Updated: Nov. 3, 2016 at 12:52 a.m.
The number of homeless people living in encampments in Foggy Bottom has decreased by almost 50 percent from last year, officials at the Deputy Mayor’s Office for Health and Human Services said.
The office encountered 50 people living in encampments last year, compared to 27 this year. The reason for the drop is unclear but could be attributed to the city government’s focus on clearing out encampments, officials said.
Rachel Joseph, the chief of staff for the Deputy Mayor’s office for Health and Human Services, said in an email that there is no way to definitively say why the number of homeless people in the encampments has decreased, but it could be due to the city’s continuous efforts to remove encampments.
“The decrease in the number of individuals found in the defined area may be, in part, related to the continuous efforts by the homeless outreach teams with the Department of Human Services and the Department of Behavioral Health,” she said.
The Interagency Council on Homelessness aims to eliminate homelessness in D.C. by 2020, Joseph said. Removing encampments to provide homeless people with resources is part of that effort, she added.
Under the protocol by the deputy mayor’s office, the Department of Transportation posts signs notifying occupants in encampment areas 14 days before a scheduled encampment cleanup. The outreach team at the office works with occupants to connect them to services before the cleanup day, Joseph said during a meeting for the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission last month.
But convincing people living in the encampments to use D.C.’s resources can be a challenge, Joseph said.
“It should be noted, though, that the reasons people experience homelessness are complex and sometimes getting these individuals to accept services – which can include an offer of housing – can be equally as complex,” she said.
Benjamin Link, the constituent services liaison at the Deputy Mayor’s office for Health and Human Services, said in an email that if individuals reconstruct their encampments, the District can reschedule another cleanup of the area.
“Encampments are located on public space, and we cannot prevent individuals from accessing this space following a cleanup,” Link said. “Thus we recognize that they are likely to return.”
Marina Streznewski, the president of the Foggy Bottom Association, said she has witnessed a decline in the size of encampments in the neighborhood since last year.
Some community members said during the ANC meeting that homeless people return to the encampments after they have been cleaned up by the Deputy Mayor’s office. But Streznewski said that under D.C. laws, it’s unlikely that officials could prevent that from happening.
“So many of the folks who are still outside are folks who have refused help from the city, and that makes things tough,” Streznewski said.
The Homelessness Task Force, a group Streznewski organized last year, is creating palm cards with information about services available to homeless people. The group will provide the cards to people to have available in case they encounter someone who is homeless.
“The information is available in other places but when you are walking down the street and you see somebody, it is better to have something right there that can provide the information,” Streznewski said.
Michael Ferrell, the executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless that helps people experiencing homelessness move into permanent housing, said that for D.C. to end homelessness by 2020, the community and government must work together.
“It really is important for everyone to understand that this is a national as well as a local problem and it’s going to take the collective community involvement in order to solve the problem,” Ferrell said.