DC Council members urge mayor to pause clearing of homeless camps

Four members of the D.C. Council are urging Mayor Muriel Bowser to pause the clearing of homeless encampments through the winter.

In a letter Friday, council members Brianne Nadeau, Janeese Lewis George, Robert White and Elissa Silverman asked Bowser to hold off until the end of hypothermia season — March 31 — to “give the council more time to deliberate and provide an opportunity to work with the executive to find preferable long-term solutions.”

Clearing encampments is one element of the District’s pilot program, with the other element being support services for the people living in the camps — such as helping them find permanent housing. But in early October, the program drew criticism when one person was lifted by a front-end loader while a camp in Northeast D.C.’s NoMa neighborhood was being cleared.

“While we believe the program is well-intentioned, we have significant concerns about its execution,” the council members wrote.

Council members held a roundtable on the pilot program earlier this month. And they told Bowser that they heard a “resounding” rejection of what they called a “stick and carrot approach.”

“Dispersing encampment residents often severs connections with service providers and ultimately makes it harder to match residents to housing,” they wrote.

Residents, service providers and others also explained the difficulties of obtaining permanent housing, the council members wrote.

“It is not due to a lack of desire or will,” they said, “but rather because of a lack of access to safe housing and sustainable support systems.”

The four council members ask that the program’s clearings-and-evictions element be separated from the support-services element. Their letter also calls for enhanced services that promote health and safety at the camps, such as more hand-washing stations, regular trash collection and portable restrooms that are regularly cleaned.

WTOP has reached out to Bowser’s office for a response to Friday’s letter.

Jack Pointer

Jack contributes to WTOP.com when he's not working as the afternoon/evening radio writer.

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