Dec 2, 2021 - News

D.C. clears another encampment amid calls for pause

An encampment inside Allen Park in Truxton Circle. Photo: Cuneyt Dil/Axios
An encampment inside Allen Park in Truxton Circle. Photo: Cuneyt Dil/Axios.

The District started clearing a large homeless encampment on Thursday morning, in the face of criticism from advocates and some council members who claimed many people living in the tents don’t know where to go next.

Why it matters: The District has a pilot program to clear encampments around many city parks, meant to give them shelter or permanent housing.

But the city has been criticized for not connecting enough unsheltered people to permanent housing. People at encampments in NoMa and near Capitol Hill have told Axios that they often just move to other encampments.

State of play: Council member Brianne Nadeau drafted emergency legislation to halt the clearing of existing encampments, WAMU reported during the clearing at New Jersey Avenue and O Street NW.

The deputy mayor for health and human services, Wayne Turnage, acknowledges challenges but defended the program and said hotel rooms and apartments were available for all. He oversaw the clearing and said the pilot collects data on the effort’s effectiveness.

  • By late Thursday, 32 of the 31 unhoused residents at Allen Park in Truxton Circle were either moved to leased apartments or placed in hotel rooms awaiting permanent apartments, Turnage said after the clearing, in an email reported by WAMU. "While we have considerably more work to do, thus far, the CARE pilot has been a notable success," he said.
  • The pilot was briefly paused in October after a loader machine lifted a tent with a man still inside.

A large waste handler vehicle and dumpster trucks began removing empty tents inside Allen Park around noon on Thursday. Police had set up an expansive police line encircling the park and part of the street.

  • Dozens of advocates for the homeless were aiding unhoused people in the morning hours. On a recently erected fence around the park, demonstrators put up signs calling to “Stop camp evictions.”

What they’re saying: At one point, council members grilled Turnage.

  • Council member Robert White said he wanted the clearing to be delayed because he heard from many in tents that they weren’t given notice about the removal. Council member Elissa Silverman questioned the need for a pilot program when the “common ground we have is putting people into housing.”
  • Turnage told them that when he became deputy mayor in 2019, “there were 300 some encampments across the city. They were dangerous.”
  • “So the mayor says we need to do something,” he said. “And I said we need to get people into housing and quickly, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Nee Nee Taylor, co-founder of the activist group Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, said some people experiencing homelessness in the park felt safer in their community of tents.

  • “The deputy mayor has actually been reactive and not proactive in today’s situation,” said Taylor, who helped mediate between those who call the park home and dozens of city workers who arrived to clear the site.
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