STATEMENT: DC Council Fails to Protect Encampment Residents

2022-01-19 | , Miriam's Kitchen

Yesterday, the DC Council voted to allow Mayor Bowser to continue to evict homeless encampments during hypothermia and a worsening COVID surge. On National Homeless Person's Memorial Day, as we memorialized 69+ of our neighbors who died without housing, 7 Councilmembers (Mendelson, Henderson, Bonds, Pinto, Cheh, McDuffie, and Allen) ignored the guidance of the CDC and dozens of local and national organizations and instead chose continued displacement, violence, and harm. 

We want to thank Councilmembers Nadeau, Lewis-George, Trayon White, Robert White, and Silverman for voting "yes" and putting the needs of encampment residents first. 

We showed up strong

While we are dismayed by yesterday's vote, we are proud of how our community showed up. Together, we forced the majority of the DC Council to go on record and say publicly that they are content to preserve a program that bulldozed a human and used 35+ police to evict an encampment over the guidance of dozens of local and national organizations. Even in this loss, we had many victories, including:

  • A commitment from Mayor Bowser to not evict the encampments at 21st and E and 25th and Virginia, the two remaining sites of the CARE Pilot Program, 
  • Changing the narrative of the CARE pilot program, educating the public about the harm of encampment evictions, and raising awareness about the need to focus on housing without displacement and harm; and, 
  • Building power! We showed the DC Council that thousands of residents expect them to put the needs of unhoused residents first.

Together, we sent in over 5,000 letters and mobilized opposition for encampment evictions from dozens of local and national groups and leaders including Attorney General Karl Racine, 80+ ANCs, The National Low Income Housing Coalition, The National Alliance to End Homelessness, The National Homelessness Law Center, Miriam's Kitchen, The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, Empower DC, The Washington Area Bicyclist Association, Friendship Place, Pathways to Housing, Everyone Home DC, The People for Fairness Coalition, Sunrise DC, Metro DSA, Serve Your City, Bread for the City, The Fair Budget Coalition, ACLU of the District of Columbiaand DC for Democracy

This was a vote against racial justice

In DC, where more than 85% of people experiencing homelessness are Black, ending homelessness is a matter of racial justice. On Monday, the DC Council's Office on Racial Equity released a report clearly stating that voting "no" to pause encampment evictions was a vote against racial justice. The seven Councilmembers who voted "no" yesterday willingly discounted the guidance of their own racial justice experts. 

Their report states, "This racial inequity was caused by Federal and local governments divesting from Black neighborhoods, perpetuating segregation, and relentlessly denying Black residents wealth. Government should work to undo this harm-but the CARE Pilot Program is instead exacerbating it. The Executive's approach, design, and implementation of the CARE Pilot is deliberately cruel, unreasonably punitive, and fails to acknowledge the root causes of homelessness."

A word on compromise

The legislation that failed on Tuesday addressed numerous concerns raised by the Council two weeks prior. We worked with the drafters to negotiate in good faith and helped re-write this legislation to account for concerns raised by many Council members, especially Councilmembers Allen and Henderson (even though their concerns were often untrue and rooted in stereotypes about homelessness). Even though our coalition made multiple attempts to speak with their offices over the past several weeks, our attempts to compromise were met with silence and our meeting requests were unanswered. To our shock and despite these concessions, these two Councilmembers still voted "no."

We're not going anywhere, stay tuned for next steps

By delaying this vote until days before Christmas and New Years' break, we believe the DC Council hoped to avoid public accountability without repercussion. We won't let that happen. Please stay tuned for more ways to hold Councilmembers Mendelson, Henderson, Bonds, Pinto, Cheh, McDuffie, and Allen accountable for choosing harm over housing.