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D.C. has spent a total of $172,238.89 on homeless encampment cleanups since October 2015, according to a D.C. Council oversight document from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services.
More than half of that sum—$90,723.87 spent by the District Department of Transportation—includes costs to erect a fence at 26th and K streets NW, the site of the largest and most contentious encampment cleanup in the past year (an exact spending breakdown was not provided). At $132,334.60, the three cleanups near the Whitehurst Freeway—on Nov. 16, Nov. 20, and Dec. 3—were by far the most costly. Of the approximately 25 people the city says were living at that site, 14 were housed and 12 were “relocated.”
The District conducted encampment cleanups at 13 sites between October 2015 and January 2016, according to the document, which included costs to the deputy mayor’s office, DDOT, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Department of Public Works, the Department of Human Services, and the Department of Behavioral Health. DDOT and DPW, the agencies tasked with posting notification signs and cleaning up and disposing of trash and other items at the sites, spent $139,281.
Other larger encampment cleanups took place behind a building at 441 4th St. NW—where approximately 10 people were living—and at an eight-person camp near the Tenley-Friendship Library. As of Jan. 28, the deputy mayor’s office says it’s “aware of 13 encampments.”
The District says approximately 65 people lived at camps disbanded between Oct. 1 and Jan. 8; of that number, 27 were housed and 32 were “relocated.” Of the 21 people who lived at the seven sites cleaned up in December and January, just 2 were housed.
The District’s right-to-shelter law guarantees individuals a temporary place to stay when the temperature dips into dangerous territory (this period between November and April is called hypothermia season). But for a variety of reasons, many homeless people chose not to enter shelter and to remain outdoors.
Meanwhile, for the first time, the District is continuing to disband encampments in the freezing months. The city, per a 2012 protocol, has the option to suspend encampment cleanups during hypothermia season; the deputy mayor’s office, which oversees cleanups, has opted not to do that.
“The District is obligated to act responsibly and responsively to address encampment issues—balancing the rights of individuals experiencing homelessness and other constituents,” the deputy mayor’s office says in an oversight document. “It is not safe for people to be outside when it gets dangerously cold, and we have a responsibility to bring them indoors.”
This echoes what Deputy Mayor Brenda Donald has said on the subject since November over the objections of advocates.
The deputy mayor’s office says it plans to finalize revisions to the protocol—which outlines the amount of time needed to give notice and what should be done with an unhoused person’s belongings—by this spring. In the meantime, the office says it does not plan to suspend encampment cleanups: “The District is obligated to act responsibly and responsively to address encampment issues and will continue to do so.”
The Council’s Committee on Health and Human Services is currently holding an oversight hearing on the deputy mayor’s office.