MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
President Trump has not had a lot of nice things to say about the state of California, especially when it comes to homelessness. About one-quarter of the nation's homeless population lives in the state. At a campaign rally last month, Trump called it a disgrace to the country.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's a shame. The world is looking at it. Look at Los Angeles with the tents and the horrible, horrible disgusting conditions.
KELLY: So it was maybe understandable that city officials were wary this week when a team from the Trump administration showed up to see what the federal government could do to help.
NPR's Pam Fessler covers homelessness. She's in the studio with me now. Hey, Pam.
PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Hi.
KELLY: So who exactly from the administration went out to LA, and what did they say they were trying to do?
FESSLER: Well, this is a team that was made up of White House aides and representatives from a number of agencies. And the White House said it was largely a fact-finding mission, that they wanted to see firsthand LA's homelessness problem.
FESSLER: So they toured Skid Row in downtown LA, where there are a lot of homeless individuals living. They also visited a public housing complex and spoke with city officials and union representatives for the city police. The White House says it's trying to figure out what it can do to help deal with what it's calling a tragedy.
And pretty much everyone agrees that LA has one of the most serious homelessness problems in the country. Even though it's invested hundreds of millions of dollars in housing programs to get people off the street, the population keeps growing. And by the latest count, it was almost 60,000 people in LA.
KELLY: Sixty-thousand people in LA. What was the reaction from city officials to this White House team coming in?
FESSLER: Well, I would say it was pretty mixed, with a heavy dose of skepticism. On the first hand - on the one hand, city mayor Eric Garcetti sent a letter to Trump yesterday. And he said he appreciated the visit, which, by the way, was a surprise to city officials. Garcetti said it was a good day whenever federal leaders want to talk about fixing these kinds of problems. Like most officials, he thinks it's a national problem, that it's mostly due to the lack of affordable housing. It's going to take all levels of government to work together to fix it.
On the other hand, a number of California officials, who are mostly Democrats, are very suspicious about the real motive of this visit. One city councilman called it a publicity stunt. That's because on the campaign trail, President Trump routinely criticizes Democratic control of the nation's cities. He blames them for everything from rats to the spread of disease. And he usually only talks about it when it's a problem in blue states like California and New York, not like red states like Texas and Florida, which also have homelessness problems.
KELLY: To zoom you in on the how to fix it question, has the Trump administration laid out - do they have a plan?
FESSLER: Well, it's - no, not really that we know of. President Trump this summer talked about interceding to clean up San Francisco's homelessness problem, but it's not clear at all what he meant by that and even what power the federal government might have to go in and say clean up homeless encampments.
FESSLER: I spoke with Steve Berg of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. And he, like others, is scratching his head about what the feds might do, although he said they could provide some emergency help.
STEVE BERG: If they wanted to come in and take a disaster type of approach to this and really stand up a bunch of homeless shelters quickly and then quickly get the people who are in the shelters out of the shelters and into housing, they could help with that.
FESSLER: But he said there's already a lot of very successful programs to house people long-term but that they need more funding. And housing advocates point out that Trump has proposed cutting the spending instead of increasing it. And Mayor Garcetti also said in his letter if Trump really wants to help, he should rescind his proposal to eliminate housing aid for immigrant families, which is expected to lead to even more homelessness.
KELLY: Thank you, Pam.
KELLY: NPR's Pam Fessler. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.