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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development does an annual “point-in-time” survey to count homeless people — sheltered and unsheltered — throughout the nation on a single day in early January.

It’s a laborious task. Professionals and volunteers try to determine how many people live without housing on the streets and in vans or can be found in shelters, jails and rehab centers.

HUD concluded 552,830 were homeless in 2018. California supposedly had 129,972. Iowa only had 2,749, a figure the numerous Cedar Valley shelters might dispute.

In fact, given that the U.S. Department of Education reported 1,354,363 homeless children alone in 2017, it seems a massive undercount.

During trips to Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle and Portland this past year, my wife and I found homelessness pervasive.

Affordability is the leading culprit in Los Angeles County, which has 58,936 homeless amid monthly rents averaging $1,900. Officials claim it takes earning $47.52 per hour to afford a median-priced apartment.

In San Francisco, the homeless count was purported to be 8,011 despite rents averaging $3,000.

L.A. citizens approved $1.2 billion in taxes to address homelessness, while San Francisco voters OK’d raising $300 million annually by taxing tech companies, which are fighting it in court.

President Donald Trump flew into the fray last month, bemoaning tent cities outside prominent properties. (He owns buildings in L.A. and San Francisco.) He advocated more policing, less regulation and using vacant federal properties for the homeless.

California finally figured out loosening the red tape beforehand, but the vacant building idea recalled a past Trump effort “to help with the homeless problem.”

In the early 1980s, he bought a 14-story building in New York City facing Central Park, intent on demolishing it and building a luxury high-rise. But some tenants wouldn’t budge from rent-stabilized apartments and offices in a prime locale.

Mystery heating, air condition and plumbing problems allegedly ensued, which tenants claimed weren’t fixed in a timely manner. They cited intimidation and harassment in lawsuits.

With the remaining residents implacable, Trump placed newspaper ads offering the building as a shelter for the homeless, which residents saw as an effort to make them vacate.

“Some people think I’m just doing a number on the people in the building,” Trump told the New York Times. “That’s not true. I just want to help with the homeless problem. It’ll take two or three years to get everybody out, and in the meantime I’ll have more and more vacant apartments for the indigent.”

Trump used to get the big picture, knowing that his father, Fred, made the family fortune building federally subsidized middle-income homes.

On CNN’s “Crossfire” in 1987, he argued, “If you look at the homeless situation all over the country, it’s because of the fact that there is no housing. The federal government used to have programs, a lot of programs; they don’t have any programs right now.” Under his administration, more programs have been cut. Go figure.

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Saul Shapiro is the retired editor of The Courier, living in Cedar Falls.

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