Officials in Washington, D.C., have cleared out numerous homeless encampments in the nation’s capital ahead of Washington’s summer tourist season.  

The National Park Service and the city government cleared tents and other makeshift housing materials from six sections of land in the Northwest section of Washington last week. The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services plans to clear an encampment in Southeast Washington on Wednesday.  

“The District’s Encampment Response Team was activated to protect residents on District property after dangerous circumstances arose, including fires, danger of traffic collisions, multiple assaults, and growing rodent issues,” Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Wayne Turnage told The Daily Signal in a prepared statement.

“Closing encampments is not a part of the District’s strategy to reduce homelessness,” Turnage said. “Instead, encampment engagements happen when there is a threat to public health or safety. The District continues to make investments in affordable housing, housing supports and economic supports, which are all elements of our strategy to reduce homelessness.”

The homeless in the camps were given two weeks’ notice ahead of the encampment dismantling.  

The clearing of the encampments began about three weeks after D.C. resident and Heritage Foundation staffer S.R. Hankinson sent a letter to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser questioning the city’s decision to allow the tent communities in the city. (Heritage founded The Daily Signal in 2014.) 

“City-provided trash cans, not intended for residential waste, are not able to absorb the domestic trash of all the camp inhabitants—even should they choose to use them, as many evidently do not,” Hankinson wrote to Bowser. “Rats are as common as squirrels in the camp areas.”   

In the letter to Bowser, which Hankinson shared with The Daily Signal, he argued that if it was the city’s policy to “allow individuals and groups to sleep, cook, and live on city-controlled grassy areas,” then D.C. officials should also “announce this opportunity to both American and foreign visitors so that they can enjoy the experience and savings as well.” 

The land that was once filled with tents now sits empty, some of it fenced off.  

Before and after the clearing of the homeless encampment at the intersection of Virginia Avenue and 22nd Street Northwest in Washington, D.C. (Photo: S.R. Hankinson)
Before and after the clearing of a homeless encampment near the Kennedy Center in Northwest Washington, D.C. (Photo: S.R. Hankinson)

“The National Park Service has done its duty to restore national property in Washington to its proper purpose,” Hankinson told The Daily Signal on Tuesday. “Let’s hope that the D.C. government, and other big cities across the country, do their part to return public property to its intended use, while taking care of the indigent in more suitable circumstances.”