RIP Tent City. No Affordable Housing In The Foreseeable Future.

On July 10th about 100 community activists began a tent city on a vacant which is owned by DC Government (and the citizens of DC) called "Parcel 42". This action was part of a national effort to bring attention to the need for housing as a human right. Many of the participants are part of the National Right To Housing Movement.

This particular plot of land was chosen for the action so that we could highlight the broken promise of the out-going mayor Adrian Fenty to build affordable housing on this lot that has sat vacant for several years and promises to sit vacant for at least 2 more. Plans were drawn up and development slated to begin in December 2009. No ground has been broken yet and the official word is that it may be at least 2 more years before ground is finally broken on this "planned" project.

Community activists have floated ideas for interim uses such as a community garden, outdoor theatre or a recreational facility. But no one has stepped forth so as to take on the tedious tasks of gaining public support for any of the aforementioned ideas and making it happen.

Nonetheless, on September 22nd, a city official posted a sign warning that the tent city would be demolished in 2 weeks. (This is in compliance with DC law which mandates that a 14-day notice be posted warning that an encampment will be dismantled.) Fifteen days later, the city moved forward with the demolition. (I've pasted the e-mail from an eyewitness/tent city participant below.) During the 15-day grace period I made calls and sent e-mails encouraging people to retrieve their belongings and some did.

Even though the tent city lasted for 3 months, we the participants feel that the city has yet to get the message. The shutdown was generated by the complaints of some well-off residents who complained that the tent city had become a messy eyesore. That said, there was a MESSage in the "MESS" that they saw. But, sadly, people only saw that their neighborhood and property had been devalued by the presence of the tent city. This aligns with how people don't want a homeless shelter, housing for the homeless, a drug rehab center or other agencies or accommodations that help the poor brought into their communities because it will devalue their neighborhoods and property. I guess they don't understand how horrific they make people feel as they say that they don't want those people around because they'd rather that their inanimate belongings retain their value -- a value which is evidently greater than that of a human life (in THEIR eyes of course)

We plan to have other tent cities and to use new tactics as well until the DC Government and DC citizens get the MESSage. We have already begun to make plans for our next action. We will continue to be a thorn in the side of DC Government and a burr in the shoe of DC's unconcerned citizens until housing is a realized human right in this "Human Rights City". It ain't over 'til it's over!!!!!


See the pasted e-mail below:

"Arun Aguiar"
To: undisclosed-recipients

Between 8:20 and 10 this morning, a bulldozer tore down all the structures. A garbage truck carted everything marked as trash to the dump, while a separate truck carried off a whole lot of belongings deemed valuable to a storage site. New gates and locks were installed, and No Trespassing signs were hung on the fences.

A small contingent of coridal police officers, along with a genial "Chris" from the Mayor's Office, and two other unknown suits were present. However, none of the residents happened to be on site while all this was going on. I returned just when the trucks were about to take off, and in the nick of time, after being hoisted onto the truck, I retrieved intact a suitcase, tent, and knapsack that I had set aside.

Craig Keller, Team Leader of the Homeless Outreach Program at DC's Office of Homeless Services, [see contact info below] who had been to the site a couple of days ago and had cautioned Renee that the removal was imminent, supervised the separation of materials as valuable and trash. Some critically important personal belongings of mine got mistakenly sent to the dump, but Mr. Keller kindly drove me there. The garbage truck driver was alerted to await our arrival, and he tipped his load only after we reached, and I was happily able to locate what I was missing.

En route to the dump site, I left a wallet belonging to Stan with Jill, a Receptionist at Bread for the City, for her to hand over.

C'est la vie. All in a day's work. RIP, Tent City: The End of an Experiment in Outdoor Living

~ ~ ~Avatar, I'll be taking part in the anti-IMF actions Oct 7-10, with St Stephen's Church at 16th & Newton as a Convergence site

Team Leader
Homeless Outreach Program
64 New York Ave NE 4th Flr
Office of Homeless Services
Washington DC 20002
202-671-0388 main
202-841-2915 cell


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