Oct 6, 2021 - News

No-tent zone resistance grows as city moves forward

A homeless encampment is removed

Photo: Chelsea Cirruzzo/Axios

Calls from housing advocates to stop the creation of no-tent zones have increased since a man was hospitalized during a NoMa encampment clearing on Monday.

And D.C. officials say they will be moving ahead with another planned encampment clean-up on Nov. 4 with some protocol changes.

Why it matters: The man hospitalized was inside a tent when he was lifted by a piece of heavy machinery being used by the city to clear the homeless encampment on L Street.

Driving the news: The incident happened during a city effort to clear a homeless encampment and create a no-tent zone at the L and M Street underpasses as part of a pilot program to house some residents temporarily.

  • Following the incident, the clearing on L Street was paused and it’s still unclear when city workers will return to permanently evict a handful of remaining residents.

The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless released a statement Tuesday calling for the city to stop creating no-tent zones and stop all encampment clearings in accordance with CDC guidance.

  • The group called the L Street clearing “a dangerous effort with disastrous implications for some encampment residents.”
  • They join similar calls from the Way Home Campaign, a campaign of community and non-profit partners, and more than 700 D.C. residents who have signed a letter to city officials, including 150 who signed on after Monday afternoon’s incident.

D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, who chairs the committee that oversees housing, said on Twitter Monday night that she asked the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Wayne Turnage to re-evaluate protocols for the pilot.

What's happening: On Tuesday night, Turnage and other DMHHS officials told community members the city plans to move ahead with the next permanent encampment clearing at New Jersey Ave and O St. NW on Nov. 4.

It’s the same encampment where on Monday night a person was found dead in a tent that had gone up in flames, D.C. Fire & EMS said. No cause of death has been determined yet, officials say.

At Tuesday's meeting, Jamal Weldon, a program manager with DMHHS, said the city has begun housing outreach to residents at the New Jersey Ave encampment.

  • Of 48 residents at the encampment, Weldon said, 16 are not on the list of residents waiting for housing. He said these 16 residents likely came to the encampment after outreach had begun.

At upcoming encampment clearings, Weldon said a “firmer perimeter will be established" around the encampment.

  • He added MPD will secure entry points to the clean-up zone, and two outreach teams will conduct a final check.
  • Tents will be opened via zippers or “physically cut open” to make sure no one is inside, he said, and items may be moved around within the tents.
  • Weldon said the disposal of tents may be done manually or with machinery.

Community members, largely from the area around the encampment, spoke in support and against the program's removal of tents, with many members reiterating they supported housing unhoused residents.

Meanwhile, photos of the M and L Street underpasses now show concrete barriers limiting or blocking the sidewalk from pedestrians following the clearing.

  • The barriers have prompted further outcry, since city officials have emphasized the need for pedestrian passageways as one reason to clear these encampment sites.

Flashback: An adjoining encampment on K Street was permanently cleared in early 2020 which city officials said was to make way for pedestrians.


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