By Aysia Morton
Special to the AFRO
The flashing lights of more than 10 police cars can be seen down the streets of New Jersey Avenue N.W. and O Street N.W. Two massive bulldozers and a waste disposal vehicle sit within the fenced encampment ready to expunge the area of tents and belongings. The scene can easily be mistaken for a construction site, but the long-standing encampment was home to many unhoused D.C. residents.
Advocacy organizations, including Sunrise DC, The Way Home DC and the Live Movement, showed up in protest of the clearing of Allen Park, the homeless encampment on New Jersey Ave N.W. and O St N.W., and to assist unhoused residents with moving their belongings along with D.C. residents, case workers, volunteers and a few Council members. The community came together in an effort to advocate and protect unhoused residents.
The DC Care Pilot Program was created to provide housing for unhoused residents and to clear homeless encampments around the city. Though it has received considerable pushback for its “carrot-and-stick” approach, the program continues to permanently evict homeless encampments. A “By Name List” determined which unhoused residents would receive permanent housing through the program. The Way Home DC, states that the data released by DM HHS leaves out at least 30 percent of encampment residents who were not on the By Name List for housing. Many of these residents had their tents destroyed and communities displaced without housing resources.
The Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Wayne Turnage is leading the pilot program. He stated that every resident of the encampment had been offered temporary hotel placements while the city finds them long term living arrangements. Protestors and advocates, however, argued that not every unhoused person was offered a hotel room and that those who were offered hotel stays were only for a few nights.
Kush, an advocate with Sunrise DC, said the Care Pilot Program is going too fast, the city is not being transparent and the city’s online dashboard that provides data on the unhoused is inaccurate. “This city doesn’t want to end homelessness, they just don’t want homeless people at this park. There are a few people here that have been offered hotels and housing, but to our knowledge it’s only for a few nights and then they have to come back to the streets,” Kush said.
Though temporary hotels were appreciated, advocates emphasized that it wasn’t a sound solution. In their talking points to stop encampment evictions, The Way Home DC states that “This is a welcome temporary solution, but also shows that, prior to the eviction, DM HHS had no plan for many residents other than displacement. For those who remain without housing, the choice isn’t between tents or shelter, but between tents or no tents. In the winter, encampments provide life-saving warmth and community. While nobody wants people to sleep outside in the winter (or ever), tents play a life-saving role for those not connected to housing that fits their needs.”
Four D.C. Council Members sent a letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser encouraging her to stop homeless encampment clearings until the end of hypothermia season. There were no reports of Mayor Bowser at the clearing of the Allen Park encampment. Many unhoused residents voiced that they did not feel like the City was treating them as human beings—many said they felt like property.
“This is sad, they shouldn’t be pushing people out like this,” said D.C. resident Renee Feaster. “They don’t have any place to go, especially in a pandemic when the CDC advised against this. Mayor Bowser isn’t even here, it’s a shame.”
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