Federal Report Calls Encampment ‘Sweeps’ Ineffective and Costly

Weeks after federal officials evicted unhoused people from a Washington, D.C. park, research indicates that similar actions, which usually come at a high cost to cities, have little impact on homelessness in the long term.

2 minute read

February 23, 2023, 10:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Homeless Encampment

Joe Mabel / Wikimedia Commons

A report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) finds that ‘sweeps’ of homeless encampments, in which officials displace residents from established encampments, are “expensive and often of limited long-term effectiveness,” despite their popularity with many local politicians responding to pressure from community groups. Karen Kroll describes the report’s findings in Smart Cities Dive. 

According to critics of the policy, “A sweep that doesn’t include services to help homeless individuals transition toward more permanent housing does little to address the underlying challenges that led to the encampment in the first place, say advocates for people who are homeless.” In the worst cases, “A sweep can set back individuals who were moving toward housing stability and, perhaps, working with a caseworker who knows where to find them.”

Activists say sweeps can be made less disruptive by providing ample notice, “intentional relationship-building” with residents to connect them to resources and services, and working with residents to help them keep their belongings, which often include important items like driver’s licenses. The report highlights a successful example from Denver, where, out of 360 people housed through a supportive housing program, 77 percent remained in stable housing three years later. “As the Denver experiment revealed, providing services that connect individuals to permanent housing is more effective than just clearing homeless encampments, a senior HUD official said.”

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