groups for fear that they will be reported for a crime. He said it can have even further implications by discouraging those who would normally volunteer or aid the homeless.
“If you’re worried about being arrested for supporting somebody who’s committing a crime, are you going to deliver free water to them? Are you going to deliver a meal? The next thing that will happen is that Trump will criminalize assisting people committing the crime of being homeless,” Mills said, adding that he’s witnessed it happen in his neighborhood where local politicians are trying to prevent handing out food on the grounds that it just encourages homelessness.
Trump said his proposal calls for creating “tent cities” and relocating homeless people to “large parcels of inexpensive land” with access to doctors, psychiatrists, social workers and drug rehab specialists. He claims his plan will once again make cities “livable” and “beautiful.”
“For those who are just temporarily down on their luck, we will work to help them quickly reintegrate into a normal life for those who have addictions, substance abuse and common mental health problems, we will get them into treatment.”
While social media users were divided on the plan, many found it “abhorrent.” VoteVets, a veterans advocacy group, said on Twitter that rather than continue the progress of helping homeless veterans, “Trump wants to find them and toss them into what can best be described as internment camps.”
However, some praised Trump’s idea. Conservative author and anti-Islam activist Brigitte Gabriel tweeted, “[President] Joe Biden wants to solve the homeless problem in Ukraine. Donald Trump wants to solve the homeless problem in the United States.”
Mills said if politicians truly want to solve homelessness, the solution is simple: Provide people with homes. He highlighted the Housing First program as an example of how providing permanent housing can improve quality of life and allow people to focus on personal well-being and goals.
“It’s much easier to deliver, for example, mental health care and drug treatment when people have a home instead of a tent,” he said, adding that U.S. cities need to focus on building more affordable housing rather than punishing people who are already down on their luck.