Two city workers drag a tent full of belongings to a garbage can
credit: Mary Walrath

A Foggy Bottom tent community — referred to by advocates as a “secret” encampment, due to how long it had gone unnoticed — was evicted by the District on Oct.18. Such “sweeps” are organized and overseen by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services (DMHHS) as a continuation of procedural clean up efforts that began receiving increased attention from the Bowser Administration in November 2015. The encampment was both out of sight and less than safe — nestled on a grassy island between expressway off-ramps and city streets. Both entangled in groves of trees and bushes and only viewable by motorists zipping by at full speed off of the traffic circle, the encampment was only discovered when the City received a complaint from the public, reported DMHHS representative Ben Link.

Encampment viewMany residents of the encampment had moved their items or vacated the space prior to the arrival of Department of Human Services (DHS) officials, who told remaining residents that all of their possessions would be disposed of if not promptly moved. A young woman, who was awoken by the sound of trucks pulling up, told Street Sense that she was told she may “either move her things or have them thrown in the trash.” “This is all I own,” she said.

Those remaining in the encampment became upset and tensions ran high. Two young women argued, one sobbing, “Where are we supposed to go. Where are we going? Are we supposed to take everything we own on this Earth? And then do what?”

City workers provided little in the way of suggestions for remedying this problem and those from DHS reiterated multiple times that they have been explicitly told not to speak to the press under any circumstances, leading individuals away in order to talk to them.

Crews shoveled up trash and dragged entire tents full of possessions through the dirt to be heaved into the back of garbage trucks. Some laughed and joked, some made disgusted faces and noises. One approached to lament the fact that he, along with many others, dislike performing these clean ups. “I hate doing it… I think it’s done pretty humanely, but I still hate it, this is all some people own. The ‘richest county in the world,’ huh?”

Staff from Miriam’s Kitchen, a food and housing resource utilized by many homeless people in D.C., arrived roughly a half hour after the 10 a.m. clean up began. They went to work speaking with remaining individuals and making calls to connect them with available resources. A bus labeled UPO Shelter Hotline Transport eventually showed up, as well.

An elderly camp resident that had been seen tidying up the surrounding area before the sweep began moved his items even closer to the busy road — to the edge of the sidewalk — in an attempt to avoid eviction by remaining technically “off of the property.” Officials continually pressured him to move, regardless. When Street Sense left the scene, he was still there. Trucks remained and Miriam’s Kitchen outreach workers continued to work with those left behind.

 

A member of the encampment moves his teams to the edge of the sidewalk in an attempt to avoid eviction

 

A young female resident lamented needing to get to school but still being unsure of where she will be able to return to at the end of the night when it’s all over. “It’s like you try to do something good but you always get pushed 15 steps back,” said another. “I recently got a job and it’s like ‘okay, I’m working now, that’s great, but I’m still homeless.’”