Encampment Update: DC closes encampment near Anacostia River and Washington Yacht Club

A rail tunnel with blue and red graffiti on each side.

By 11 a.m., city staff had completely cleared the encampment. Photo by Margaret Hartigan.

Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a biweekly column, “Encampment Updates.” Each edition, a Street Sense journalist will write about past and upcoming encampment clearings and closures in D.C. More information about upcoming clearings and closures can be found at https://dmhhs.dc.gov/page/encampments.

D.C.’s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services (DMHHS) removed an encampment in Anacostia on March 27. No one living there was present at the time of the encampment closure, and D.C. officials discarded everything they found in the encampment. According to a representative from DMHHS, one person had been living there, but left the area prior to the March 27 clearing.

The encampment was located near 1500 M St. SE, near the CSX Line freight train route, and a few hundred feet away from the Washington Yacht Club.

According to DMHHS’s website, the agency was both conducting a “full clean-up” and enforcing D.C.’s no-camping ordinance — meaning that had a resident been present, they would not have been able to continue living in the encampment.

“It was 12 feet from the train tracks. That’s not safe for anyone,” said Jamal Weldon, DMHHS’s encampment response program manager, when asked for comment at the scene.

The closure began promptly at 10 a.m. Using two garbage trucks, a bulldozer, and a large dumpster, DMHHS officials completely cleared the encampment within about 45 minutes. DMHHS and Department of Public Works (DPW) staff discarded a mattress, a chair, a rug, multiple tires, and a pair of shoes, among other items.

According to their encampment protocol, the D.C. Department of Human Services (DHS) should “make reasonable efforts” to store any belongings that are “safe to store and of apparent value,” even if the person living in the encampment is not present at the time of the clearing. It was not possible for Street Sense to determine whether any items matched this description, although a DMHHS representative said no items there met DMHHS criteria for storage.

At the time of the closure, the National Weather Service had issued a coastal flood warning that would last until midnight (Later, the warning was downgraded to an advisory). There was only light rain at the time the clearing began, but within five minutes the area was in a downpour. While DMHHS provided answers to other questions submitted at the same time, the deputy mayor’s office did not explain its decision to proceed with the clearing despite the rain.

A DMHHS representative wrote to Street Sense that the encampment had been “on the radar” of DMHHS for 45 days prior to the clearing. According to the representative, Community Connnections, a D.C.-based mental health and housing nonprofit, had unsuccessfully attempted to offer support services to the resident.

Another clearing, this one at 3rd and Virginia Ave SE, was scheduled to occur on the following day at 10 a.m. However, DMHHS canceled it less than 24 hours before. Two closures for the week of April 1 were also canceled — including one near Garfield Park and one near Judiciary Square. According to DMHHS, residents of these encampments had voluntarily removed “hazardous” and unwanted items from the encampment before the clearings, leading the agency to determine that the clearings were no longer necessary.

Upcoming encampment engagements include: April 10 at 10 a.m. at 1899 9th St NE, April 11 at 10 a.m. at the bridge underpass in the 3900 block of Minnesota Ave NE, April 17 at 10 a.m. at the rear alleyway of 4915 Quarles St NE, and April 18 at 10 a.m. at 23rd and E St NW.

Issues |Encampments

Region |Anacostia

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