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Homeless camp in heart of Washington cleared of tents and people

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Authorities evacuate a homeless camp in McPherson Square, two blocks from the White House, on February 15, 2023./AFP
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Feb 16, 2023 - 03:06 AM

WASHINGTON — Security agents and sanitary personnel on Wednesday cleared out a longstanding encampment of homeless people in a leafy Washington plaza just steps from the White House.

As downtown office workers looked on, the agents pulled down makeshift tents and dumped homeless campers’ personal belongings into garbage trucks at McPherson Square.

“The (National) Park Police showed up at about six o’clockish or so,” Daniel Kingery, a 61-year-old man living in the park, told AFP.

Dozens of tents had filled the makeshift camp in a plaza two blocks from both the White House and the US Treasury, and six blocks from the World Bank.

The homeless camp had come to represent a yawning social divide in a national capital known for its power and wealth.

Kingery, barefoot and with a flowing white beard, said he was the first to pitch camp in McPherson Square about three years ago, and saw it fill up with residents as other homeless camps in the city were evacuated.

Authorities announced in November they would clear the camp by April but decided to move up the evacuation, warning the campers weeks in advance that they would need to move to homeless shelters.

The speedier evacuation was “out of concern for health and safety and given that the growth of the encampment was impeding” delivery of social services, the National Park Service (NPS), which oversees many green spaces in Washington, said in a statement.


The agency said it had “coordinated social services engagement for unsheltered individuals in the park.”

Kingery told AFP he did not want to go to a homeless shelter, “which I hear are more violent than this park has ever been.”

Homeless advocates, like Amanda Misiko Andere, chief executive of Funders Together to End Homelessness, told AFP that she “saw a lot of people scared and worried about where they were going to go, not knowing where they were going to go.”

According to a statement from NPS spokesman Mike Litterst, “two people, who both declined any social service assistance offered by the District of Columbia Department of Behavioral Health, ultimately refused to leave the park and were arrested shortly after 3 pm for violating the closure of the park.”

“They were cited and released shortly thereafter,” he added.

Litterst added that non-hazardous belongings left behind at the park would be available for their owners to pick up for 60 days after the closure.

Andere said Americans should “be ashamed” that the federal government under President Joe Biden, headquartered in the same city, couldn’t manage “closing down an encampment in a humane way.”

Like many large US cities, Washington under Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser has struggled to provide housing solutions for a burgeoning homeless population, estimated to be at 5,000 people in 2021.

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