Social Issues

Washington’s homeless face end of special lodging program

By Sara Soteras i Acosta

Washington, Feb 17 (EFE).- Officials here in the District of Columbia have announced plans to end an initiative that lodged homeless people deemed at high risk from Covid-19 in hotels, spreading anxiety among the city’s unhoused population.

In April 2020, the municipal government in the capital city of the United States instituted the Pandemic Emergency Program for Medically Vulnerable Residents (PEP-V).

Janelle, a 38-year-old women who has spent half her life living on the streets of Washington, told EFE that the announcement last month from the D.C. Department of Human Services dashed her hopes of securing lodging through the PEP-V, which has assisted more than 2,200 people.

If her application for permanent housing remains unfilled come April, she will have to leave the shelter where she now resides and “return to the street.”

The Department of Human Services said that it will not accept any new referrals for the PEP-V with an eye toward winding down the program “over the next year.”

The shelter that Janelle now calls home is two blocks from McPherson Square, the site of a homeless encampment that was cleared on Wednesday by the National Park Service.

The more than 50 people living in tents at the site were told they would be arrested if they did not leave, though many just moved their belongings to another park.

Mary Jo, 55, told EFE that she came to the McPherson encampment from a shelter when she could no longer tolerate the “verbal abuse” from the staff, and expressed sadness over being separated from the people at the camp, who she had come to regard as family.

Eric Sheptock, who echoed Mary Jo’s complaints about the conditions in the shelters, recently learned that he will obtain a permanent residence after waiting for 12 years.

He came to McPherson Square on Wednesday to show solidarity with the community there, including his friend Daniel, who was arrested for refusing to leave.

Many NGOs have reached out to the D.C. administration with offers of volunteers to make up for the lack of social workers to aid the homeless, Antonia Fasanelli, executive director of the National Homelessness Law Center, tells EFE.

On the edge of tears, she criticizes the “traumatic” way Washington goes about clearing homeless encampments, noting that in other cities, such as nearby Baltimore, authorities give social workers time to find alternative housing for the inhabitants.

Though the camp is gone and the site is surrounded by fences, homeless people remain on McPherson Square and volunteers are there as well, handing out food and clothing. EFE ssia/dr

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