In early June, the National Park Service cleared two homeless encampments in the District as part of Mayor Bowser’s CARE pilot program that launched in August of 2021. While the goal of the program is to expedite housing placements for folks without homes, these clearings are harmful and not helpful.
Over the past year, Thrive DC has been a big supporter of the city’s large investments to end homelessness. From funding for Rapid Re-Housing (RRH) and Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) to investments in the Housing Production Trust Fund, significant progress has been made – and the number of people in DC counted without stable housing is the lowest it’s been in 17 years.
While these encampment clearings are conducted under the auspices of safety and health concerns from the city, it does little to protect the safety of those actually living in the encampments. Instead of upholding the dignity of these individuals who have made their homes in public spaces, the clearings are dehumanizing.
It’s understandable the tent encampments are an awkward problem for the city. While we are making good progress in ending homelessness, the encampments are highly visible and a reminder of our city’s affordable housing problem. Even though the city is making progress, it’s hard for the city to make that case when the problem is so squarely in people’s faces.
But clearing out people’s homes – even in the form of a tent – is not okay. It’s the city’s way of saying, “You don’t belong here. No one wants to see you. Go back into hiding.”
Toni Irons, age 53, had been living at the Columbus Circle camp for a month and a half before he was cleared from the area. “I don’t get mad at the District for moving people, because all they do is trash it, honestly,” he told the Washington Post. “But I don’t think they should move us when we don’t have nowhere to go.”
Aside from tearing down the dignity of our community members, encampment clearings are inherently disruptive and make it hard for outreach programs to contact individuals experiencing homelessness with housing alternatives, mental health and addiction treatment, employment support, and more. Similarly, when these folks are scattered, they are even more destabilized than they already were, making it harder to make any steps towards self-sufficiency or independence.
The city has made tremendous strides in ending homelessness in the District – they should not undercut their positive action with violence against our most vulnerable community. They should work with and follow the lead of advocates to end these clearings for the wellbeing, safety, and dignity of our fellow DC residents.