California asks Trump administration to release money to fight homelessness

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - In the latest skirmish over California’s homeless crisis, the state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, asked President Donald Trump on Thursday to stop withholding federal housing vouchers that could benefit 50,000 homeless people.

FILE PHOTO: City officials have begun what they are calling a slow and methodical clean-up and removal of a large homeless encampment along the Santa Ana River Trail in Anaheim, California, U.S., January 22, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Newsom told Trump he could “immediately order” the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to issue federal housing vouchers, a program to assist low-income families, the elderly and the disabled find affordable homes in the private market.

“With a single stroke of your pen, you can make a major, positive impact on homelessness right away,” the Democratic governor said in a statement issued by his office.

An estimated 130,000 people are homeless in California on any given day, more than any other state, HUD says.

Trump has pummeled California officials for months about the state’s growing homeless problem. On a visit to San Francisco and Los Angeles in September, the Republican president said people living on the street were hurting the “prestige” of those cities and sympathized with homeowners whose property values or quality of life could be hit by homelessness.

The issue is just one front in a battle between the Trump administration and the leaders of the most-populous U.S. state. They have also locked horns over auto emissions, high-speed rail funding, building a U.S.-Mexico border wall and immigration regulations.

Newsom on Wednesday allocated $650 million directly to counties and cities to address homelessness across the state, saying he was frustrated with the federal government’s slow process in allowing him to release the state funds.

The money has been held up waiting for HUD to certify an annual “point-in-time” count of homeless people on a single morning in January. The count is used to determine funding allocations.

HUD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But on a visit to Los Angeles in September, HUD Secretary Ben Carson rejected requests from California for more money to fight homelessness, saying the Trump administration was already doing its part and that “state and local policies have played a major role in the current crisis” in California.

Earlier this week, Newsom hired an official that Trump had fired amid a dispute over White House proposals to deal with homelessness in California. Matthew Doherty, who had served as director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness during the Obama and Trump administrations, will now advise Newsom on the issue.

Reporting by Bill Tarrant; Editing by Peter Cooney