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DC homeless scramble ahead of expedited McPherson Square park clearing

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The day after residents of the district’s largest homeless camp found out they would Kicked out of Macpherson Square Two months earlier than expected, outreach workers and officials in Washington, DC were busy Wednesday. To avoid leaving dozens of residents in the cold with nowhere to go.

Of the estimated 70 people crammed into the park, only 15 had been approved to receive housing assistance from the district as of Wednesday morning, according to Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services Wayne Turnage. Turnage said he had 10 more pending approval and the rest “simply refused to engage with our team.”

But a resident of McPherson Park, which sits at the heart of the district’s downtown government and financial departments, said the city’s efforts over the winter have been tepid so far.

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On Wednesday, about a dozen outreach workers will drive through the camp, scribbling residents’ information on clipboards and guiding individuals through the steps they need to take to apply for housing assistance by the new Feb. 15 deadline. Did. His 32-seat bus, owned by the city, was parked at Parkside for caseworkers to use as makeshift office space. Some residents seemed to listen. Others kept their distance.

Some people experiencing homelessness have almost lost faith in the system by trying to seek help in the past. “You’re not going to help us all,” one woman repeatedly yelled at her caseworker Wednesday afternoon before going inside the tent.

Amidst the commotion, 45-year-old Sherry Byers emerged from her tent in the south corner of the park. She put on her thick gloves against the cold wind.

“I have been here since June 2022,” she said, pointing to items such as tarps, bicycles and wheeled carts with bags bundled around the tent.

Byars said he lived in Oxon Run Park in southeastern Washington before moving to McPherson. She knew officials were planning to clear out the downtown encampment, but knew little about when or how the cleanup would take place. were posted around the park on Monday, but residents continued to tear them up.

“How do we move everything?” Byers said. “We’re not camping. We live here.”

Encampment McPherson Square, which has grown over the past six months, was scheduled to be demolished on April 12, during hypothermia season in Washington, DC. Termination declared. But Turnage told the National Park Service, which oversees the park’s grounds, that “high levels of illegal drugs and other crimes impede social service outreach and endanger social service providers, mental health clinicians.” I requested that the schedule be advanced because of “activities”. unprotected individuals and the public” According to a letter obtained by The Washington Post.

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In interviews, neither Turnage nor Jamal Weldon, who oversees the district’s response to homeless camps in Turnage’s division, were able to provide specific examples of camp residents endangering service providers and clinicians. However, Weldon said he had received reports from outreach staff of “hostile activity” at the park, and that the U.S. Park Police also observed “safety hazards” during their regular patrols of the area. said.

Jessie Rabinowitz, senior manager of policy and advocacy for homeless assistance organization Miriam’s Kitchen, said the rushed approach to removing homeless residents from McPherson has been linked to property crime, drug use, unsanitary conditions, and other threats that authorities have made to the site. I said that I can’t address the issues listed in . .

“We’re not really fixing the root of these problems. We’re just moving them to another location,” Rabinowitz said. “Why is camp eviction the only solution we have ever used?”

Some who lived in McPherson Square moved there after being forced out of other camps. Daniel Kingery, who has lived at the park since April 2020, said he could track the closure of the DC encampment by the time McPherson’s population grows.Kingery said the first big wave came in June 2020 when his DC officials Franklin Square closed for refurbishment — and moved Homeless residents who sought shelter there.At each encampment sweep — at Nomaupon new jersey avenueoutside union square —More people ventured into Macpherson Square and set up camp.

Kingery, who said he was a former Marine, began living in McPherson after being evicted from nearby Lafayette Square. There, he protested the government day and night until April 2020, when the U.S. Secret Service ordered him evacuated. He refused, was arrested and put under a curfew.

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“People think of McPherson as the last bastion encampment,” Rabinowitz said. “There are people who live there and are now being evicted for the fourth or fifth time. It shows what we’ve been saying for years that it doesn’t work.”

Turnage has admitted that the closure of camps will lead to evictions.

“We try to avoid that as much as possible by offering different services.” while they await housing arrangements. “It’s part of the [encampment residents] Just move. ”

Turnage said the district will spend the next two weeks asking about 50 residents to accept government assistance, seek refuge in one of the city’s accessible facilities, or leave the area by February 15. He plans to make a “quick effort” to persuade him.

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Kingary, 61, who lives under a large beach umbrella in the southwest corner of the park, said government lobbying and police intervention had been minimal at the camp until this week, even when residents themselves called for help. said. He derided Wednesday’s visibly intensified effort as “one big show.”

“This is all to make it look like you’re doing something while you’re moving people from one park to another,” Kingery says.

Byars said an outreach worker stopped by her tent on Wednesday to provide information about her options. But Byers was skeptical. She said the city approved her a housing voucher in July, but no one helped her find a place to stay.

Turnage is Balance of housing vouchers and services related to the persistent shortage of caseworkers that has hampered the city’s ability to make a meaningful dent in the homeless crisis.

“We have enough vouchers to basically eliminate the homeless in this city,” Turnage said. “The issue is what units are available to soak up these vouchers and work with these residents, especially those with challenges, to ensure they get the wraparound services they need. You have to have a case manager available for you. It collapses and fails.”

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For residents of the empty McPherson Square house, Wednesday’s increase in civil servants gave little hope.

Kingery, who continues the protests demanded to be near the White House, said he didn’t know what he would do if the parks were forced to close in two weeks. He can’t go back to Lafayette Square, he said. Franklin Square, one block away from McPherson, is considered a no-camping zone. Options diminish as districts close more sites.

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