Encampment Updates: DC, NPS close encampments across Foggy Bottom

A blue tent against green trees and grass, with caution tape in front of it.

The city and federal government removed several Foggy Bottom encampments in May. Photo by Donte Kirby

DC.’s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services (DMHHS) and the National Park Services (NPS) closed encampments across Foggy Bottom in mid-May, displacing at least 50 people in the largest encampment closure since McPherson Square.

The main closures occurred near San Martin Memorial on May 16. D.C. and the federal government were originally scheduled to remove two encampments on May 15, but postponed a day due to inclement weather. About ten people were still living at the encampment at San Martin on the day of the closure. Homeless advocacy groups estimate as many as 70 people experiencing homelessness were impacted by the wave of seven encampment closures in Foggy Bottom beginning on May 16. Local and federal officials removed encampments between 21st and 25th Streets NW and along E Street and Virginia Avenue NW over the course of a week.

Park space in Foggy Bottom, including near San Martin Memorial, is split into land owned by D.C. and land owned by the federal government and managed by NPS. NPS first announced the closure of its side of the park last year and cleared the sites for restoration and turf cleaning to prepare for the 250th anniversary of United States independence in 2026, according to the signs posted by NPS before the clearing. DMHHS had not originally intended to close its side of the park, but did so after safety concerns arose, including fires and traffic accidents, a spokesperson wrote via email.

“The National Park Service is the decision-making entity for encampments on federal land, but the District continues to work to deliver shelter resources and other social services to residents at those sites,” a DMHHS official wrote. “The District will continue our work to connect all unhoused residents in the city with human support services, including housing.”

David Beatty, 65, who’s lived at the park for close to nine months, disputed the rationale behind D.C.’s closure. He said that there were at least five fires over the last year and that multiple assaults occurred. But he said that was all months ago, while D.C.’s decision to close the parks was only within the last month. Encampment residents knew since October 2023 that NPS was clearing its side of the park for rehab, and initially thought they would only have to move to the D.C. side of the park.

“Nobody is sure what’s happening but I’m staying as long as I can,” Beatty told Street Sense a week before the scheduled closure. He said he had talked with representatives from the NPS and even they were confused about what was going on with the D.C. side of the park.

On the day of the closure, it wasn’t exactly a joint operation. A crew of NPS workers gathered on one side of the park, while DMHHS was on the other side.

NPS arrived with a garbage truck, a bulldozer, and close to 10 park staff with pitchforks and hazmat suits, while DMHHS brought multiple garbage trucks, its own bulldozer, and a large dumpster. NPS cleared the federal side with six tents within less than an hour of the closure starting at 10 a.m., while DMHHS officials were still clearing the local side of the park, which had about eight tents, at noon. Altogether, government officials removed up to 15 tents in total.

But government officials and advocates estimate far more people were forced to move. D.C. outreach providers identified at least 52 people affected by the Foggy Bottom encampment closures as clients of city-funded outreach services, according to notes from an Interagency Council on Homelessness meeting on May 7. About 15 were matched to housing resources like housing vouchers, though it can take a while for people to move into housing with a voucher, and 22 were chronically homeless, meaning they likely qualified for support but were not matched to a resource.

Homeless advocacy and service providers that attended the encampment closure, like Miriam’s Kitchen and the National Homeless Law Center, said they saw the encampment closure as causing more harm than good. Without services that provide pathways to housing, the closures cause encampment residents to distrust the government further, and it makes those that advocacy groups were assisting harder to find, they said. D.C. doesn’t close sites without offering shelter beds, Wayne Turnage, D.C.’s Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, said at a budget hearing on April 29. At the meeting, Turnage said the new congregate shelter space at the Aston wouldn’t be open this month, but that they would “bring new beds online” to ensure all encampment residents could go to a low-barrier shelter.

“In the past, we’ve offered [apartment] units and shelter beds but we can’t do that at this time because of a range of budget issues,” said Turnage at the budget hearing. “I went to the encampment and took a census last week and six or seven of I believe have vouchers. And they’re waiting for apartments so what we will offer them is…we have a shelter bed until your unit becomes available.”

Adam Rocap, deputy director of Miriam’s Kitchen, said he didn’t know of any encampment residents forced to move on May 16 who wanted to go to a shelter space. Some, like Beatty, said they preferred to either sleep on a bench at Lafayette Park or move across the street to a small patch of park and green space.

Sterling, who gave only his first name to protect his privacy while sleeping outside, lives in the small patch of park across the street from Virginia Avenue that’s not being shut down. He said he’s been on that side of the street for six months.

“They were wild over there,” said Sterling about the side of the park being closed. “Setting fires.”

Sterling didn’t get on the bus for the shelter, deciding to stay on the side of the street that wasn’t closing, along with a few other encampment residents who moved their belongings across the street on the day of the closure.

The encampment clearing was heavily attended by advocacy groups, media, and at least one council member, Robert White. Miriam’s Kitchen staff fed encampment residents, directed them to services like the bus to the low-barrier shelter, and helped encampment residents move their belongings to other parks where they hoped the city wouldn’t remove them.

The series of encampment closures in Foggy Bottom joins McPherson Square in pushing the city’s residents experiencing homelessness further to the margins. Meanwhile, advocates worry homelessness will only continue to increase as D.C. cuts funding for housing programs.

Issues |Encampments

Region |Foggy Bottom|Ward 2

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