Workers cleared the E Street site with a garbage truck
Ben Burgess / K Street Photography

The building at 2025 E St. NW is still emblazoned with the notable line from Clara Barton’s World War II telegraph, “I am with the wounded.” The building is no longer home to the American Red Cross, which Barton founded, and as of 10 a.m. on March 29, the public space across the street from it is no longer home to the residents of a homeless encampment. The District’s Department of Human Services posted notice of on March 15 and made good on its promise two weeks later.

The operation was carried out without incident, unlike the November 2017 clear-out in the same location which a homeless man was arrested. There was also no police tape this time, and there were no organized protesters.

[Read more: What happened during the November sweeps at the same location]

Despite the relative calm, the operation was also quite different from a clean-up that occurred earlier this year. In early February, the District government asked residents of the camp to identify what was trash. The city disposed of the garbage, but allowed structures and personal belongings to remain. Sean Barry, communications director for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health & Human Services, says the city may make allowances, such as then when the weather is especially cold. “The District may still engage the encampment site at the scheduled time to reduce the trash and waste on site,” Barry said. The overnight low in the District was 26 degrees Fahrenheit on Feb. 8.

For some, however, this kind of accommodation is not sufficient. The law firm Covington & Burling has filed a class-action suit against the city on behalf of all residents living on public lands in the District. According to firm partner Sarah Wilson, the city has a history of destroying “personal property belonging to homeless residents” and is in violation of protections under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A staff member of the firm was on site to observe and document the March 29 clear-out.

Workers from Miriam's Kitchen helped the remaining resident.

Jesse Rabinowitz and Andrew Wassenich  help a camp resident organize his things. Photo by Ben Burgess / K Street Photography

Of the five tent sites that were most apparent early in the day, all but one seemed to have been abandoned in advance of the scheduled clean-up. A gentleman in an ivy cap and smoking jacket occupied that last camp. He methodically went through a pile of belongings that could have filled a minivan — milk crates, Christmas wreaths, laundry baskets, boots and blankets — while the remains of the other sites were loaded into garbage trucks with pitchforks and rakes. Two outreach workers from social-services agency Miriam’s Kitchen helped the lone resident sort and relocate, racing the clock against the inevitable disposal.

A woman who described herself as homeless watched from across the street, popping white mints into her mouth as city workers loaded two bright orange garbage trucks. She said that setting up camps wasn’t how she chose to live. With three or four bags packed neatly beside her, she noted that the accumulation of waste and the accompanying stench had to be cleaned up. She said she didn’t blame the city for what was happening. “People need help,” she said. “I know that being homeless means having to live with less. Others need help understanding that.” She stressed the importance of cleanliness and said that for her “living clean” meant avoiding many shelters and taking her chances on the street. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,” she said, referencing Psalm 23.“But where are the green pastures for the homeless?”

A trash pile near many tents that had been abandoned before the cleanup

The other tents, and trash, had been abandoned ahead of the scheduled clean-up. Photo by Ben Burgess / K Street Photography