Benjamin Burgess

D.C. government workers cleared an encampment of approximately 12 homeless residents near 27th and K Streets NW on the morning of July 28.

The cleanup was the second attempt to clear the area in the past five weeks and only the most recent of several conducted near the point where Potomac River Freeway and Whitehurst Freeway meet.

“The city should do something truly efficacious about the homeless, instead of letting them live under the highway [overpasses],” said Dale Barnhard, a Foggy Bottom resident who owns property just across 27th Street NW from the encampment. “But the political will doesn’t exist for that because the political constituency doesn’t exist for it.”

Unlike the previous cleanup, campers were not only asked to pack their belongings, but also to leave the area just below the overpass so Department of Public Works (DPW) employees could dispose of garbage and unclaimed items.

Some campers expressed frustration with the crew. One was particularly emotional as his Friendship Place case manager, Molly Vetter, worked to calm him and determine where to store his belongings. Despite the noticeable instances of tension, every camper worked with DPW and other government workers to create a pile of unwanted items for disposal.

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The cleanup lasted more than 90 minutes– about three times the duration of the previous cleanup– as campers gathered their belongings. Throughout, Metropolitan Police Department Officer Singh and a representative from the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services supervised the campers and explained cleanup expectations.

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According to Judy Williams, head of homeless outreach for the Department of Behavioral Health, one of the two pit bulls staying in the camp had bitten the hand of one of her colleagues earlier that week. Orange cones partitioned the camp from the lawn with signs reading, “Beware of dogs.”

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Ultimately, the dogs left with their owners from the encampment, although a truck from the Washington Humane Society was present and ready to take the animals to a shelter.

Meanwhile, M. Leigh and Donnell, residents at a nearby satellite encampment, stayed with their belongings throughout the morning, wary of the cleanup occurring just across the off ramp.

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“If they want to give us housing, we’d be happy to leave our abodes,” M. Leigh said, scoffing at the D.C. regulation that prohibits the use of a “temporary abode” on public property.

Neither of the two satellite encampment sites across the highway exit were cleaned up. However, there are cleanup notices on both that were effective the previous week and will not expire until August 4 and 5.

Photos by Benjamin Burgess.