National Park Service to D.C. Homeless: No Camping Here

National Park Service to D.C. Homeless: No Camping Here A homeless encampment A homeless encampment in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood in Washington, D.C., near the State Department and Interior Department as seen on Jan. 27, 2020. (Graeme Sloan/Sipa via AP Images)

By Nicole Wells | Monday, 04 April 2022 11:10 AM

The National Park Service (NPS) will be dismantling two homeless camps in Washington, D.C., in early May after receiving several reports of violence and criminal activity, according to the Washington Examiner.

The camps are located on federal land at Columbus Circle outside Union Station and the intersection of New York Avenue and I Street Northwest.

The park service has requested that the city's Office for Health and Human Services provide housing for the camp's inhabitants, the Examiner reports.

"While camping in national parks in Washington, D.C., is prohibited, the NPS has followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 recommendations and the District of Columbia's practice of allowing encampments to remain on park land during the pandemic," Mike Litterst, chief of communications for the National Mall and Memorial Parks, told the Washington Examiner.

"The NPS is abiding by this recommendation whenever possible," Litterst continued. "However, it is our responsibility to consider the overall health and safety of all park users and neighbors and the condition of park resources."

The city began an initiative called Encampment Pilot last fall, which helps the homeless find housing and provides services as encampments are cleared.

After local lawmakers and advocacy groups criticized the deadlines the program set for removing the camps, the city quickly changed its approach.

"Prior to taking any action that would affect people living in encampments, we will give individuals ample notice, except in cases of immediately hazardous conditions," Litterst told the Examiner. "The NPS is committed to taking a social services-first approach and will continue to work closely with [the city] and community partners to connect people living in encampments with resources and housing."

According to Washington Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Wayne Turnage, Encampment Pilot has been somewhat successful since it started, placing 74 people in permanent housing and 17 in hotels until a permanent residence can be found.

Only 30 of the 139 people approached by outreach officials refused assistance, he said.

"We plan to do this by extending outreach and housing services to those residents who are willing to engage with members of the district's encampment team and the outreach workers who are under contract to the Department of Human Services," Turnage told the Examiner.

A similar homeless encampment on Capitol Hill was removed by the park service in October 2021.

D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) told The Washington Post at the time that the problem of homelessness wasn't going away with the clearing of the encampment.

"We need to have a strategy to move folks into housing, otherwise this is a problem that just moves down the block," Silverman said then. "I agree with the mission of the pilot — we have to get folks into housing and the supportive services they need — but we have 190 encampments in this city.

"We need a stronger strategy for the other 187 while we see how this pilot is going to work."