WASHINGTON — The National Park Service (NPS) plans to close two federal parks near Massachusetts Avenue and 11th Street Northwest in less than a week to remove the homeless encampments and "provide needed maintenance to the parks."
An NPS spokesperson said the department has received numerous reports of drug activity, violence and unsanitary conditions at Burke Park and Samuel Gompers Memorial Park. The closure on or about August 18 will take effect into the fall and restoration will allow NPS to address public health and safety issues before the start of the school year, according to the spokesperson.
The plan differs from its statement in early July when NPS said it had "no imminent plans to remove existing encampments" following a public outcry from community leaders who felt evicting the unhoused residents would only make the homelessness issue in the District worse.
Camping in national parks in the city is prohibited but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided recommendations to support homeless encampments to prevent further infection or risks.
"It's our responsibility to consider the overall health and safety of all park users and neighbors and the condition of park resources," NPS said in the statement. "The NPS will remove encampments when it determines that a site poses a significant, continuing, security, health or safety risk."
"It's time with the lifting of the public health emergency to clear the parks," resident Kathy Markus told WUSA9. "The city needs to step up and find housing because they've been telling us for a year now that that's what they've been working on."
Parents like Markus have expressed concerns about the camps since they sit across from Thomson Elementary School on L Street. She said police have been escorting students at the end of the last school year to keep the children protected.
"We don't feel like there's a safe passage for the kids, a lot of the kids walk through the park in the mornings and in afternoons and some are unaccompanied minors and there's after-school activities where teenagers will come pick up their brother or sisters at school," Markus added.
However, the fight continues from community advocates who want more time to properly place the homeless individuals in proper housing. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Alexandra Bailey has been spearheading the effort to stop the eviction until the voucher housing process for the residents have been completed.
She held an interagency event last month to start the housing process and connect the unhoused group to social services they need including one from the Department of Behavioral Health. Bailey said everyone in the park has been seen by a social worker and had identification cards prepared for them. The plan is to enter them into a voucher process.
Bailey said an eviction in less than a week would only hinder the process that already took place. She has gathered many commissioners to sign a letter to federal and local officials to halt the removal of the camps again.
"Renovations can wait, but our health and public safety of all of our neighbors, no matter where they are living, cannot," Bailey's letter read. "Once again, we implore you: do not evict the encampment at Massachusetts Avenue NW and 12th Street NW."
She pointed out how the eviction will not cease homelessness, but only create larger or new encampments.
The district council member Brooke Pinto has been made aware of the ongoing battle over the camp.
In a statement, Pinto said:
“National Park Service has scheduled to begin renovations at Burke and Gompers Park next week. I have asked DMHHS to prioritize those staying in the parks for shelter and housing and to expedite any current voucher applications before the start of the school year.”
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