NoMa cleanups highlight ongoing cat-and-mouse game between D.C. government and homeless people

A tent encampment on First Street NE in NoMa

Olivia Richter

Several homeless people were displaced by the District government after a clean-up of a tent encampment was conducted under an overpass on K Street NE between First and 2nd streets NE. The March 30 clean-up occurred after a heater being used nearby by a person living in a tent caught fire.  

Caitlin, a woman living in a tent on First Street between K and H Streets NE, said that the city informed people living under the overpass late in the evening of March 29 that they would be displaced the following morning, which did not give them enough time to adequately prepare. The clean-up was conducted by an immediate disposition of public property, which does not require the standard two-week notice.  

“I had a lot of trouble. It was terrible,” said Caitlin, who added she was living with many of her deceased mother’s belongings, making it hard for her to change location on short notice.  

She lives with her boyfriend Melvin Simpson, a well-known trumpeter in the area who was recognized for his playing in the online newspaper Hill Now. The two are hoping to move into an apartment but are waiting on support from the District government. Until then, they are sharing a tent on the street. 

Melvin Simpson with his trumpet
Olivia Richter

Simpson explained that on the day of the clean-up, construction workers were throwing away people’s belongings who had not vacated. Some of his own clothing and personal belongings were thrown away.  

Street Sense Media reported a similar immediate disposition at the same K Street NE underpass in early February. Caitlin and others living there at the time moved around the corner to First Street. Caitlin moved back to the K Street site about a week later and lived there until being displaced again. She said the underpass quickly became crowded with other residents after she moved back, until conditions were as bad as they were before the cleanup.  

On April 10, another scheduled clean-up occurred on First Street. Two-weeks’ notice was given, and no one was moved. One worker said that his team did not touch any of the belongings of those living in tents at the site of the clean-up.  

“They moved their own stuff,” he said. “All we did is collect the trash.”  

Caitlin and Simpson plan to return to the K Street NE underpass soon, though the sidewalks on either side are currently fenced off as construction work occurs. Both residents expect that upon their return the underpass will again become just as crowded as it was before the disposition. 

Issues |Encampments

Region |NoMa

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