Over the past few months, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Coordinated Assistance and Resources for Encampments (CARE) pilot program has drawn the ire of council members, advocates and the housing-insecure alike.
Criticism has centered on treatment of the people living in the District’s three largest homeless communities and whether transitional hotel rooms and apartments can sufficiently meet their needs.
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Gigi Nelson, whose single-member district includes a homeless encampment near 21st and E streets in Northwest, said this ongoing issue reveals what she described as the D.C. Council and mayor’s apathy toward eliminating housing insecurity in the District.
Speaking in opposition of the CARE pilot program, Nelson stressed that it’s incumbent upon the D.C. Council to figure out a solution that respects the dignity of the homeless and provides them with sustainable housing.
“It’s hard enough for people who are unhoused to take care of themselves in the middle of a pandemic without them also having to try to figure out where they’re going to go,” said Nelson as she recounted hearing complaints from some of her constituents in ANC 2C03 about homeless encampments along portions of Downtown D.C.
Policy suggestions that Nelson raised included eliminating the District’s height restriction and implementing zoning changes that can compel a wider spread of affordable housing. In regard to the latter, the D.C. Zoning Commission expanded inclusionary zoning, though it remains to be seen how many affordable units the change would yield.
“If there is no housing readily available, it’s unfair to ask people to move elsewhere just because it inconveniences others to see them in our public spaces,” Nelson said. “If people want to effect change, they should make a much more concerted effort to engage their council members who actually have the power to do something.”
A Question of the CARE Pilot’s Effectiveness
On Dec. 6, not long after the razing of an encampment near New Jersey Avenue and O Street in Northwest, D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (D- Ward 1) introduced emergency legislation to halt the encampment clearing process.
Last week, council members postponed deliberation on the legislation, titled “Encampments Protection and Public Health and Safety Emergency Declaration of 2021,” until Dec. 21.
The Informer unsuccessfully attempted to contact Nadeau’s office for comment.
The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services organized the CARE pilot program in response to concerns about safety, health and the greater community’s inability to utilize public spaces. District government staffers converging on these areas have been charged with engaging with occupants and connecting them with mental health and housing providers.
Critics of the CARE pilot program point to the clearing of the NoMa encampment in October that ended with a skid-steer loader hitting one homeless person. That incident briefly brought encampment clearings to a halt and compelled protocol changes.
Another point of contention concerns whether displaced people have been connected to housing.
Data compiled by the D.C government showed that, as of December 9, 15 out of the 32 people who called the New Jersey Avenue and O Street NW encampment home have entered a lease. The same has been determined for 32 out of 45 people from the NoMa encampment and 16 out of 34 people from 21st and E streets in Northwest.
Earlier this month, Bowser defended the CARE pilot program and touted her years-long efforts to reduce homelessness through Homeward DC. In her launch of Homeward 2.0 earlier this year, Bowser argued that targeted funding of the programs under that interagency strategic plan can make D.C. a national leader in ending homelessness.
Some people, like Nickey Crowder, beg to differ.
Though she currently has a month-to-month lease, Crowder said it doesn’t compare to having the funds to live comfortably in any part of the District. Crowder, a mother of two, has immersed herself in a search for new accommodations but finds herself without viable options because she has yet to receive a voucher that will subsidize her $16.50 per hour income.
“The city has been handling housing poorly and it got worse after COVID-19,” said Crowder, a Southeast resident. “The leaders don’t care about Black people. They just care about what they got going on for themselves and white people. I work so hard to get to the finish line and I still don’t get rewarded for it.”
More D.C. Residents Consider Making that Move
In 2020, the D.C. Office of Revenue Analysis found that 17,000 more people left the District than the previous year in what had been speculated as a response to the pandemic and search for more affordable housing.
Southeast resident Chazmin Outten revealed having similar thoughts. Out of frustration with the District’s ever-increasing cost of living, she has gelled plans to move south within the next five years. Outten said that, even with a full-time job, she struggles to scrape up enough to live in a mold-ridden apartment that only has one washing machine for all tenants.
Outten expressed solidarity with the District’s homeless population, saying they have fared much worse without any kind of safety net. She criticized the District government for what she described as its inaccessible services that fail to address housing insecurity’s root causes.
“You don’t have any programs or assistance for these folks,” Outten said. “You know certain reasons why they can’t go to work and provide for their families but you’re quick to take their abode because you think it’s making the city look less than it’s supposed to be. The shelters are packed. Rapid rehousing is limited. It’s counterproductive for the city to elevate if there’s not much housing assistance.”