Last week, WABA launched our Streets for People merchandise as part of our membership drive. We celebrated Open Streets, and saw what our public space could look like when we take it from cars to give it to people. And we mean that Streets are for People, for everyone: even when their homes look different from our own.
District governments and agencies are criminalizing homelessness and endangering people’s lives by bulldozing encampments. In establishing “no-tent zones,” the District is making it harder for our unhoused neighbors to connect with city services—including housing vouchers—and organizations that provide direct services. This process only further criminalizes their rights as people to exist in public space.
Yesterday, we witnessed District Agencies forcibly remove people from public space, bulldozing not only many people’s homes, but a person themself, barricading the space with concrete blocks to prevent sleeping. All of these actions were performed under the cover of ‘returning pedestrian access.’ This is unjust and inhumane. And in the case of M Street NE, it’s totally ineffective. Rather than the agencies providing access via the well-lit sidewalk that already provided space for everyone, people are being forced out of the protected bike lane and onto an on-street underpass.
When we talk about public space, we are usually talking about streets as places of transportation and recreation, places of community and commerce. However, one of the unfortunate realities of living in an expensive part of the world, a geographic region and society with a deeply imperfect safety net, is that we have neighbors who don’t have permanent housing. That is not a crime nor should it be.
WABA is joining hundreds of individuals and organizations in signing onto this letter to halt evictions until encampment residents are connected to housing.