New Jersey Ave encampment cleanup challenges CDC COVID-19 guidelines, witness says
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ity workers displaced an encampment of people experiencing homelessness from the New Jersey Avenue and O Streets NW Park yesterday morning, according to a Street Sense Media vendor who was in the area and observed the event. The park is located several blocks away from the nonprofit homeless services provider So Others Might Eat.
This was one of two scheduled “encampment protocol engagements” for that date listed on the website for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, the agency that coordinates such cleanups.
“They took everything from these people … all their possessions … all their tents,” the Street Sense Media vendor said. “It’s not fair. Where are homeless people supposed to go?”
The camp residents he spoke with expressed concern that going to a shelter would be more dangerous now that residents in several shelters had tested positive for COVID-19. As of that day, 76 individuals in shelter had tested positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus and four people experiencing homelessness had died from it.
On March 22, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended pausing encampment sweeps amid the pandemic, saying outdoor settings may allow people to increase the distance between themselves and others in comparison to indoor congregate settings like shelters.
“However, sleeping outdoors often does not provide protection from the environment, quick access to hygiene and sanitation facilities, or connection to healthcare,” the CDC website says. “The balance of risks should be considered for each individual experiencing unsheltered homelessness.”
The Department of Human installed 17 handwashing stations and several portable restrooms near encampments and parks in the city in early April.
Washington City Paper reported last month that the deputy mayor’s office removed April cleanup dates from its website and updated the March dates to be “trash-only engagements,” where tents and other belongings would not be thrown out. The DMHHS website did not say the April 14 cleanups would be “trash-only.”
The deputy mayor’s office did not respond to an interview request for this article.