It’s the Middle of Winter. The NPS Still Plans to Evict a D.C. Homeless Encampment.
The National Park Service plans to clear the McPherson Square homeless encampment on February 15, amid D.C.’s hypothermia season
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The National Park Service intends to evict residents of Washington, D.C.’s largest homeless encampment on February 15, two months earlier than previously planned, The Washington Post reports.
The decision could impact up to 70 people living in the camp, which is located in McPherson Square, two blocks away from the White House. As of Wednesday morning, only 15 of the 70 people living in tents at McPherson Square had been approved to receive housing assistance, and ten more were awaiting approval, the Post reported. According to Wayne Turnage, the city’s deputy mayor for health and human services, the rest “had simply refused to engage with our team.” But people living at the park, located in downtown D.C., said the city has provided them little support over the past few months.
Now, residents are being forced out in the middle of what the local department of health and human services calls “hypothermia season” —the period from November 1 to April 15 when the temperature or wind chill often reaches 32 degrees or below.
McPherson Square is part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, which are managed by the NPS.
Previously, the McPherson Square encampment was scheduled to be cleared by April 12, closer to when hypothermia season in D.C. would end. But on January 9, Turnage asked the NPS to move up the date of the encampment clearing, according to a January 27 letter from Jeffrey Reinbold, the National Mall and Memorial Parks superintendent.
“Specifically, the District reports that contracted social service providers and mental health clinicians feel increasingly unsafe working at McPherson Square and are unable to provide on-site services to an encampment of this size,” Reinbold says in the letter, obtained by DCist and radio station WAMU.
Reinbold also said the NPS has received increasing complaints of “trash and debris blocking public access, prostitution, open air drug and alcohol use, and public harassment of residents and visitors to the area.”
The increase in criminal activity, he added, could have been exacerbated by the NPS’s December closure of the nearby Scott Circle encampment, where violence and drug use was common. In the past year, U.S. Park Police say they have made 30 arrests at McPherson Square, and three people have died from drug overdoses there.
The decision to close the McPherson Square encampment later this month was prompted by “imminent health and safety risks,” Reinbold said.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the NPS has stopped enforcing its regulations against camping in D.C. But it’s slowly starting to clear encampments again, with the goal of fully enforcing the law in the district by the end of 2023, DC News Now reported.
To assist with the clearing, D.C. will bus residents out of McPherson Square and distribute warm clothing, Turnage told DCist.
Resident Bernice Norman told 7News that McPherson Square is “not a safe place.”
“There’s a lot of drama that goes on here at nighttime,” Norman said.
But she wonders where her neighbors will go if the NPS moves forward with the eviction in a couple weeks.
“Some of them have friends, some of them have families, some of them don’t. Some of them might go to a shelter. Some of them might go to a hospital. Some of them might go to jail,” she said.