Lawmakers vote down bill to curb DC encampment evictions

Legislation aimed at putting provisions on how D.C. runs its encampment clearing pilot fell short in a delayed council vote, dashing the hopes of those who feel the evictions during hypothermia season are unjust.

The legislation came about after a man was picked up by a Bobcat front-end loader while inside his tent at a D.C. homeless encampment this fall. Ward 1 Council member Brianne Nadeau and At-Large Council member Elissa Silverman worked together to amend the bill, which their colleagues said was too broad.

“What we have right now in the District is a pilot program for CARE program that maybe has good intentions, right; housing people, housing them quickly, but is going about it in a way that is hurting people,” Nadeau said in discussing her bill with the council.

Nadeau outlined the bill that would require the city to assess the encampments, collect data to improve how the city responds to homelessness, and would prevent the D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration from clearing any encampments through April, except for encampments on public spaces or that pose a serious health risk.

Nadeau said she continues to support the housing first approach to end homelessness, but “I don’t think we should be evicting and encampment residents in the middle of winter. And with the rise of the new COVID variant, the district should heed the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) advice to allow individuals to continue sheltering in place. I urge my colleagues to vote in favor of this legislation,” she said in moving the amendment.

But in a 5-7 vote Tuesday, it became clear their minds had not changed with the new draft. Council member Vincent Gray was not present for the vote as he recovers from a recent illness.

“We all agree that there are issues with the current encampment clearing program, and that’s what this emergency legislation should have been about, namely assuring that we follow the procedures already on the books,” said Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh, who voted against it.

She said there was not enough presented for her to restrict the mayor’s authority in administering the pilot program.

“In fact, I continue to be deeply concerned about removing this authority and making it harder than for us to put people in beds with heat and in proper living conditions,” Cheh said.

At-Large Council member Robert White supported the bill’s attempt to ensure that community partnerships lead to secure housing for those who wanted it.

“If we were in their position. It’s about what those residents want and need. They need housing. They do not need evictions. I think we have an opportunity here to focus on real solutions, which is housing and not evictions,” White said.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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