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DC Councilmember: District should pause clearing of encampments

“It's also really bad policy because what we've seen is when we cleared one encampment, people go to the next one,” said D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau.

WASHINGTON — A D.C. Councilmember wants to halt the removal of outdoor encampments in the District.

D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau has written emergency legislation that would temporarily pause the clearing of outdoor encampments, and the removal of the private property of the people who live in them, until the end of hypothermia season.

The D.C. Department of Human Services classifies that date as April 15.

Nadeau said she wants the legislation to be introduced and voted on during the D.C. Council’s legislative meeting on December 7. 

Her proposal comes as D.C. leaders continue to grapple with how best to serve unhoused people in the District.

The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services unveiled its “Coordinated Assistance and Resources for Encampment Pilot Program” [CARE] earlier this year.

According to D.C. Health and Human Services officials, the CARE program was developed to provide intensive onsite case management and behavioral health and substance use support for local people without homes.

Over the course of several months, government outreach teams visited several outdoor encampments in the District and compiled a list of names of the people who lived in them, as of August 23. Officials say the people on that list were then offered expedited affordable housing options elsewhere in the District.

Those encampments were also identified as sites that would eventually be cleared by the District.

They included the encampments below the L and M Street NE underpasses in D.C.’s NoMa neighborhood, the encampments in the park at New Jersey Avenue and O Street NW, and the encampments along E Street NW between 20th and 21st streets NW.

However, the pilot program has attracted criticism from many residents in the District.

In early October, a man inside a tent was injured as a bulldozer cleared his NoMa encampment.

RELATED: DC halts removing homeless encampment in NoMa after bulldozer driver clears tent with unhoused resident still inside

While, on Thursday, some people living in an encampment that was being cleared in DC’s Truxton Circle neighborhood, also said they have had trouble navigating the District’s housing initiatives. Magale Narce, of D.C., said many people in his encampment have not been provided the opportunity to relocate elsewhere.

“I called the Mayor’s office, I called everybody man,” he said. “I mean, it makes people feel so helpless, man. It’s a scary shame.”

Nadeau said she wrote the emergency legislation because the Mayor’s office had not adequately responded to councilmembers’ concerns about the pilot program. Nadeau held a hearing to gather stakeholders’ thoughts on the program in November.

She and Councilmembers Robert White, Janeese Lewis George, and Elissa Silverman also wrote Mayor Muriel Bowser a letter on November 26 calling for the clearing of encampments to be paused.

“I felt I had no choice but to introduce this legislation,” she said. “I've tried talking directly with the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor. I tried to send them a letter and I even held a roundtable to really bring out the issues that I and other council members in the community have with doing these encampment clearings. And, you know, even in that roundtable, the Deputy Mayor said, ‘well, if the council wants us to do something else, I guess they should legislate’.”

Nadeau said she believes the solution the Mayor’s office has provided does not solve the problem at hand in the District.

“It's also really bad policy because what we've seen is when we cleared one encampment, people go to the next one,” she said.

RELATED: Concrete barriers blocking street where tents of homeless encampment used to be

In a press conference, Monday, Mayor Bowser was asked if she had read the letter councilmembers had sent her regarding their concerns about the pilot program.

At the time, Mayor Bowser responded that she had become aware of the letter via a tweet.

“I think it doesn’t make sense,” she said. “And, it doesn’t make sense because it seems that these lawmakers are arguing that we should keep people outside during hypothermia season. And, what we’re arguing is that no one should live on the street when we have shelter and housing available.”

The Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services’ webpage has a “Frequently Asked Questions” category about the CARE program.

One question asks: “Can you guarantee each person will be moved into housing before the cleanup/site closure dates?

The office gives the following response.

“Outreach staff will be working closely with each resident to offer them intensive case management and connection to housing resources,” the statement reads. “However, these services are voluntary, and the District cannot force anyone to accept these services. The District is confident in contracted provider’s ability to connect those residents who are willing to participate in this program with housing resources prior to the closure dates.”

However, Nadeau says her proposed legislation goes one step further than pausing the clearance of encampment sites. It also looks to establish public health and safety requirements for the locations where people without housing live.

The legislation calls on lavatories and handwashing stations to be provided at outdoor encampments. It also says D.C. should provide fire safety training sessions at those sites too.

“It acknowledges that we have to we have to maintain encampments in a safe and dignified manner,” Nadeau said.

WUSA9 reached out to both Mayor Bowser’s office and Wayne Turnage, the Deputy Mayor for the District of Columbia Health and Human Services, for comment on the proposed legislation. However, it has yet to receive a response.

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