Washington homeless encampments in the shadow of the Watergate complex will remain - at least for now - amid an intense battle between locals angry about health dangers and dipping quality of life, and activists concerned about displacing camp residents.

The camps in D.C. are among many that sprung up in cities during the coronavirus pandemic, leading to debates over how to tackle the growing issue. 

Neighbors near 12th Street and Massachusetts Avenue in the northwest section of the city have written to the United States Park Police (USPP), asking that it clears camps from Burke Park, Gompers Park and 9th and Massachusetts.

Citing public safety, they asked officers to enforce rules by preventing the camps from growing any further on federal properties. 

'There is ample evidence that these encampments are a danger to the community, bringing with them excess refuse, human excrement and other bodily fluids, heated domestic disputes, drug abuse, weapons, and an inability to enjoy resources and green space under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service,' the letter read. 

A view of a campsite near the Watergate complex (pictured in the background) as the number of homeless encampments grow, July 29, 2021, in Washington, DC

A view of a campsite near the Watergate complex (pictured in the background) as the number of homeless encampments grow, July 29, 2021, in Washington, DC

'While we are sympathetic that people need a place to reside and the DC government must do something to address the increasing homeless population in the city, camping in these federal land parks is both unlawful and unsafe.'  

Burke Park is a small park off Massachusetts Avenue and 12th Street NW with about 19 people living in it, said Alexandria Bailey, the advisory neighborhood commissioner (ANC) for the area that includes the park.

CDC COVID-19 guidelines recommend that people be allowed to stay unsheltered or in encampments if other housing options are unavailable. 

But the residents who signed the letter have argued that this guidance is being used as an excuse not to address the homelessness problem.


'If these encampments were set up on the National Mall, there is no doubt that they would be removed without hesitation or delay,' the letter said. 

“The vagrants harassing folks outside do not simply ask for money and move on. They are confrontational, often screaming at passersby on the sidewalk or in their cars or people exiting the CVS or Quincy Court and Quincy Park (the building across the street from CVS). Many are clearly on drugs. Others have robbed the CVS and neighborhood residents.”  

But amid fears of eviction, community advocates quickly reacted.

Citing public safety concerns, a local group has asked officers in a letter to enforce rules by preventing the camp to grow any further on the federal properties, and to tear down the camp

Citing public safety concerns, a local group has asked officers in a letter to enforce rules by preventing the camp to grow any further on the federal properties, and to tear down the camp

CDC Covid-19 guidelines recommend that people be allowed to stay unsheltered or in encampments if other housing options are unavailable

CDC Covid-19 guidelines recommend that people be allowed to stay unsheltered or in encampments if other housing options are unavailable

Bailey said she received an email from the USPP's chief of staff saying 'we have a plan to move on Burke shortly after July 4th' and that while she understands local concerns over the camps, she said she agreed with 25 other commissioners who expressed to the DC council that removing the camps would not solve the issue of homelessness in the area.

The National Park Service has since backed off, telling DCist/WAMU that it “engaged in conversations about encampments in national parks in D.C. with the city and community partners but has no imminent plans to remove existing encampments.”  

Bailey has asked for a two-month extension to help move encampment residents, but said earlier this week that she was yet to hear from the USPP, adding that she was working on a voucher program that could get them re-housed.

'Unfortunately, with this pressure, time is working against me now,' Bailey said. 

Residents who signed the letter have argued that the CDC guidance is being used as an excuse not to address the homelessness problem in the area. Pictured: Tents at the camp

Residents who signed the letter have argued that the CDC guidance is being used as an excuse not to address the homelessness problem in the area. Pictured: Tents at the camp

Pictured: Tents across the street from Watergate Hotel (pictured in the background) in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Sunday, June 13, 2021

Pictured: Tents across the street from Watergate Hotel (pictured in the background) in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Sunday, June 13, 2021

As the debate continues, Remora House DC - an organization that provides essentials to homeless individuals - has been giving residents of the camps supplies, food and water since Monday.

The group has said it plans to watch over the residents and hopes to protect them from future eviction.

Shannon Clark of Remora House DC said: 'We want to make sure that camp residents are safe and they're not being harassed and that police aren't going to move in and throw their stuff away without us being able to help and support them.'

According to a recent report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, homelessness in the region is at its lowest rate since the District began counting in 2001.

The study found there are 8,309 homeless individuals in the area, with the total being below 10,000 for a third year in a row.   

The Watergate building was at the centre of the 1972 Watergate scandal, in which President Richard Nixon's administration was caught breaking in to the building which served as the Democratic National Committee.

The scandal ultimately led to Nixon's resignation on August 9, 1974.

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