With more than 100 homeless encampments, Bowser pushes for more money

City leaders say it’s another consequence of the pandemic.

Right now, D.C. has more than 100 documented homeless encampments around the city, though most of them are in downtown areas considered more commercial than residential. But local officials acknowledge that even though the encampments are not good or welcome, convincing homeless residents who live in them of that isn’t easy.

“One thing that we hear from our unsheltered residents is they feel safer on the streets than they do in shelter,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. “I don’t agree with that.”

The mayor used an announcement touting another drop in overall homelessness to push for a proposed budget package that would invest more money in solving homelessness around the city. In all, it includes $31 million in programs that work to tackle the issue directly, with another $114 million to help fund the replacement of homeless shelters.

“It’s why we have a focus on building more dignified shelter,” Bowser said.

Some of the money would concentrate on helping single residents who are homeless, after the city put a strong emphasis on getting families out of shelters and off the streets first. District leaders said all 17 families considered homeless in January are either in permanent housing or in the process of obtaining it.

In the meantime, Bowser said city outreach workers are in constant communication with homeless residents living in tents, encouraging them and making them aware of services that will get them out of those tents.

“Encampments aren’t permitted anywhere,” Bowser said. But previous attempts at clearing some of the larger encampments have resulted in controversy, and sometimes injury. Bowser said there are numerous factors that determine just how tolerated they are.

“We have a thoughtful approach in our CARE Pilot that we think is compassionate, but also very deliberate in talking to people, taking a lot of time to get them comfortable with a move into appropriate housing,” Bowser said.

She suggested the city does have a plan for each encampment that exists right now.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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