The tents still occupy two parks in Washington, D.C., but there are fewer people living in them as protesters with the Occupy movement flee for warmer quarters.
The desertion of the Occupy D.C. is fueling class divisions within the movement among “those who can’t go home again and those who chose not to,” according to the Washington Post. Homeless people flocked to the parks this fall and are now apparently among the few remaining.
One of them is Blair Rush, a 41-year-old homeless woman interviewed by the Post. She told the newspaper the encampment began to empty once the weather turned cold and protesters returned to their homes.
Health conditions at Occupy D.C.’s two locations, McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza, are on the rise as a result of the brisk winter weather. According to the Post, there are “increased sightings of rats nestling under pallets strewn with sleeping bags.” Hypothermia is also a growing concern of D.C. health officials.
Despite these problems, the National Park Service has granted protesters a permit through February to maintain a “24-hour vigil” in D.C. That decision came after House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) revealed protesters destroyed $400,000 in sod, a project funded by President Obama’s stimulus.
The local police union last week blamed the ongoing Occupy protest for a sharp increase in violent crime in Washington, D.C. Fraternal Order of Police Chairman Kristopher Baumann said violent crime is up by 13 percent since the Occupy D.C. protest began as police officers have been pulled out of local neighborhoods and reassigned to the protest instead.
Leaders of the Occupy movement dismissed concerns about the weather and the hardships facing protesters. Organizer Kevin Zeese, a former aide to Ralph Nader and past U.S. Senate candidate, said the activists were relocating to houses so they could gear up for expanded activities in the spring.