The DowntownDC Business Improvement District, known as BID, is reexamining D.C. parks and open spaces.
But how this plan will affect people experiencing homelessness who live in these parks remains a question.
BID held information meetings from November to December. The meetings outline the 29 open spaces being assessed under the Downtown DC Parks Master Plan, from Franklin Park to Judiciary Square, and were led by the land planning services company LandDesign.
“It’s really important that the parks meet the needs of the community. So through this process, we are trying to understand what those needs are,” said Beth Poovey, a LandDesign director of greenways, parks and open spaces.
When a Street Sense Media reporter surveyed people living in McPherson Square, none said they knew about the Master Plan. Melanie Saxon, who is using pseudonym, has been living in the park since June 2021 and says people living at parks could provide valuable input for the survey.
“We live here, we come here on a regular basis. We do have eyes and a heart,” Saxon said.
When a Street Sense Media reporter asked if and how people experiencing homelessness are included in the planning process, Poovey said her team has reached out to homelessness outreach organizations for their input.
Galin Brooks, director of planning and placemaking for DowntownDC BID said they have been distributing postcards with information about the Master Plan, doing paper surveys at parks and have put up a sign with a link to the survey in Franklin Park.
Walter Elliott, who has been sleeping in McPherson Park to escape unsafe conditions in D.C. shelters, says he understands why the city wants to renovate and clear the parks.
But it’s getting harder to find a place to stay. In the following months, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser launched an encampment pilot program, which has aggressively cleared three encampments so far. Out of 111 residents that the Deputy Mayor’s office for Health and Human Services (DMHHS) has engaged with since October, 68 people have leases, 21 are waiting for housing and only 5 remain at the sites.
That has left people like Elliott with few options.
“The parks here…Franklin Park, they cleared it up. Better not be caught in that park sleeping around,” Elliott said.
Franklin Park was closed in June 2020 and renovated by the BID in partnership with the National Parks Service. The park was also an unofficial center of homeless outreach services, who used the park to help people sleeping there secure housing. The closure of the park pushed out many residents who scattered across D.C., chiefly settling at McPherson Square.
Franklin Park reopened in September 2021 as a no-camping zone, with park attendees actively directing people attempting to sleep there to the DowntownDC Day Services Center.