Testimony

Testimony at the Health & Human Public Oversight Roundtable about the CARE Pilot Program and Ending Encampment Clearings

Chairman Gray and Chairperson Nadeau and members of the Committees, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Kate Coventry, and I am a senior policy analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. DCFPI is a nonprofit organization that promotes budget choices to reduce economic and racial inequality and build widespread prosperity in the District of Columbia through independent research and thoughtful policy recommendations.

I am here today to discuss the new Coordinated Assistance and Resources for Encampments (CARE) Pilot Program and to ask the Council to end encampment clearings and no encamping zones. If the Council is not willing to end encampment clearings, it should at the very least:

  • suspend encampment clearings and the creation of no encamping zones during for one year or through the end of the public emergency;
  • request Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services (DMHHS) provide more information on the CARE pilot, including its outcome measures, budget, and funding sources;
  • require the DC Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) to review and provide input to DMHHS on the CARE protocol;
  • forbid the use of heavy machinery in encampment clearings; and
  • require the District to address the shortcomings of the shelter system that lead individuals to sleep outside.

The District Should End Encampment Clearings and the Creation of No Encamping Zones

As a member of The Way Home campaign, the campaign to end chronic homelessness in the District, we believe it is a victory for DC any time a neighbor moves from homelessness into housing.[1] So we are thrilled that nearly 100 of our neighbors living in encampments will move into housing as part of the CARE pilot. But we have grave concerns about the clearing of encampments and the creation of no encamping zones, and we urge the District to stop these harmful practices. The District can continue to house people staying in encampment without forcing other encampment residents who are not receiving housing to move to new locations. Outreach workers have reported that residents who were not offered housing and were displaced during the NoMA encampment clearing have moved to other encampments.

Prior to 2015, the District did not clear encampments except in rare circumstances for health and safety reasons. This was in keeping with national best practice. The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) argues:

The forced dispersal of people from encampment settings is not an appropriate solution or strategy, accomplishes nothing toward the goal of linking people to permanent housing opportunities, and can make it more difficult to provide such lasting solutions to people who have been sleeping and living in the encampment.[2]

The USICH also maintains that clearing encampments can undermine the goal of ending homelessness, “as forcing individuals to move can disrupt relationships with outreach workers and create distrust, making an individual less likely to accept an offer of housing.”[3] The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) finds that continuous sweeps cause encampment residents to focus on meeting short term needs, “disrupting the level of stability necessary for encampment residents to engage in long term planning” needed to move into housing.[4] Additionally, outreach workers reported to HUD that residents lose identification, legal documents, and medications,[5] making it more difficult to move them into housing. Evidence from three cities suggests that encampment clearings “have lasting traumatic psychological and emotional impacts” for individuals who are not moved into housing.[6] We have reason to believe this is happening under the CARE pilot as not all encampment residents are receiving housing. We are particularly concerned that these encampment clearings are happening during hypothermia season, disrupting relationships with outreach workers who try to ensure that individuals are safe during cold weather and leading to the loss of life-saving items like sleeping bags and tents.

For all of these reasons, the Council should end all encampment clearings and the creation of no encamping zones. If the Council is not willing to end encampment clearings outright, it should at the very least suspend them for one year or the duration of the public health emergency whichever is longer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that “if individual housing options are not available, [the government should] allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are.” While the District is offering housing to some encampment residents through the CARE pilot, others will not receive housing. The CDC reports that clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community, increasing the potential for spreading COVID-19. DCFPI urges the District to protect the health of those living in encampments by following CDC guidance and halting all encampment clearings at least until the end of the public emergency.

The District Should Provide More Information on CARE

DMHHS should provide additional information on the CARE pilot in real time. Right now, both the “Encampment Pilot Informational Sheet” and “Encampment Pilot FAQ” are outdated, missing details of the fourth site to be cleared.[7] There is a lack of information on the pilot’s intended goals, making it unclear what metrics the District intends to evaluate to decide whether or not to expand the CARE pilot to more sites. We ask DMHHS to release their goals, metrics that will be used to measure these goals, and details on how they will decide to end or expand the pilot.

Advocates have also requested detailed budget data, including the amount spent on each government agency participating and the sources of all funding. One national HUD study found a huge range in the costs of clearing encampments: from $1,080 to $6,208 per person who was unsheltered, not including the costs of housing for these individuals.[8] DCFPI and other advocates are concerned that funding this pilot will cause budget shortfalls and/or lead to cuts to other homeless services. We ask that DMHHS provide detailed CARE budget information including sources of funding.

The ICH Should Review and Provide Input on the CARE Pilot

The ICH is “a group of cabinet-level leaders, providers of homeless services, advocates, homeless and formerly homeless leaders that come together to inform and guide the District’s strategies and policies for meeting the needs of individuals and families who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless in the District of Columbia.”[9] DMHHS should meet with the ICH, particularly with the Consumer Committee, to get feedback and advice on the CARE pilot. The Council should review this feedback and urge DMHHS to incorporate it into the program’s design.

The District Should Address Shortcomings in the Shelter System that Lead to Encampments

As described in a HUD report on encampments, “decisions about where to stay represent pragmatic choices among the best available alternatives[…]Encampments form in response to the absence of other, desirable options for shelter.”[10]

While the District has made strides in improving singles shelters, much more is left to do. The replacement for 801 East Men’s Shelter has been delayed because of supply chain issues. Replacements for the Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter, the Adam’s Place Men’s Shelter, the New York Avenue Men’s Shelter, and the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) Shelter have not been started yet. While funding was included in the fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget for an LBGT shelter for single adults, there has not been time for the District to launch this new program. DC’s shelters also share a number of shortcomings identified by HUD that may contribute to increased number of people staying in encampments:[11]

  • DC’s shelters lead to separation from partners, family members, or friends. The shelter system for adults without children is segregated by sex except for one recreation center that is only open on hypothermia alert nights. Otherwise, adults with partners, family members, or friends of a different gender cannot go into shelter together.
  • DC’s shelters do not allow pets. Evidence finds “that animal companionship is fortifying and contributes to the emotional well-being of people experiencing homelessness, including encouraging owners to obtain sobriety, leave abusive relationships, and avoid incarceration.”[12] When asked, most individuals will not give up their pets and will choose to live outside rather than give them up.[13]
  • DC’s shelters restrict the number of belongings residents can have. Most DC shelters allow residents to only two bags. Many find it impossible to reduce all of their belongings to just two bags.

HUD identified other shortcomings of shelter that are more inherent to the program design.[14] Residents worry about personal safety and the safety of their belongings. They also worry about exposure to germs and disease, and this was before the COVID-19 pandemic. These concerns have only been heightened by the pandemic. The District should take these concerns into account when building new shelters.

DMHHS Should Stop the Use of Heavy Machinery

At the NoMA encampment clearing, a government employee tried to use a front loader to remove a tent with a person still inside it. This could have led to grave injury or death. DMHHS should stop the use of heavy machinery during encampment clearings. The National Park Service has been able to clear encampments without the use of heavy machinery. DMHHS should be able to do so as well.

The District Should Improve the Sanitation at Encampments

The District is currently providing portable handwashing stations and toilets at some encampments, but not all. DMHHS should review the locations of all current encampments and add handwashing stations and toilets wherever feasible. There have also been reports that some facilities have not been cleaned and maintained because the District has failed to pay for these services.[15] If this issue has not already been addressed, it should be rectified as soon as possible. Finally, DMHHS should regularly check each station to ensure that it is functioning and has soap and water.

DMHHS should also provide encampment residents with trashcans and ensure the cans are emptied on a regular basis.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify, and I am happy to answer any questions.

[1] Jesse Rabinowitz, “The Way Home Statement on Mayor Bowser’s new approach to homeless encampments,” The Way Home Campaign, October 4, 2021.

[2]Ending Homelessness for People Living in Encampments: Advancing the Dialogue.” United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. August 2015.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Rebecca Cohen, Will Yetvin, and Jill Khadduri, “Understanding Encampments of People Experiencing Homelessness and Community Responses: Emerging Evidence as of Late 2018,” U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Policy Development and Research. January 7, 2019.

[5] Lauren Dunton, Jill Khadduri, Kimberly Burnett, Nichole Fiore, and Will Yetvin, “Exploring Homelessness among People Living in Encampments and Associated Cost: City Approaches to Encampments and What They Cost,” U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Policy Development and Research. February 2020.

[6] Rebecca Cohen, Will Yetvin, and Jill Khadduri.

[7]Encampment Pilot FAQ” and “Encampment Pilot Informational Sheet,” Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services,

[8] Lauren Dunton, Jill Khadduri, Kimberly Burnett, Nichole Fiore, and Will Yetvin.

[9]About ICH,” DC ICH. Retrieved November 8, 2021.

[10] Rebecca Cohen, Will Yetvin, and Jill Khadduri.

[11] Ibid.

[12]Improving Outcomes in Homelessness: Keeping People and Pets Together,” National Alliance to End Homelessness and PetSmart Charities, February 2020

[13] Ibid.

[14] Rebecca Cohen, Will Yetvin, and Jill Khadduri.

[15] Sam Ford, “DC tent city toilet servicer says work will resume after city paid him what he was owed.” abc 7 news, September 27, 2021