Washington, D.C. homeless forced to clear park near White House (includes video story)

An encampment-clearing mandate set for April was pushed up to February 15, leaving a small community of about 75 unhoused people from McPherson Square near the White House with little time to find housing. 

The square is on federal land, which falls under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service (NPS). According to Chief of Communication Mike Litterst’s statement, the clearing was pushed at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services (DMHHS).

“NPS had originally identified April 12 for the action but moved the date at the request of DMHHS because high levels of illegal drug and other criminal activity impede social services’ outreach and endanger social services providers, mental health clinicians, unsheltered individuals, and the public,” he said.

The clearing has been criticized by D.C. council members and non-profit organizations. The short notice to get housing is expected to make that homeless community move to another encampment.

“People find safety being together in encampments and their caseworkers know how to find them,” said Councilwoman Brianne K. Nadeau. “When an encampment is clear, we lose contact with the people living there and they may just end up in another encampment, which is the case with many people at McPherson Square who have been pushed here from another clearance.”

Nadeau has stated she does not support the moving up of this clearing. She believes the homeless need more time and resources to help get people into housing. Officials say 15 people from the McPherson encampment have been approved for housing vouchers, but are yet to be placed in housing.

“There is no legitimate reason in my mind … to require somebody to leave a space that they are comfortable with while they are waiting for their housing,” she said. “I do not want people to be living in encampments I want them to come inside and into shelter…What we need to be doing is working with them to get into housing as quickly as possible.”

At-large Councilmember Robert White went to the encampment and posted a video on Twitter about what he witnessed. He said that while people are begging for housing, they remain guarded when it comes to government and organizations’ promises. 

In the video, he explained how he spoke to that community and multiple people who have been promised housing in the past and instead were passed from organization to organization and still ended up in encampments. 

“We’ve gotta get the housing to them,” he said.

Rachel Costa is a student at Florida International University majoring in Digital Journalism and Communications. She was born and raised in Brazil, and enjoys reading and writing. In the future, she hopes to work in the publishing industry.