Washington, D.C., February 15, 2023 – Today, the Biden-Harris administration forcibly removed unhoused people from McPherson Square before all unhoused individuals in the encampment were housed – an action strongly condemned by the National Coalition for Housing Justice (NCHJ) as cruel and counterproductive to efforts to end homelessness.
By forcibly removing people experiencing homelessness from McPherson Square and destroying their limited possessions, the Biden-Harris administration prioritized the comfort of housed neighbors and surrounding businesses over the urgent need to reconnect unhoused individuals to homes and services. The administration’s failure to follow the best practices and proven solutions called for in its own federal strategic plan provides communities nationwide looking to sweep unhoused people out of public sight with an unjustifiable excuse to follow suit.
Forced removal from encampments is cruel and not a real solution to homelessness. Because forced removals disconnect individuals from service providers and frequently lead to lost documentation and possessions, this action will ultimately make it more difficult for individuals to exit homelessness. As the Biden-Harris administration’s federal strategic plan makes clear:
“Unless encampment closures are conducted in a coordinated, humane, and solutions-oriented way that makes housing and supports adequately available, these ‘out of sight, out of mind’ policies can lead to lost belongings and identification which can set people back in their pathway to housing; breakdowns in connection with outreach teams, health care facilities, and housing providers; increased interactions with the criminal justice system; and significant traumatization—all of which can set people back in their pathway to housing and disrupt the work of ending homelessness.”
Today’s destruction of McPherson Square encampment is a stain on the Biden-Harris administration’s House America initiative and its goal to advance racial equity. Black people represent 45 percent of the general population of the District of Columbia, but they account for 93 percent of people experiencing homelessness in the city.
NCHJ made repeated offers to the Biden-Harris administration and Bowser administration to convene stakeholders, including the residents of McPherson Square, to develop a plan to rehouse unsheltered individuals as quickly as possible using best practices and proven solutions and to address the city’s ongoing challenges in addressing homelessness. Rather than accept NCHJ’s offer, the Biden-Harris administration and the Bowser administration moved forward with forcibly removing individuals from McPherson Square.
NCHJ urges the Biden-Harris administration to stop all future efforts to forcibly remove unhoused people from national parks and instead prioritize efforts to immediately connect individuals to housing, paired with the supportive services individuals may need and want, such as mental health and substance use counseling and employment services, among others. To end homelessness, the administration and Congress must ensure rental assistance is universally available to all eligible households, expand the supply of housing affordable and available to people with the lowest incomes, and ensure critically needed services are widely available.
“Despite the continued efforts of housing justice advocates, the Biden-Harris administration has gone against its own federal strategic plan by moving forward with using the National Park Service to raid the homes of residents in McPherson Square today. There is nothing compassionate or justice-oriented about evicting someone from their home and disconnecting them from their community and outreach personnel who can help direct them to housing. We have immense concern for our unhoused neighbors in McPherson Square – and in other communities across the country – and are deeply disappointed in our federal partners for the ineffective and unjust actions taken today. We are committed to standing up for our unhoused neighbors in all communities and will continue our advocacy on their behalf,” said Amanda Andere, CEO of Funders Together to End Homelessness.
“We refuse to stand by and quietly watch USICH and a law enforcement agency of the Biden-Harris administration set the standard for so-called ‘compassionate homelessness response’ in D.C., its own backyard. Call this what it is: a racist dog-whistle of ‘so-called compassionate policing.’ Using police to forcibly remove people on an artificial timeline when there are resources available to provide stable housing to every one of these residents is not only foolish policy when real solutions are within reach, it is actually more dangerous for everyone, especially the people who will likely be displaced to another encampment,” said Sarah Hunter, worker-owner at the Housing Justice Collective.
“Ending homelessness requires good faith collaboration between our leaders and the local and national experts in their communities. We are deeply disappointed that our federal and local leaders have dismissed our request to collaborate with them on a more just, humane, and strategic resolution to the McPherson Square encampment. We implore them to reconsider these harmful decisions in the future, and we continue to encourage them to work with leaders in the field to arrive at more effective strategies for ending homelessness in Washington, D.C,” said Ann Oliva, CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
“The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans is deeply disappointed that the early and unjust closure of the McPherson Square Encampment was allowed to proceed. Forcing people who are unsheltered from corner to corner of the city is an unnecessary cruelty and injustice that does nothing to address their housing challenges or the systemic and institutional challenges all DC residents struggle with as they try to find housing. Our leaders are well aware that actions of this type are not a solution to homelessness based on their own Federal Strategic Plan. We implore the Bowser and Biden/Harris Administrations to focus on housing as a solution to unsheltered homelessness,” said Kathryn Monet, CEO of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.
“Raiding camps does not end homelessness. Housing ends homelessness. The only thing more humiliating than defending the only place you call home is proving to the world that you are worthy of a home,” said Donald H. Whitehead, Jr., Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.
“Encampment sweeps without providing housing for residents are counterproductive, costly, and harmful. They damage the health and well-being of those living unhoused, they sever vital connections to health care and other services, and they compromise the personal safety and civic trust of our most vulnerable neighbors. Ironically, sweeps undermine the very paths to housing and financial stability that are promoted as solutions to homelessness, and they create unnecessary costs for local communities. Further, the experience of homelessness itself is traumatic, but this trauma is only compounded when public officials choose to forcibly remove vulnerable people from encampments. Today the Biden-Harris Administration misses an opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of moving unhoused people directly into permanent housing, and we call on them to cease further encampment sweeps going forward,” said Bobby Watts, CEO of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.
“Destroying temporary homes is a traumatic and harmful step that violates the human rights of our most vulnerable neighbors. We condemn the federal government’s role in this action and the DC Government’s failure to move unhoused residents into housing that is readily available. We urge them to stop these harmful activities and honor their shared commitments to housing for all persons,” said Antonia Fasanelli, National Homelessness Law Center.
“Today, the Biden-Harris administration failed to stand by the very principles and best practices it has espoused, instead resorting to the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ actions it urges communities to resist. Using the National Park Service to forcibly remove residents from an encampment, ahead of schedule and well before most encampment residents have safe alternatives, is a blight on the Administration’s efforts to address homelessness. The administration’s unwillingness to hold itself accountable to its own federal strategic plan makes it all the more difficult to prevent other communities from using similarly harmful but politically convenient actions,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
“Youth Collaboratory is disappointed with Mayor Bowser’s and the National Park Service’s decision to move forward with the early destruction of the McPherson Square encampment. At least several dozen of the encampment’s residents remain unconnected to housing options. Destruction of the encampment does not end homelessness, it only scatters the residents to less visible portions of the city, and in doing so, causes harm and disconnects residents from case workers and other supports. All In: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness stipulates that clearing of encampments should only occur when “housing and supports are adequately available.” As this is not the case in McPherson Square, we call on the Bowser Administration and the National Park Service to repair the harm caused by the destruction of the encampment, and to return to the best practices of the All In plan,” said Megan Blondin, Executive Director of Youth Collaboratory
The National Coalition for Housing Justice’s (NCHJ) vision of housing justice guarantees opportunities for everyone in our country to have affordable, safe, accessible, stable housing. We take an approach grounded in racial justice, economic justice, and equity for all who have been marginalized or minoritized.
NCHJ members include national organizations and experts on affordable housing and homelessness, including Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Funders Together to End Homelessness, Housing Justice Collective, National Alliance to End Homelessness, National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, National Coalition for the Homeless, National Homelessness Law Center, National Low Income Housing Coalition, National Health Care for the Homeless Council, True Colors United, and Youth Collaboratory.