A front-end loader lifted a man inside a tent during the clearing of the NoMA encampments at L and M Street NE on Oct. 4 at approximately 1:04 p.m., tweeted Street Sense Media Reporter Spencer Donovan.
District workers bulldozed a tent with someone still inside. That person appears to be receiving medical attention, but police have blocked off the underpass all the way to the 2nd Street side.
— Spencer Donovan (@sdonovan5) October 4, 2021
Bobcat front-end loaders arrived at the M Street encampment at 10 a.m. to push tents and belongings out of the area. They moved on to L Street around 1 p.m.
Things escalate as someone was accidentally bulldozed while still in their tent pic.twitter.com/S56tdMwt71
— Maydeen (@maydeennnn) October 4, 2021
“With this cleanup, and all cleanups, the health and safety of residents experiencing homelessness is always our top priority,” Wayne Turnage, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services said.
“Unfortunately, despite outreach staff’s multiple checks, there was an incident during the engagement where a Bobcat temporarily lifted a tent that, unbeknown to us, a resident was still inside.
“While there were no visible injuries sustained, as a safeguard, the resident received additional medical attention. Due to that incident, we decided to suspend further activity for the day.”
DMHHS did not elaborate on the procedures used to verify that tents were emptied before removal.
According to the police report obtained from MPD, the man was actually sleeping in his tent when it was lifted by a front end loader. The man was able to climb out of the tent. He was treated on scene.
The man complained of pain in his leg, the report notes. DCFEMS said he was transported to hospital with minor injuries.
“Unhoused Neighbors Deserve Better”
Councilmember Charles Allen (D) represents Ward 6, where the encampment is located. He said that the goal has been to get stable, safe, warm housing for the neighbors living on the street.
“We should be celebrating people moving off the street into apartments but what happened today was completely unacceptable,” he said, “and the team responsible needs to understand what happened and how we can humanely make this transition.”
“We have the funds set aside to end homelessness for many, many people,” Allen added. “Our unhoused neighbors deserved better than what happened today.”
Work clearing L Street was halted after the man was injured. By that time, most of M Street had already been cleared, with a few people remaining on site with support from advocates. District officials had previously stated that they will not arrest those resisting.
The clearing is part of a pilot project initiated Sept. 1, focused on four encampments in the city, including those at L and M Streets NE. The program was intended to expedite access to Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) for these residents.
If an individual does not want to be housed, DMHHS representatives told the Sept. 9 meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6C, outreach workers will help them relocate.
After the areas are cleared, they are to become “no-tent” zones, meaning the city can clear all tents and belongings placed there without any notice. DMHHS said the program focused on these encampments because of the risk they pose to health and safety of both those living and traveling through the area.
Housing advocates argued that access to housing did not need to be accompanied by the criminalization of tents in these spaces. Critics say the effort criminalizes homelessness, and point to the lack of public notice, citing concern with the speed of program implementation. Many advocates expressed concern that these people would “jump the line” for PSH ahead of others in the system.
On Oct. 4, DMHHS tweeted that 29 people in the pilot program were in the process of securing housing, with 17 already moved in. In mid-Sept, DMHHS Wayne Turnage told WTOP that an estimated 103 people live in the four encampments that are part of the pilot program.
This story is updating. It has been corrected to note that the equipment that lifted the man in his tent was a Bobcat front end loader rather than a bulldozer.
Oct. 4, 5:45 p.m.: This story was updated to include comment from DC FEMS.
Oct. 4, 6:35 p.m.: The story was updated to include comments from Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6-D).
Oct. 5, 12 p.m.: The story was updated to include response from DMHHS and MPD.