D.C. Homeless Sweeps Contradict White House Policy

Just months after the Biden administration released a blueprint for ending homelessness focused on ‘person-centered’ solutions, federal officials are forcefully displacing unhoused people in encampments around the District.

2 minute read

February 19, 2023, 11:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Tents inhabited by unhoused people in a Washington, D.C. park

christianthiel.net / McPherson Square, Washington, D.C.

After federal and District of Columbia officials displaced the residents of a homeless encampment located just blocks from the White House, critics are accusing the Biden administration of going against its own stated policy, which, on paper, emphasizes “equity, inclusion, and ‘person-centered, trauma-informed, and evidence-based solutions to homelessness’.” Writing in Bloomberg CityLab, Kriston Capps describes the sweep of McPherson Square, which happened months before the District originally said it would.

The strategic plan to fight homelessness released by the White House two months ago strongly denounces police sweeps of homeless encampments. “The White House urged officials to instead tap into the resources made possible by pandemic relief bills to connect those in need with permanent supportive housing.”

Advocates for unhoused people point to the hypocrisy of the actions undertaken by the National Park Service and D.C. officials. “The tent city in DC’s McPherson Square had grown in recent weeks following a wave of evictions in other Washington parks, including several on the archipelago of small circles and triangle plots controlled by NPS throughout the city.” 

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser blamed safety concerns for the action, but critics reject that reasoning. “The dangers faced by people sleeping outdoors, advocates say, makes an urgent case for finding them supportive housing solutions — but not for removing them.” The federal plan itself categorically states that sweeps don’t work. “Asked about the discrepancy, USICH said in a statement that ‘the federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness encourages communities to close encampments in a coordinated, humane, and solutions-oriented way that treats homelessness like a housing and health crisis.’”

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