D.C. officials on Thursday cleared a homeless encampment under the H Street overpass, shoving tents and bags full of belongings into city garbage trucks as late morning commuters made their way through the busy corridor.
One homeless man, Henry Palmer, shouted into the street toward passersby and city officials as the tent he had called home was folded up and placed into black garbage bags.
At one point, Palmer grew so angry, he briefly turned on one man who was helping him pack – Chris Parks, who works at nearby CNN and had bought about a dozen tents and sleeping bags to help the homeless in December, just as winter was setting in.
“You’re with the city,” Palmer yelled, accusing Parks of being part of the institution that was evicting him from the sidewalk.
“No, I’m not,” Parks answered.
By midafternoon, there was no trace of Palmer on the street, or of the former tent community that had popped up blocks from the Capitol.
Sima Lee, a community organizer for the homeless, also expressed anger as city officials began carrying tents with belongings still inside into garbage trucks and dumped shovels of leftover things on the street into the city vehicle.
“You’re giving us a death sentence,” Lee said.
As many as 14 people had made their home beneath the overpass along First Street Northeast, and at least a dozen had remained as of March 1, said Rachel Joseph, chief of staff to the deputy mayor for health and human services.
City officials said they were providing transportation to local homeless shelters, but some who lived there didn’t know if they would be going.
Joseph said the city posted signs announcing the proposed cleanup. There were five notices present Thursday – all bearing the issue date of Feb. 11 – alerting those in the immediate area that District officials would be conducting a sweep as early as Feb. 25.
Had the city not cleaned the site up by Thursday, it would have had to post new signs and further delay the tear down.
“It’s unsafe and unsanitary for people to be living outside. So the city had to act safely and responsibly,” Joseph said at the scene.
But some who lived in the encampment said they did not receive official word the city would be clearing it out until a day, or even several hours before.
Parks said he raised $2,400 over three months to purchase tents and sleeping bags through crowd sourcing online.
While people have made the overpass a home for several years, the tents brought more attention to the area, which may have prompted officials to move faster.
City officials began the cleanup effort shortly after 10 a.m., initially loading tents, cardboard boxes and items shoveled from the street into garbage trucks. Shortly after, they held off on dumping tents with belongings still inside and allowed people to mark garbage bags for storage.
Joseph said the city will store these items for up to 30 days. D.C. Department of Human Services aides and volunteers could be seen stuffing trash bags and labeling them with the names of those being uprooted. Vans were also on-site to transport the displaced to the Adams Place Day Center, an emergency shelter.
Rick Hall, 62, said he had lived in the corridor for about a year. He sat next to bags of his stuff as he waited for city officials to clear his part of the sidewalk. “I just take it as it comes,” he said.
Eric Sheptock, a longtime homeless advocate in the District, said toward the end of the business day he had not heard from anyone who had been relocated.
“That was my fear all along,” Sheptock said. “It’s hard to keep up with them.”
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