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The Aquilian

D.C. continues ineffective aggression toward homeless in 2023

Statue of General James B. McPherson located at the heart of McPherson Square. Photo from Wikimedia.
By Liam Passey–

The National Park Service has pushed forward a date on which they are going to forcefully remove the homeless encampment in McPherson Square. Originally dated to occur on April 12, the NPS has instead decided to move that date to Feb. 15. This two-month push is just the latest of continued hostility against the homeless community in Washington, D.C.

City officials and the NPS have tended to treat homeless encampments as a major threat to the city. As a result, getting rid of these encampments has become a more formulaic process than solving the actual cause of these encampments. In the District, the only real requirements to remove these encampments are a desire, a 14-day notice and a bulldozer. 

Lately, this process has been met with much criticism. In October, while clearing an encampment in the NoMa neighborhood, a homeless man was struck by a bulldozer while in his tent. Although only suffering minor injuries, the encounter has erupted much debate over the efficacy of removing encampments in such a fashion.

The use of such a technique is not only unnecessarily aggressive and violent but also cost ineffective. An estimated 70 people live in the McPherson Square encampment. With the price the city will spend on removing these citizens, it could afford to house every single one for over a year via housing first initiatives. However, a stigma against the homeless community makes this argument seem ineffective.

The main reason driving local leaders to clear this encampment as fast as possible is a reported increase in drug-related activity in the area. This genuine safety concern must be addressed, but scattering the homeless population from one park to another does not eradicate the claimed problem. 

Drug addiction, alcohol abuse and mental illness are all commonly used excuses for explaining the cause of homelessness. However, from what I have learned, in most cases this is not true; in fact, it is the other way around. Homelessness tends to cause these problems. Without solving homelessness, the city can not solve the problem of drug activity within the homeless community. 

Statistically, the number one root cause of homelessness is actually the lack of affordable housing. Second, is the lack of a living wage. No longer can we solely blame people on the streets for homelessness. In reality, the continuation of homelessness stems and is continued as a result of poor policy execution.

If the District’s local leaders and the NPS actually desire to remove these encampments and clean the streets of drugs for good, they must look in another direction. Opening programs to allow for more housing vouchers and assistance programs can prove to be effective at treating homelessness and be cost-effective. Washington D.C. must look in a direction that seeks to build people up not destroy their already crumbling livelihood.

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