A homelessness official fired by the Trump administration last month amid a dispute over White House proposals to address California’s homeless population was hired on Wednesday to advise the state’s governor, who has repeatedly clashed with the president.
Gov. Gavin Newsom criticized the federal government while appointing the former official, Matthew Doherty, who had served as the director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness during the Obama and Trump administrations.
For months, President Trump has hammered California’s leadership — Mr. Newsom in particular — over the state’s homelessness problem. Mr. Doherty was fired last month after reported clashes with the president’s team over potential actions in California, including a controversial proposal to move homeless people into unspecified federal facilities.
“We can’t let Los Angeles, San Francisco and numerous other cities destroy themselves by allowing what’s happening,” the president said in September.
The Newsom administration has in turn accused the federal government of putting up roadblocks to working together, saying it failed to release hundreds of millions of dollars in stalled funding to assist with the problem.
“California is doing more than ever before to tackle the homelessness crisis, but every level of government, including the federal government, must step up and put real skin in the game,” Mr. Newsom said in a statement on Wednesday.
California, home to 12 percent of the United States’ population, has half of the country’s unsheltered homeless people. Mr. Doherty will work from Washington to help the state’s leaders, who have struggled to reduce homelessness even as all levels of government have pumped millions of dollars into social service programs.
The homelessness problem stems in part from runaway housing costs across the state, say leaders in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Unlike in other states, homeless people in California are overwhelmingly unsheltered at night. About 90,000 people, or 70 percent of those who are homeless in the state, sleep in tents or makeshift shacks they erect on sidewalks and under highway overpasses; by comparison, 5 percent of the 92,000 people in New York State are unsheltered.
“Having led the Council on Homelessness under both Republican and Democratic presidents, I have seen firsthand that cities and states acting alone are not going to be able to fund the solutions that are required to meet this challenge,” Mr. Doherty said in a statement released by the governor’s office. “Much more federal investment is needed to make meaningful progress and solve this crisis.”
Margot Kushel, the director of the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative at the University of California, San Francisco, said hiring Mr. Doherty was an excellent decision.
“He’s someone who really speaks up for what the evidence supports,” said Dr. Kushel, who has worked closely with Mr. Doherty. “He was a champion of ‘housing first’ policies, and recognized that creating programs doesn’t create homelessness. What solves homelessness is housing.”
Mr. Trump has often said that homeless people hurt the brands of American cities, especially in the eyes of foreign dignitaries and tourists. “In many cases, they came from other countries, and they moved to Los Angeles or they moved to San Francisco because of the prestige of the city, and all of a sudden they have tents,” Mr. Trump said in September during a fund-raising trip in Silicon Valley. “Hundreds and hundreds of tents and people living at the entrance to their office building. And they want to leave.”
Some of the president’s critics have taken issue with such remarks, saying they ignore the struggles endured by homeless people. Many see Mr. Trump’s attacks over homelessness as an act of political retribution against a state whose leaders have frequently — and enthusiastically — criticized the president.
In September, Mr. Trump suggested that the Environmental Protection Agency would get involved because homelessness in the Bay Area was causing environmental damage. “They’re in serious violation,” Mr. Trump said, adding: “They have to clean it up. We can’t have our cities going to hell.”
Mayor London Breed of San Francisco responded forcefully to the president’s comments, calling them “ridiculous.”
Conor Dougherty and Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.
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