Washington, D.C. officials are shutting down three encampments across the District, forcing over 100 people experiencing homelessness to evacuate.
Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) launched the encampment pilot program in August to permanently close encampments in Ward 2 and Ward 6 by the end of September. The proposal aims to permanently close encampments at the M and L Street underpasses, New Jersey Avenue and O Street NW, and E and 20th and 21st Streets NW. Displaced residents will have the opportunity to register for a housing assistance program.
According to Yannik Omictin, advisory neighborhood commissioner for 2A01, the details of the encampment pilot program are unclear, leaving questions about the temporary housing in which the District plans to place residents who enroll in housing assistance.
“It is certainly a good thing that the city appears to have ready-to-move-in units that encampment residents can move into while they wait for permanent housing,” Omictin wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Questions still remain about where those units are, what restrictions might be placed on residents in those units, what condition they are in, what services will be provided in conjunction with this housing, and more.”
Officials plan to clean the encampment sites after all the residents vacate the properties, after which the District will provide rehousing assistance, according to the encampment pilot press statement.
“Residents who agree to participate will be engaged in intensive case management services which will help them obtain vital documents, complete housing voucher applications, provide housing navigation, and connect them to other vital services,” the statement reads.
Neither the Executive Office of the Mayor nor the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services responded to request for comment from The Hoya.
This program is part of a wider range of efforts to permanently close encampments for people experiencing homelessness throughout the District. In January 2020, the District permanently removed people living in an encampment under the K Street overpass. However, the District did not offer a housing assistance program for displaced residents and instead directed them to shelters throughout the area, according to DCist.
Many unhoused people have expressed distrust in government initiatives or officials, according to Omictin, and are wary participation in the program may put them in a worse position than before they were evicted from their encampments.
“The more important question for me is whether the residents trust this initiative — this remains to be seen,” Omictin wrote. “As of Friday, many had not heard about the program’s housing component, and are naturally wary of new government programs given how often they have been slighted by them in the past.”
In 2021, officials recorded 5,111 unhoused individuals and 405 unhoused families living in the District, most of whom are not eligible for the housing opportunities included in the encampment pilot program because they do not reside in one of the three targeted sites. Of the unhoused population in the District, 47% experienced homelessness that lasted for more than one year, and the number of unhoused adults with mental health conditions rose by 17% between 2020 and 2021.
According to Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto (LAW ’17), the encampment pilot program is positively contributing to rehousing efforts in Ward 2.
“I am enthusiastic that the launch of this program will include sites in Ward 2. The focus of the pilot is working to achieve the goal we have shared all along: housing,” Pinto wrote in an email to The Hoya.
If the District can assist some unhoused people, they should expand the program to everyone, according to Omictin.
“If the city truly can buy out leases, place people in temporary housing throughout the city, keep up their access to city services, and shepherd them through the permanent process, as it appears they are proposing to do with this pilot program, then they should be able to do it for every single unhoused person in DC,” Omictin wrote.