Mayor Bowser recently announced the creation of a new “CARE pilot program” which is designed to permanently evict unsheltered residents from a few large and visible encampments. While the program aims to offer housing resources to some of those residents, the overall goal is to permanently close these encampments regardless of whether all residents have accepted or obtained housing by the time of the clearing. These areas will then be designated as “no camping” zones, meaning anyone’s belongings placed in that area will be subject to immediate disposal without notice. We strongly oppose the creation of “no camping” zones on public space.

We support providing housing to all people experiencing homelessness. However, we reject the Bowser administration’s attempt to frame forced displacement from large visible encampments as new or necessary to the provision of housing. The first clearing under this pilot program was a dangerous effort with disastrous implications for some encampment residents, including one who was hospitalized after a bulldozer picked up his tent while he was still inside.

Displacement of low-income, primarily Black D.C. residents has, unfortunately, been the status quo for decades. The Bowser administration has consistently escalated forced displacement tactics against people who are unhoused, and this pilot program is a continuation of that approach. It is disingenuous to frame eviction and the harm it causes as a benevolent pilot program. The mere offer of housing to some encampment residents must not distract from the clear intention to evict, especially since not all residents of the encampment that the District cleared on October 4 have received housing.

The Bowser administration should focus its efforts on the efficient and timely provision of the historic and unprecedented housing resources that were funded by the federal government and DC Council in the FY22 budget. When people receive truly safe and permanent housing, there will be no need for our unhoused neighbors to seek safety and stability through encampments. Access to safe permanent housing should be the priority, not forced displacement.

The Legal Clinic adds our voice to that of the Way Home Campaign and others in demanding that the DC Government:

  • Stop the creation of any and all future “no camping zones” and repeal laws that criminalize homelessness and poverty;
  • Work with urgency to end homelessness for all who need housing, not just residents of specific encampments;
  • Employ a person-centered and trauma-informed approach to ending homelessness instead of punishing people for living in tents;
  • Stop all encampment clearings during COVID-19 in compliance with CDC guidance;
  • Work to reform the emergency shelter system to remove real barriers that people living outside have identified as standing in the way of entering shelter; and
  • Ensure that all encampments are provided with portable toilets and sanitation stations.