WASHINGTON – The ACLU-DC calls on Mayor Bowser to suspend the encampment evictions and permanent closures that are being carried out as part of the Administration’s CARE pilot program, and for the D.C. Council to pass emergency legislation to stop further encampment clearings and closings if the Mayor chooses not to change course. The following can be attributed to Nassim Moshiree, Policy Director, ACLU of the District of Columbia:
“Mayor Bowser’s pilot program that focuses on removing visible homelessness by clearing encampments and establishing “no camping zones,” is short-sighted and threatens the safety, dignity, and constitutional rights of our unhoused neighbors. While the Administration says they are connecting encampment residents to housing and other supportive services, many of those who have been evicted from these sites have no access to safe housing and have been pushed from park to park, harassed by police officers, and have had their belongings destroyed. Just three weeks ago, a man was injured by a bulldozer when city workers were trying to clear an encampment area.
This pilot raises constitutional concerns under the Fifth Amendment, which requires that the government not deprive people of property without due process of law, especially as the Bowser Administration is creating zones of public land where the property is subject to “immediate disposition” with no notice and no showing that government has any special concerns for property in those locations. With the continuing COVID-19 pandemic that makes many feel unsafe to stay in communal shelters, and as temperatures are dropping, it is dangerous to deprive people of their tents and belongings.
Finally, by using police officers to assist with and enforce these evictions, the District government is placing unhoused residents at increased risk of police harassment and arrest, contributing to the criminalization of poverty and homelessness. The establishment of “no camping zones” to prevent unhoused residents from returning to cleared sites will likely increase these interactions between police and those who are simply trying to survive. It also goes against the recommendations of the D.C. Police Reform Commission to limit police interactions and instead ‘[address] DC’s housing and homelessness crises by continuing to invest in pathways to safe and permanent housing and improving existing programs supporting community members experiencing homelessness.’
Unsheltered homelessness in the District is an issue that demands housing-first solutions and public policies that respect the humanity of our unhoused neighbors and that pass constitutional muster. We ask that the Mayor focus District efforts on providing necessary services and housing to those who are impacted and work alongside the Council and community stakeholders to create a more humane path forward. If the Mayor does not act, then we call on the D.C. Council to immediately pass emergency legislation to stop this harmful and potentially unconstitutional program.”
- Stop the creation of any and all future “no-camping zones” and repeal laws that criminalize homelessness and poverty;
- Work with urgency to end homelessness for all who need housing, not just residents of specific encampments;
- Employ a person-centered and trauma-informed approach to ending homelessness instead of punishing people for living in tents;
- Stop all encampment clearings, particularly during hypothermia season and during COVID-19 in compliance with CDC guidance;
- Reform the emergency shelter system to remove barriers that people living outside have identified as standing in the way of entering shelter; and
- Ensure that all encampments are provided with portable toilets and sanitation stations.