Jurisdiction hinders aid to camps

An NPS employee removes the contents of a camp tent on Friday, October 15. Photo: E. O’Gorek / CCN

David Graves and the other residents of a triangular park camp in Third and Massachusetts Avenue NE were still discussing their upcoming move the day before their eviction on October 15. “We don’t know what to do,” Graves said. “Everyone who comes here asks us what we are going to do. And we ask them, what are you doing?

Graves moved to the camp with two friends in August, when the National Park Service (NPS) kicked them out of the triangular park one block away, citing tree remediation. This area is now empty and surrounded by a chain-link fence. A similar fence was already in place Thursday around the camp where he lived.

David Graves stands outside his tent at the Third Street and Massachusetts Avenue NE camp on Thursday, October 14. Photo: E. O’Gorek / CCN

“I guess all the parks are going to look like this,” Graves said. “I don’t know where they keep pushing us.”

Like many American cities, the District has seen an increase in the number of camps in recent years. Unlike other jurisdictions, however, the spaces occupied by these settlements are regulated by several agencies, including the Capitol Hill Police, the NPS, and the District Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services.

Critics say the multiple agencies responsible for these plots of land make it unclear who is responsible for helping the people who live there. As a result, they say, no one does.

Whose responsibility?

Camping in public space is illegal in the district, but the Deputy Mayor’s Office of Health and Human Services (DMHHS), which is responsible for the settlements, says it is not city policy to stop or quote campers. They periodically clean up a site when it presents a risk to safety, health or safety or interferes with the community use of the spaces.

Victar Parker uses a wheelchair to move items around the camp, Friday October 15. Photo: E. O’Gorek / CCN

The DMHHS is required to give two weeks notice prior to such cleanings. In the meantime, the DMHHS, the Behavioral Health Department (DBH) and contracted providers are expected to conduct outreach activities to connect camp residents to services and programs.

But the District does not have jurisdiction over all public spaces. The Third and Massachusetts site, for example, is under the jurisdiction of the NPS. According to the NPS, it assesses each park individually and removes encampments when it determines that a site poses a significant and continuing risk to safety, health or safety. In the case of the third camp and Massachusetts, officials on site said there were fire hazards posed by a generator and grills, as well as complaints about litter and cleanliness from neighbors and businesses. of the region.

The park department lacks homeless awareness programs or services. One representative said the NPS is “committed to a social service-oriented approach and will continue to work closely with the DMHHS and community partners to connect people living in settlements to resources and housing.”

Graves said no one had approached him or the two friends he lives with about Thursday’s withdrawal date. “They put this poster up there two days ago,” Graves said. “We asked them what was going on and he said, ‘Well, I just work for the parks department. He couldn’t explain it.

Andrew Anderson, director of outreach for People for Fairness Coaliti on (PFFC), stands outside the fence during the removal of the encampment by the National Park Service (NPS). E.O’Gorek / CCN

On Thursday morning, reporters and lawyers watched as an NPS employee put up signs announcing that the clean-up at the camp had been moved to Friday. He tied them to the fence, then returned to his truck and drove off.

Where to go next

Andrew Anderson is the Director of Outreach for the People for Fairness Coalition (PFFC). He said the organization had helped many residents relocate on Thursday evening, before the cleanup took place some moved to the encampments under I-695 near Garfield Park. Others are heading to the Allen Park encampments at O ​​Street and New Jersey Avenue NW and the E Street area near 21st and 22nd Streets NW.

However, these two camps are also planned to be dispersed as part of a district pilot program. The Allen Park site is expected to be removed by Thursday, November 4.

The pilot program, which focuses on these two sites and the NoMA encampments on L and M streets, provided expedited access to housing and services for all those residing at the sites as of 23 August. Once cleared, the sites will become “non-camping areas.” The change allows DMHHS and district agencies to remove items from the site within one day, without two weeks notice otherwise required.

This means that if Graves and his friends visit one of these sites, they will not be eligible for the pilot program but will still be kicked out.

Anderson said neither the NPS nor the district are concerned about where residents will live. “They are not concerned about relocation, [it’s] “Just get them out of the way, because we don’t want to tackle the problem anymore,” he said.

Need a coordinated strategy

At-Large Council Member Elissa Silverman (I) was on hand to clean up the Massachusetts Avenue workcamp. She said that while the NPS has kept DC council informed of activities at the site, she would like more coordination with the city.

“They are residents of the district, and this is a complex issue,” she said. “Complex problems involve putting all of our heads together, being strategic and really finding solutions. We have to have a strategy so that we don’t just move people around the city. Silverman said the DMHHS should take the initiative to contact the NPS and contracted outreach partners to work on such a strategy.

In an emailed statement, the DMHHS said its outreach team had worked with the NPS to notify residents of the impending closure. “We continue to work regularly with the NPS to be notified in advance of any closures so that we can properly engage camped residents in advance,” the statement read, “and encourage all camped residents to use the district shelter options and to regularly engage in outreach service Connection efforts We know that many residents have moved to other areas of the city and our providers will continue to support them throughout their journey. path to independence and housing stability.

Anderson of PFFC said he judged the support of district agencies and their contracted outreach organizations by their presence. “They didn’t come here,” Anderson said. “If they did, there were one or two officers who came in to do any kind of information gathering.”

He said the city needed to invest more money in homeless support services so that months ago officers could come to the encampment to make sure every resident has completed requests for permanent housing. . He pointed out that the process of getting good housing can take five to eight months.

“You don’t see this,” Anderson said. “No one from DMHHS is here, no one from DCHA is here; no one from Pathways is here. There’s no point in offering a solution other than eviction – that’s what you get. “

On Thursday, Graves and his friends were trying to decide what to do with their last day together at camp. They had discussed setting up a protest camp in Freedom Plaza, he said. But whatever they decide to do, they have to move on. “I have to find another place,” Graves said. “[You] Do what you can. “

Thelma J. Longworth

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