Council member offers recommendations to ‘restore trust’ as DC works to house homeless

The video of a homeless man in a tent being accidentally scooped up in a front-end loader as the District removed an encampment this week was a startling image. Now, a council member is offering recommendations for restoring trust during D.C.’s concerted effort to enable homeless people to move indoors.

In a tweet, At-Large Council member Elissa Silverman said she sent a letter to Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Wayne Turnage offering ideas and vowing to collaborate as D.C. implements a temporary housing program.

Under the pilot program, residents in four homeless encampments have been offered vouchers for one-year housing leases. The way the program is supposed to work is that services should be provided to residents living in the encampments that the District has chosen to close down, and then the area would be cleared and become a no-tent-zone.

Silverman suggested the District “should pause all encampment clearings while continuing the intensive services and housing outreach of the pilot.”

Overall, she suggested the city do a more thorough explanation of the pilot program and the encampment clearing process to those who are affected, and develop more complete expectations and responsibilities.

Specifically, Silverman called for a public roundtable — either before the D.C. Council or a public meeting on Zoom — to discuss the merits and implications of the no-tent-zone approach.

Because some homeless encampments are on federal property, Silverman suggested a memorandum of agreement be reached with the National Park Service, which would have jurisdiction for monitoring health and safety.

In addition, residents and businesses should have an easy way to contact the city with concerns about encampments in their neighborhoods, Silverman said.

The former Washington Post reporter-turned-lawmaker said there is a lot of common ground on the issue: “Nobody wants fire hazards, trash piles and human waste festering at these sites. Nobody wants another person to die tragically in these hazardous conditions.”

But Silverman said there needs to be more thought and coordination to avoid past situations where the District cleans up tents in one area, only to have the encampment reestablished in another area down the street.

“Everybody wants to house those who need housing, and this year’s budget puts additional money toward housing vouchers. But we need a strategy that makes encampments safe for their residents, the public and local residents while residents are getting into housing.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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