The Biden-Harris administration forcibly removed unhoused people from an encampment in McPherson Square in Washington, D.C., on February 15 before all individuals in the encampment had been housed – an action strongly condemned in a statement by the National Coalition for Housing Justice (NCHJ) as cruel and counterproductive to efforts to end homelessness. NCHJ is a group of national organizations, including NLIHC, dedicated to ending homelessness by achieving housing justice through pursuing racially and economically equitable policies that affirm the right of everyone to an affordable, safe, accessible, and stable place to call home.
At the request of the local D.C. government, the National Park Service agreed to forcibly remove unhoused individuals from the city’s largest encampment two months sooner than planned, making it more difficult for unhoused individuals in the encampment to be connected to safe alternatives. Forcibly removing unhoused individuals violates the best practices and proven solutions called for in the Biden-Harris administration’s federal strategic plan on homelessness, and it undermines the administration’s commitment to using a people-centered Housing First strategy, the success of its House America initiative, and its focus on advancing racial equity. By forcibly removing people experiencing homelessness from McPherson Square and destroying their limited possessions, the Biden-Harris administration prioritized the comfort of housed neighbors and surrounding businesses over the urgent need to reconnect unhoused individuals to homes and services. The administration’s failure to follow the best practices and proven solutions called for in its own federal strategic plan provides communities nationwide looking to sweep unhoused people out of public sight with an unjustifiable excuse to follow suit.
NCHJ made repeated offers to the Biden-Harris administration and Bowser administration to convene stakeholders, including the residents of McPherson Square, to develop a plan to rehouse unsheltered individuals as quickly as possible using best practices and proven solutions and to address the city’s ongoing challenges in addressing homelessness. In addition to these letters, the coalition issued a statement urging the administrations to immediately halt the forced removal plans and reiterated its offer to convene stakeholders before the forced closure. Rather than accept NCHJ’s offer, the Biden-Harris administration and the Bowser administration moved forward with forcibly removing individuals from McPherson Square.
In the statement condemning the forced removal, NCHJ urged the Biden-Harris administration to stop all future efforts to forcibly remove unhoused people from national parks and instead prioritize efforts to immediately connect individuals to housing, paired with the supportive services individuals may need and want, such as mental health and substance use counseling and employment services, among others. Supporting and prioritizing Housing First is a key step to ending homelessness that must be part of a comprehensive approach to addressing the crisis. To end homelessness, the administration and Congress must ensure rental assistance is universally available to all eligible households, expand the supply of housing affordable and available to people with the lowest incomes, and ensure critically needed services are widely available. These solutions must be paired with anti-racist reforms to break down barriers that prevent access to critical resources and that perpetuate and deepen racial disparities.
“Today, the Biden-Harris administration failed to stand by the very principles and best practices it has espoused, instead resorting to the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ actions it urges communities to resist,” said NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel. “Using the National Park Service to forcibly remove residents from an encampment, ahead of schedule and well before most encampment residents have safe alternatives, is a blight on the Administration’s efforts to address homelessness. The administration’s unwillingness to hold itself accountable to its own federal strategic plan makes it all the more difficult to prevent other communities from using similarly harmful but politically convenient actions.”
NCHJ worked closely with The Way Home Campaign, a coalition of nearly 7,000 people and 110 organizations committed to ending chronic homelessness in Washington, D.C., to coordinate a response to the forced removal at McPherson Square. Many of NCHJ’s member organizations were present in protest as the National Park Service forcibly removed individuals from McPherson Square.
Read NCHJ’s statement condemning the forced removal at: https://bit.ly/3S3aPRp
Read the letter to the Biden administration at: https://bit.ly/3IbeGJb
Read the letter to District officials at: https://bit.ly/3JOR3Hn