Photo of four statues of people sitting on the ground in an empty gallery.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Unlike some news outlets, at Street Sense Media we do not generally spend our limited capacity trying to verify or refute the many factually-disconnected statements that come out of the mouth of U.S. President Donald Trump. We did however take note of comments he recently made in an interview about the state of homelessness in and around Washington, D.C. In fact, we took note of his comments with a degree of alarm and horror because he was perhaps talking about some of our newsroom colleagues and others we care about and love.

I first heard about the president’s interview from our colleagues at DCist, who reported on an interview the President did with Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson during the June 28-29 G20 Osaka summit – an annual gathering of world leaders on the topic of the economy. According to the DCist report, during that interview, President Trump referred to homelessness as “a phenomenon that started two-years ago.”

“You know, I had a situation when I first became president,” he said. “We had certain areas of Washington, D.C., where that was starting to happen, and I ended it very quickly. I said you can’t do that. When we have leaders of the world coming in to see the President of the United States and they’re riding down the highway, they can’t be looking at that. I really believe that it hurts our country. They can’t be looking at scenes like you see in Los Angeles and San Francisco.”

I wanted to believe that the President was talking about litter, waste debris on the streets. We can all agree that we should be cleaning up the trash. Right? Unless of course you consider some human beings to be trash. That is a different case altogether. I realize this is a strong insinuation to be making about anyone, including the president.

[Read More: Artists/Vendors Reginald Black and Aida Peery respond to comments by President Trump]

Again, from the DCist report: “It’s very different from our cities … they’ve got a major problem with filth,” Carlson said. Trump agreed, lamenting to Carlson that police officers in some cities get sick walking the streets, and that “the people living there [are] living in hell, too. Although some of them have mental problems where they don’t even know they’re living that way. In fact, perhaps they like living that way.”

Fact: homelessness in its current chronic form started decades ago. 

Fact: in a January 2019 one-night count, census takers counted 6,521 people experiencing homelessness in the District of Columbia.

Fact: despite their housing condition, persons who are homeless are human.

At Street Sense Media, we have the privilege of working with and alongside persons of great strength, resiliency, leadership, and humanity. Some of us are well-housed. Some of us live outside or in other places not fit for human habitation. Like anyone who has limited access to showers and bathrooms, some of our colleagues are indeed filthy. Let me be honest, after a day of working in my yard in the rain, I am filthy, too. But none of us are filth.

I want to give the President the benefit of the doubt here. Perhaps he was having a bad day and misspoke. Perhaps I am getting it wrong. If so, I urge him to clarify his statements from that interview to assure us that he believes in the inalienable dignity and worth of every human being whether or not they are as well-housed and cared for by the taxpayers as he and his family.

I want to give the President the benefit of the doubt here. Perhaps he was having a bad day and misspoke. Perhaps I am getting it wrong. If so, I urge him to clarify his statements from that interview to assure us that he believes in the inalienable dignity and worth of every human being whether or not they are as well-housed and cared for by the taxpayers as he and his family.


Brian Carome has served as executive director of Street Sense Media since 2011. He has worked at organizations committed to ending homelessness since 1985, in D.C. and in Fairfax and Arlington Counties in Virginia.