Statement and next steps on encampments

2021-12-09 | , Miriam's Kitchen

On Tuesday, the DC Council was supposed to vote on a bill that would have made it more difficult for Mayor Bowser to evict homeless encampments during hypothermia season. Unfortunately, this vote was delayed until December 21st, allowing Mayor Bowser to continue with her approach of harmful encampment evictions for the time being. 

 

Thank you to everyone who took action in support of the legislation! While we’re disappointed that the majority of Council was unable to prioritize the needs of our unhoused neighbors, we are proud of the work we have done and will keep doing. 

 

Please read below for a recap and next steps. 

 

What happened?

On Tuesday, Councilmember Nadeau introduced legislation that would have prohibited encampment evictions during the winter (except for urgent circumstances) while also providing for the health and safety needs of encampment residents. This legislation was supported by Councilmembers Lewis-George, Robert White, Trayon White, and Silverman (who had some concerns). 

 

Unfortunately, the remainder of the Council failed to stand up for our unhoused neighbors. Some Members incorrectly implied that halting evictions would stop ongoing and successful housing efforts, while others urged their colleagues to expand the circumstances under which evictions could occur. Some Councilmembers considered moving an amendment that would have enabled DC to create no camping zones in large swaths of DC, weakening Councilmember Nadeau’s legislation to an unacceptable degree. And still, others remained silent on this critical issue. 

 

We look forward to working with Councilmembers who raised objections so that we can find a solution that stops the harm of encampment evictions without further playing into harmful stereotypes about homelessness. 

 

The continued support of the Mayor’s current encampment approach is especially shocking, considering that:

  • The Mayor responded The Council’s request to stop using bulldozers and police to clear encampments with a bigger bulldozer and more police, 
  • A human was injured by a bulldozer  at a recent encampment eviction,
  • Before Mayor Bowser came to office, encampments were seldom cleared during hypothermia season,
  • The Council received over 5,000 letters urging them to stop the harm of evictions,
  • A recent public hearing showed them that DC residents overwhelming do not support eviction encampments; and,
  • Clearing encampments goes against the guidance of the CDC, HUD, and US ICH, and dozens of local and national experts shared support of stoping harmful evictions.

During the debate, Some Councilmembers considered moving an amendment that would have enabled DC to create no camping zones in large swaths of DC, weakening Councilmember Nadeau’s legislation to an unacceptable degree. 

We look forward to working with Councilmembers who raised objections so that we can find a solution that stops the harm of encampment evictions without further playing into harmful stereotypes about homelessness. 

What’s next?

The DC Council will vote on this legislation again on December 21st. Over the next two weeks, we’ll need you to take action to convince Chairman Mendelson and Councilmembers Cheh, Allen, Gray, Henderson, and Bonds to stand on the side of housing justice, not eviction and criminalization.

Questions? We have answers!

Unfortunately, the current debate has been filled with misinformation and misunderstandings, so we want to take this opportunity to answer some questions that arose during the Council’s discussion.  Keep reading for longer answers to these questions.

 

- Why are you so focused on encampments?

The Mayor’s new approach criminalizes homelessness, traumatizes encampment residents,  and jeopardizes DC’s best shot to end homelessness.

- Is it true that you don’t support housing and want people to live outside in the winter?

Nothing could be further from the truth. Our goal is to halt evictions while preserving housing and other services for encampments residents.

- Didn’t everybody at these encampments move into housing (or hotels) before they were closed?

No, and those who remained were forcefully evicted.

- Isn’t the Mayor’s approach housing first?

The Mayor’s approach is displacement first and (at best) housing second or third

- Does this pilot program end homelessness? 

No! This program actually makes it harder to end homelessness!

 

Save the date for the annual Homeless Memorial Vigil sponsored by our partners the People for Fairness Coalition 

Please join us on December 20th-21st to remember those who died without the dignity of a home and fight to ensure that nobody else dies without housing. Click here for more details and to RSVP. 

 

Clearing up myths and mistruths about stopping encampment evictions during hypothermia season

 

Why are you so focused on encampments? 

In October, Mayor Bowser launched her CARE Pilot Program which combines housing for many (but not all) residents at select encampments with the eviction and displacement of all of those encampment residents. We strongly support the goal of connecting people living in encampments to housing and ensuring that, as a system, we are able to use the housing vouchers allocated in the FY22 budget. Additionally, Mayor Bowser continues not only to break CDC guidance by evicting encampments, but she also continues to ignore DC’s long-standing stance of not evicting encampments during hypothermia season. 

However, there are other parts of the pilot which are incredibly problematic, namely: forced evictions of encampments, the establishment of “no tent zones,” and the permanent closure of encampments. It is simply untrue that we must have one in order to have the other and we must counter the false narrative that somehow violent encampment evictions are necessary for connecting people to housing. 

Since there is so much confusion, we thought we’d represent our goals with equations: 

  • Currently: Housing for many + evictions for all = CARE Pilot Program
  • What we want: Housing for all + safety at encampments - evictions= CARE Pilot Program

Is it true that you don’t support housing and want people to live outside in the winter?

No one opposing encampment evictions is opposing them because they want people to stay outside. In fact, many of the most ardent advocates against the Mayor’s current approach are organizations and individuals that have been advocating for housing and increased outreach to encampments, often at the objection of the Mayor. 

 

No one is saying not to house people. We’re saying that you don’t need to pick a random date to bulldoze tents in order to do it. These statements to the contrary are not only false but offensive and gaslighting. We know that housing ends homelessness. That is why, as a campaign, we’ve led the fight to dramatically increase funding for things that end homelessness. There is nothing we want more than for everybody to have the housing they need to thrive.  

 

If we could snap our fingers right now and move everybody into housing tomorrow, we would. Currently, Mayor Bowser is the only person with that power. We’d rather see her devote all of her energy on housing than spending political capital and staff time evicting people from encampments. 

 

Didn’t everybody at these encampments move into housing (or hotels)? 

We wish that were the case! Sadly, that’s not true. While we think it is great that many people have moved into housing, we know that several encampment residents were displaced and still live outside, often without tents. Many more are offered hotels with many rules at the very last minute, resulting in confusion and panic. 

 

Isn’t the Mayor’s approach housing first?

Housing First is a national best practice in which people experiencing homelessness move into housing first and then from the safety and stability of a home, work on their self-identified goals. Housing first centers on client choice and trauma-informed case management, both of which are sorely lacking from the Mayor’s encampment evictions. 

 

If the Mayor was following a Housing First approach, encampment residents would move into housing, first. Instead, the Mayor’s approach is displacement first, housing third. First, their tents and communities are destroyed, then many people are moved into hotels, and then from there, they may move into housing. Housing First prioritizes client choice, not bulldozers and police. 

Does this pilot end homelessness? 

No! Housing ends homelessness. Invisibilizing and criminalizing homelessness hurt DC's ability to end homelessness by making it more difficult to locate and connect people to housing. 

This year, DC has unprecedented resources to permanently house thousands of people experiencing homelessness. Focusing on clearing encampments in highly visible areas diverts time, attention, and energy that should be used to house all people staying in our shelters, sleeping outside on benches or in doorways and encampments alike. 

If the goal is housing, DC must stop clearing and evicting encampments and instead focus on connecting everybody experiencing homelessness in the District with the housing they need to thrive.