Park service to clear encampments near City Center, Union Station

The National Park Service is planning to close two homeless camps on park property this May, and is asking D.C. to help with housing assistance.

The encampments are located in Northwest D.C. at 11th and I streets, near City Center, and at Columbus Circle near Union Station.

A letter signed by Jeffrey Reinbold, superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, to Deputy Mayor for D.C. Health and Human Services Wayne Turnage cited “imminent threats to public health and safety that warrant temporary closure of these areas.”

These include reports of drug activity, violence and unsanitary conditions, Reinbold said.

NPS spokesman Mike Litterst said in a statement that the agency has made a formal request to the D.C. Department of Human Services to provide housing for people living at the sites.

During the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance recommended allowing people who are unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are. NPS said it has continued its approach of encouraging encampments to voluntarily disperse.

“While camping in national parks in D.C. is prohibited, the NPS has followed the CDC’s COVID-19 recommendations and the District of Columbia’s practice of allowing encampments to remain on park land during the pandemic,” Litterst said.

However, even during the pandemic, NPS enforcement of its no-camping regulation is a priority in cases where public health and safety are threatened.

“It is our responsibility to consider the overall health and safety of all park users and neighbors and the condition of park resources,” Litterst said.

Reinbold said that NPS is relying on D.C. and partners to provide social services for the residents of the camps.

“NPS is committed to taking a social services-first approach, and will continue to work closely with DCDHS and community partners to connect people living in encampments with resources and housing,” Litterst said.

NPS said that it will move to temporarily close the encampments by the beginning of May, “regardless of whether housing has been identified for unsheltered individuals.” It will give “ample notice” of the closures, both verbal and written.

Clearing encampments is one element of a pilot program in the District, which aims to provide eligible residents with vouchers for temporary housing. The program has drawn criticism after a person was lifted by a front-end loader while a camp in D.C.’s NoMa neighborhood was being cleared last October.

Following that incident, Turnage said immediate changes were made when it comes to how machines are used during encampment clearings.

In December, the D.C. Council voted down legislation to curb encampment evictions. The bill would have prevented the District from clearing encampments through April except on public spaces or if they pose a serious health risk.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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