This article is part of our 2021 contribution to the D.C. Homeless Crisis Reporting Project in collaboration with other local newsrooms. The collective works will be published throughout the day at DCHomelessCrisis.press.
The District has begun enacting a pilot program intended to move residents of some of the more prominent homeless encampments in the city into housing. Good intentions aside, however, this week has been one of reckoning in terms of the unsafe conditions at those encampments, the chaos and danger that can ensue when the city intervenes, and the need for transparent communication between the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services and city residents.
On Monday, a disturbing incident occurred at the L Street underpass encampment in NoMa when someone operating a piece of heavy machinery mistakenly lifted a tent while its owner was still inside. Later that night, one of the residents of the encampment in the park at New Jersey Avenue and O Street NW (map) was found dead in their tent after a fire.
DC plans to evict the residents of the Shaw park encampment next month, so Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services (DMHHS) Wayne Turnage and pilot program lead Jamal Weldon attended ANC 6E's meeting earlier this week to provide an update on the plans for the park and what will be done to avoid repeating the mistakes made earlier in the week.
Weldon explained that of the encampment's 48 residents, 32 have been enrolled on a "by-name list" and are being engaged with on a daily basis to prepare them to transition into housing units. The remaining 16 residents arrived at the encampment after engagement began and will instead be connected to other services.
The tentative eviction date is November 4th, although the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) intends to give 30 days' notice ahead of time and had not yet done so as of the Tuesday ANC meeting. Weldon noted that among the changes DMHHS is making to keep encampment residents safe in the future are to have a tighter police perimeter around sites while evictions are taking place and to do more tent checks. Deputy Mayor Turnage stated that the tent resident who had been assaulted by the machinery earlier this week was not injured and was moved to a hotel while his apartment is being inspected.
After the residents are moved out, DPR is expected to fence the property off as the city plans to remodel the park. Weldon also shared at the meeting that DMHHS and the Department of Human Services are working on creating a public informational dashboard so that people can have concrete stats about the outcomes for encampment residents.
"Our goal is to determine, with a housing-first model, how many people can we get into housing who are on that by-name list, and are we effective in identifying certain spaces as not suitable for encampments and keeping people out of those areas for their own health, welfare and safety," Deputy Mayor Turnage explained.
This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/dc-pilot-program-to-house-encampment-residents-under-scrutiny-as-shaw-park-/18795.
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