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Statement from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute on “Encampments Protection and Public Health and Safety Emergency Amendment Act of 2021.”

Contact: Kate Coventry | Senior Policy Analyst | | (202) 886-5176

WASHINGTON, DC—”DCFPI urges DC Councilmembers to support the “Encampments Protection and Public Health and Safety Emergency Amendment Act of 2021.” This critical emergency legislation aims to protect DC’s encampment residents from harm, address the health and safety concerns of encampment residents and neighbors, and ensure the success of the District’s efforts to house people. We also urge Councilmembers to work with the administration to address the longstanding problems with the District’s shelters.

The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) argues 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.” The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agrees. It finds that 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. DCFPI is particularly concerned that the current 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.  

Additionally, HUD finds residents often lose identification, legal documents, and medications, further increasing barriersto housing, and evidence from three cities suggests that encampment clearings “have lasting traumatic psychological and emotional impacts.” Finally, 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” during the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce their exposure to and potential for spreading the virus. 

We also urge the Council to work closely with the administration to address the long standing shortcomings of our current shelter system, which imposes misguided rules that lead to unhoused people being separated from partners, family members, friends, pets, and belongings. 

For all of these reasons, DCFPI calls on the Council to support the “Encampments Protection and Public Health and Safety Emergency Amendment Act of 2021” to halt clearings through hypothermia season while allowing the District to continue housing people staying in encampments. The legislation also addresses health and safety concerns raised by encampment residents and neighbors by providing lavatories, handwashing stations, fire extinguishers, trash receptacles, and needles/sharps disposal containers to encampments.


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