Sep 24, 2021 - News

D.C. program offers temporary housing to some homeless residents

A homeless encampment in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Michael S. Williamson for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Just over 100 residents of four D.C. homeless encampments will be offered one-year housing leases as part of a pilot program, said Wayne Turnage, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services at a public meeting on Wednesday night.

Driving the news: The encampments are set to be permanently cleared starting next week as part of the District's push to designate public spaces as no-tent zones.

Why it matters: Unhoused residents, housing advocates, and neighborhood leaders tell Axios that individuals affected by the program were never given the chance to offer input.

Details: The pilot will offer housing to 103 people who are currently on a waitlist for District-provided shelter, Turnage said.

  • Those four encampments on L and M streets in NoMa, 20th/21st and E Street NW, and New Jersey and O streets NW will be cleared and designated as no-tent zones.
  • The first encampment clearing in NoMa is scheduled for Monday. 45 camp residents are slated to be offered housing through the program.

What they're saying: Andre Juste, 40, has lived in the L Street encampment for three years, and tells Axios that he has been on a housing waitlist for a year and a half.

  • On Thursday, he saw the apartment building he has agreed to move into for the program. However, he says he is unsure of when he'll be able to move in, or how long his lease will be.
  • "I just need a permanent place where I can continue to be provided with the services I'm getting, from the clinical services, from the health services, so I can maintain my daily life activity," he says.

Another unsheltered person, who requested anonymity to protect their privacy, tells Axios that it’s important for them to have a choice in a housing program, but the fast-approaching eviction dates are adding pressure to find options.

  • The city should have “made sure people were securing apartments first before closing [the encampments] down,” the person says.

What's next: Turnage said that contracted housing providers, such as Pathways to Housing, will work with residents who accept the subsidized leases to find permanent, affordable housing.

  • However, rapid re-housing has garnered backlash from housing advocates who say the practice leads to a revolving door back into homelessness when housing subsidies expire.
  • Meanwhile, nearly 500 D.C. residents have signed an open letter to DMHHS, as well as councilmembers Brooke Pinto and Charles Allen, asking D.C. to commit to not creating no-tent zones.

Threat level: The CDC discourages clearing encampments during the pandemic since it increases the potential spread of COVID-19.

Editor’s note: This piece was corrected to show that the letter was also sent to Councilmembers Pinto and Allen.


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