Encampment Updates: Clearings near Arboretum, Farragut, Gallaudet 

Two men go through cardboard boxes next to a grey building.

City employees deconstruct the encampment at 1133 19th St. NW. Photo by Margaret Hartigan

Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a bi-weekly column, “Encampment Updates.” Each edition, a Street Sense journalist will write about past and upcoming encampment clearings and closures in D.C. Follow along for updates! 

D.C.’s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services (DMHHS) cleared three encampments during the week of March 11: one at New York and Montana Ave. NE, another near Farragut Square at 1133 19th St. NW, and a third at 9th and Mt. Olivet St. NE, just outside Gallaudet University. The agency cleared these encampments “to remove all abandoned, bulk trash, and hazardous items,” a DMHHS representative wrote in an email to Street Sense.

All three clearings were “full clean ups,” which require encampment residents to temporarily remove all their belongings from the area. According to the DMHHS representative, the agency conducts clearings like these when “all other efforts to mitigate the negative impact on both the resident(s) and community alike have been unsuccessful.” 

Some advocates and people experiencing homelessness, however, say concerns about safety and hazards at encampments are overblown, and argue clearings often result in encampment residents losing their belongings. Similarly, advocates say that such “engagements,” as the city terms them, rarely result in people experiencing homelessness gaining access to housing. 

While the clearing at 1133 19th St. was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on March 13, DMHHS officials arrived at the encampment shortly before 11 a.m. The encampment, which was located in front of a high-rise office building, appeared to have been occupied by only one individual, who was not present during the clearing. A sign near the street, at least 20 feet away from the site of the encampment, notified readers of the planned clearing.

DMHHS officials threw away everything at the site — including three grocery carts full of items, several blankets, an umbrella, and several articles of clothing of clothing. 

According to DMHHS’s encampment protocol, the Department of Human Services (DHS) should “make reasonable efforts” to store belongings that are “safe to store and of apparent value,” even if the encampment resident is not present during the clearing. “Our team did not find any items present that were appropriate for storage at the time of the cleanup,” the DMHHS representative wrote via email.

Partway through the clearing, a D.C. official left a few blankets nearby, presumably for when the resident returned. A second person later removed the blankets. Nothing was left of the encampment by the time DMHHS officials left the scene. 

“We don’t leave blankets on site,” a DMHHS official said when asked why the blankets were removed.

The resident of the 1133 19th St. encampment did not return before the clearing ended, and as a result, could not be reached for comment.

That same day, also scheduled for 10 a.m., DMHHS cleared another encampment, at New York and Montana Ave. NE, near the National Arboretum. Street Sense was not able to attend both clearings. 

The following day, DMHHS officials arrived at least an hour and a half early to blocked off the encampment at 9th and Mt. Olivet NE. Like at 1133 19th St., a nearby sign alerted passersby of the 10 a.m. clearing.

Charles, a resident of the encampment, said DMHHS officials were respectful of his belongings; they did not take down the tent he was living in. He said he had been living there for “a year, a year and a half,” and this was the second clean-up to take place since he moved in. Another resident, Jennifer, said that she planned to stay at a shelter after the clearing. Both residents only shared their first name to protect their privacy while living outdoors. 

DMHHS took down one of three tents set up at the encampment. Several garbage and rodent control trucks were present at the scene to clean, pick up trash, and clear part of the encampment. DMHHS used a bulldozer to clear the one tent, trash and other items. The DMHHS representative wrote that the agency plans to conduct another clearing in the area in the future, adding that there was too much moisture in the ground on March 14 to safely clear the area.

DMHHS publishes upcoming engagements at https://dmhhs.dc.gov/page/encampments. Those include: Wed., March 27 at 10 a.m. at 1500 M St. SE, Thu., March 28 at 10 a.m. at 3rd and Virginia Ave. SE, Tue., April 2 at 10 a.m. at 198 and Virginia Ave. SE, and Wed., April 3 at 10 a.m. at 2nd and D St. NW.

Issues |Encampments

Region |Washington DC

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