Homeless people living in tents under the overpass at First and G streets NE waited anxiously Tuesday for workers from several D.C. agencies to execute the city’s encampment protocol.
About every two weeks, staffers from the Deputy Mayor’s Office for Health and Human Services and other agencies visit encampments near Union Station to clear and clean public spaces “when a site presents a security, health, or safety risk, and/or interferes with community use of such places,” according to the protocol.
For the homeless, this means they must pack up their belongings and move them out of the area being cleaned. Anything unattended and left behind is thrown away or moved to a storage facility. And D.C. staffers also are there to help connect the homeless to public services.
But once the sidewalks are power-washed and dried, many move their belongings right back.
Laticia Brock, 38, who has been “running away” since she was 14 and living on the streets for about a year, questioned what the city plans to do in the long run — because she plans to keep living under the overpass.
“I don’t go to work because I don’t know what time they will come, and I don’t want them to throw my stuff away,” Ms. Brock said, adding that she used to work for Street Sense, the weekly newspaper sold by homeless people.
“You don’t think homeless people got a schedule, but we do,” said Cowanda Gresham. The homeless woman said she didn’t get a chance to panhandle during Tuesday morning’s rush of commuters to collect money to buy breakfast.
Ann Marie Staudenmaier, an attorney with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, attributed the D.C. government’s increasing use of the encampment protocol to an uptick in tent communities around the city and to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s desire to say that the city is addressing the homeless problem. Miss Bowser has said she wants homelessness to “be brief, rare and nonrecurring” by 2020.
“In fact, they know very well that they aren’t doing anything to solve the underlying problem. People are going to go right back to those spots, having lost irreplaceable items because the city threw them away,” Ms. Staudenmaier said.
Rayna Smith, chief of staff to deputy mayor for health and human services, said the agency understands “this is a very sensitive area for everyone.
“While we understand how it may look, the ultimate goal is to make sure everyone is healthy and safe,” she said.
Kevin Davis, 48, said his stuff has been thrown away two or three times.
“As long as we keep it neat and clean, they should just let us live there,” said Mr. Davis, who called himself the “uncle” or “older brother” of the encampment.
Ms. Brock said she will continue to return to the encampment because of its community feeling — and it makes her feel safe.
Under the protocol, the District gives encampment residents 14 days’ notice by hanging up street signs. Sometimes a cleanup is canceled because of bad weather.
Ms. Staudenmaier said the protocol was created 12 years ago to protect the rights of the homeless but it instead criminalizes homelessness, causing stress and exacerbating mental health issues.
Ms. Smith called the “criminalizing” label “unfortunate,” saying her office is working to connect people to resources and is trying to look out for everyone.
Some cried during Tuesday’s cleanup, and one — Kendrid Khalil Hamlin — vomited. Someone else from the encampment went to the hospital for stomach issues earlier this week.
Mr. Hamlin, 22, has been staying in the area since he was released from prison for a parole violation in November.
“I feel as though nobody should enter your tent because that’s your home,” he said.
The encampment protocol is carried out every Tuesday and Thursday, and people can call or email the Office for Health and Human Services about an encampment they believe needs to be addressed.