Trump administration ousts top homelessness official

The White House plans a sweeping crackdown aimed at homelessness in California.

By Jeff Stein / The Washington Post

A top federal homelessness official announced Friday that he has left his post at the Trump administration’s request, an unexpected move that comes as the White House plans a sweeping crackdown aimed at homelessness in California.

Matthew Doherty, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, wrote in an email to colleagues that the administration “no longer wishes to have me” in the position. Doherty also announced on Twitter that he was leaving at the administration’s request.

“It has been an incredible honor to serve at USICH, and I do feel like I am leaving on my own terms,” Doherty said in an email obtained by The Washington Post. “I believe that I have been able to keep my integrity intact; but, they have now told me to pack my things up and go.”

The Trump administration is still actively exploring options for a crackdown on homelessness aimed at California, a process that has been ongoing for months, according to one person with knowledge of the planning who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal information.

Doherty was appointed in 2015 under the Obama administration to lead the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which is tasked with coordinating the federal response to homelessness across 19 agencies, including the Departments of Housing and Urban Development; Education; Labor and Commerce.

The council is chaired by Frank Brogan, an assistant secretary at the Education Department. For a while in the Obama administration, the council was chaired by the labor secretary, which suggests that the Trump administration has lowered its status.

The council so far has not been involved in planning the administration’s executive actions on homelessness, according to a separate person with knowledge of the administration’s planning who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. The council was created in 1987 and is supposed to coordinate the government’s approach to tackling homelessness. It is unclear who will lead the organization now. Doherty is still listed on its website as the executive director.

A spokeswoman for the council did not immediately return a request for comment. A White House spokesman also declined to comment.

Trump has promised to take action against California’s homelessness problem, arguing that homelessness hurts the quality of life and the “prestige” of some of its largest cities. The Washington Post reported in September that administration officials have considered razing tent camps for the homeless, creating temporary facilities and refurbishing government facilities.

“The people of San Francisco are fed up, and the people of Los Angeles are fed up,” Trump told reporters en route to Silicon Valley in September. “We’re looking at it, and we’ll be doing something about it.”

Congressional lawmakers, particularly in California, have demanded an explanation for the administration’s actions.

In a letter in late October, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, asked the administration to reveal its plans to tackle homelessness in California and address whether it would convert existing government properties into emergency shelters. “Specifically, what role would the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness play in your effort?” it said.

In September, the administration appeared focused on skid row in Los Angeles, a homeless encampment that officials from multiple agencies toured that month.

Trump, who has directed aides to find a solution to the homelessness problem, has characterized the issue as a “disgrace.”

“We may do something to get that whole thing cleaned up,” he said in July. “It’s inappropriate.”

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