Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

National Park Service Clears McPherson Square Encampment

The National Park Service (NPS) – a federal government agency managing national parks, monuments and other properties – cleared unhoused residents out of Washington, D.C.’s McPherson Square on Feb. 15.

McPherson Square, located only a few blocks from the White House, held over 70 unhoused individuals in recent months. Officials had originally scheduled the clearing for Apr. 12, but they moved up the date by two months for safety reasons, according to NPS.

Jeffrey Reinbold, the superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks branch of the NPS, said the change of the closure date came after illegal drug activity and assaults in the area, according to a Feb. 13 press release. In the past eleven months, United States Park Police (USPP), a federal law enforcement agency that monitors several NPS properties, arrested about 30 individuals in McPherson Square for assault, threats and narcotics crimes.

“The McPherson Square encampment is the largest in the District, with over 70 individuals in early February and has experienced rapid and steady growth over the past few months,” the press release read. “Continued increases to this high-density encampment not only made it difficult to provide social services, but challenged emergency response, sanitation support, and trash removal.”

Several organizations and council members have expressed their opposition to the District’s decision to move up the closure, especially given that residents heard about the change just two weeks before it occurred.

Ann Oliva, the CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), a nonpartisan organization dedicated to preventing and ending homelessness in the United States, said that several McPherson residents with whom she spoke did not have time to find alternative housing options.

“I walked through that square all the time,” Oliva told The Hoya. “I asked people about it. They were worried about it. They didn’t seem like they thought that they had close enough connections to housing to actually make the move into housing within the two week, little bit more than two week period that they were given.”

Ward 1 D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau said that clearing the encampment, especially during hypothermia season, is inhumane and unjust to the residents.

“Many of the residents living in tents at McPherson Square do not yet have alternative housing lined up,” Nadeau said in a Feb. 7 statement. “Some of them arrived there after being pushed out of other encampments cleared by the city. Even those who have obtained vouchers are highly unlikely to be able to move into new housing before they are forcibly evicted on February 15.”

Oliva said that the District has appropriated enough housing vouchers, which provide housing assistance to individuals and families in need, for the residents of McPherson Square. Lack of resources, however, has delayed this distribution.

“There was somebody that I talked to on the morning of the encampment closure that told me that they had had it last July and still hadn’t been able to get a unit,” Oliva said.

The National Coalition for Housing Justice (NCHJ), a group of national organizations focused on seeking housing justice in order to end homelessness, said that the clearing of McPherson Square makes it harder for homeless individuals to access necessary resources.

“Because forced removals disconnect individuals from service providers and frequently lead to lost documentation and possessions, this action will ultimately make it more difficult for individuals to exit homelessness,” the NCHJ administration said in a Feb. 15 statement.

Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post | Citing safety concerns, the National Park Service cleared McPherson Square of unhoused residents Feb. 15, sparking controversy in the community.

The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services (DMHHS), which supports D.C.’s residents with health and social services, said the decision would not impact unhoused residents’ opportunities to find permanent housing, according to the NPS.

“Up until the recent development of severe health and safety issues, service providers have engaged in intensive outreach to unsheltered individuals willing to accept services for close to four months, following NPS’ issuance of the formal closure notice on October 25,” the NPS press release read

Oliva said that cases like McPherson Square reflect continuous housing issues within the District and nationwide.

“McPherson Square was big, and it got a lot of attention, in part because the national organizations forced the issue,” Oliva said. “But in fact, these kinds of closures are happening all the time.”

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