Councilmember Robert White Statement on the McPherson Square Encampment

Helping people get housing is the solution to the problems of people staying in the encampments. We have enough housing vouchers to house people, but the system to access the vouchers is severely backlogged. Executing encampment clearings while people sit on waiting lists for support is cruel and is slowing the process of ending encampments.

Right now, it takes at least several months, and, in some cases, years between the time someone is approved for a housing voucher and when they move into their home. Even after being approved for a voucher, it can take many months for residents to be paired with a case worker to take the voucher holder through the remaining steps in the housing process. Next, finding a unit and scheduling the required housing inspection can take many more months.

The result is that most people who are evicted from an encampment are not going into housing that same day—or even months from now. So, most move to the next place they can set up a tent as they wait for the system to work. But each time, they lose connections to services and trust in our government.

When I visited McPherson Square last week, I met several people who had been approved for a housing voucher years ago. They pled for help getting into housing and expressed that they feel more safe on the street than in shelter while they wait. 

Instead of encampment clearings that shuffle people from one encampment to the next, the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services has to focus all our resources on fixing the real problem, the backlogs in getting support. Until the District can fix the logjams that keep people out of the housing we have already funded, the Deputy Mayor and the National Park Service must stop these clearings.

DC government has to break the cycle of thinking that clearing an individual encampment will resolve the systemic problems we have in serving the needs of our residents. We know from past experience it only makes the problem worse.

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