Last November, city housing officials made a sweep of some 40 homeless men and women living in white tents under the K Street Bridge, close to the renovated Watergate Hotel and the Kennedy Center. According to the official removal documents, the group created an “actual or potential hazard to the public.”
The individuals had to go to a shelter, where they could apply for city housing or move on. A fence was installed. Shelter vans provided transportation to shelters. Temporary secured storage was granted for their more valuable possessions. They were cleared out.
But this summer the “tent city” is back. This time, dozens of homeless have staked out a camp of eight to 10 large tents under the Whitehurst Freeway’s Virginia Avenue off-ramp. It looks more permanent than the little white tents did.
“They’re an eyesore and unsanitary. They’re breaking the law and some are dangerous. Something has to be done,” say many Georgetowners. “We have to get tougher.”
“You have to feel some empathy towards them,” said Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Bill Starrels, whose district is adjacent to the encampment. “Everyone feels bad about them, but we have to get it under control. Stuff goes on.”
By stuff, Starrels meant unlawful activity by “different kinds of people coming in.” Recently neighbors noticed the presence of a large number of newish looking bikes at the camp. When city investigators looked into a possible heist ring, the bikes disappeared. “It’s a mess,” said Starrels.
Most of the options have been tried. It is not against the law to sleep in public, but it is illegal to set up a camp and sleep in a tent. There is also no doubt that the more that charitable organizations supply tents, sanitary facilities and toilet paper, the more homeless will settle there.
But many of the longtime homeless say the city shelters are unacceptable: full of bugs, disease and violence. “I get really claustrophobic there,” Brett Shane Parker told the Washington Post.
“No one wants to jail them. The neighbors have to be persistent about demanding the city clean it up,” Starrels sighed. “If anyone has a magic solution, let me know.”