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Clearing Camps: The Pandemic, America’s Cities, And Homelessness

Tents of unhoused people line a street in Hollywood, California.
Tents of unhoused people line a street in Hollywood, California.

The pandemic exposed many gaps in modern society, butfew people are more familiar with those gaps than people experiencing homelessness. 

That’s especially true in Washington D.C., where the number of chronically unhoused people increased by more than 20 percent last year. That’s also meant an increase in encampments across the city.

This year, the district launched a pilot program to clear encampments and put people into housing. We talk with someone who lived in an encampment for four years in D.C. and was recently housed for the first time in 10 years.

We also look at what’s happening in Los Angeles, where homelessness is a top concern. The city passed a ban oncampingand is set to clear at least 70 spots with hundreds more possibly on the horizon. 

From D.C. to L.A., how are cities responding to encampments and what are the best solutions?   


Anthony Love, the interim Executive Director for the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, sent this statement:

“USICH is in the process of updating our guidance about encampments. It will be based upon evidence-based practices, what we’re hearing from local governments, and the belief that housing should be a right – not a privilege. To that end, we believe that homelessness should not be criminalized; and to effectively end homelessness we need to rehouse people as rapidly as possible and effectively enact prevention strategies that close the doors into homelessness. Experiencing homelessness does not make someone a criminal—or a bad person. Instead of implementing unproven, ineffective measures against people without a home—most commonly through bans on camping—governments should invest in programs and services that are proven to rehouse people and to keep them permanently housed.”

For those experiencing homelessness, or who know someone experiencing homelessness, here is a list of resources.

Copyright 2021 WAMU 88.5

Michelle Harven