The marble monuments of the nation’s capital have become neighbors to abject squalor — ever-expanding tent cities that are the most disgraceful examples of a trend bedeviling Democrat-led cities around the US.
In the past two years, homeless encampments have exploded in Washington D.C., as both the city and federal governments lifted enforcement measures during the COVID-19 pandemic — and made it a no-brainer for itinerants to lay down roots by providing for their every need.
A tour by The Post of the district’s major tourist areas this week found at least 35 vagrants in residence at a National Park Service site two blocks from the White House; more than 20 in the green spaces surrounding the State Department complex; and five across the street from the infamous Watergate Hotel.
And these sites accounted for less than 5 percent of the estimated 120 tent cities in Washington D.C.
“It’s wicked and it’s medieval,” said Robert Westover, 59, a longtime resident exasperated by the staggering surge. “We’re really letting people suffer on the street like animals? Somehow that’s progressive?”
The decay and destitution on display shocks foreign tourists.
“’The land of milk and honey’ — it means that in America you don’t lack anything,” said Elvis Shu, 39, a first-time visitor from Cameroon. “I know people don’t get hungry here, so I’m surprised indeed.”
Moti, 48, a vacationer from Israel, said, “We didn’t expect to see the homeless here near the White House.”
“I thought it was a rich city,” added his wife Orli, 54. “It’s a Democrat here in the White House, and the Democrats are more socialist, right?”
The number of those living rough in the district has grown sharply since President Biden’s inauguration, observed Daniel Kingery, who pitched his tent in historic McPherson Square over two years ago.
“Bleeding hearts have no brains, unfortunately,” Kingery said. “There’s so much [donated] food coming into this park, there’s not enough people to eat it. So they’ll give it to the birds or throw it away.”
THE LIVING IS EASY
Kingery lays down his head just a stone’s throw from the bedroom of the Leader of the Free World. His tent, and nearly three dozen others, have transformed the one-block-square green space — crowned by a grand equestrian statue of Union Civil War hero Gen. James B. McPherson — into a shantytown where residents’ generators hum and laundry flutters from fences and tree branches.
Do-gooders make it easy to stay put.
“All of these bleeding-heart organizations,” said Kingery, 61, “bring pretty much the same thing to the same park and it usually gets thrown away … sleeping bags, ponchos, and once in a while I would throw away brand new blankets.”
Originally from Gilbert, Iowa, Kingery shook his head as he sat beneath a beach umbrella, surrounded by a pile of possessions: a sleeping bag, a bright red shopping cart, and an old ship’s bell mounted on a wooden post.
“You would find very few people who come to live in this park who are hungry or malnourished,” he said.
William Everett Randolph, 66, who has lived at McPherson off and on for five years after moving from Philadelphia, agreed.
“You got people giving out breakfast, giving out juice, giving out socks, giving out all types of stuff they need, a toothbrush, toothpaste,” he said.
But it’s not freebies that keep him in an underpass encampment at 3rd St. and Virginia Ave. SE, said David Graves, 44, who came to Washington from New York three years ago.
“I moved here and met these brothers and we formed this society or community or whatever,” Graves said. “We became a family, understanding, you know, it could be dangerous if we don’t stick together and work together.”
As the tent cities have grown, so too have the dangers.
“The people that are accumulating here tend to be a little more violent and a little more openly hostile to the tourists,” Kingery said.
Many are drug-addicted or mentally ill.
“The hospitals in which they should be housed don’t have the insurance money to keep them in there,” Kingery charged. “So they just turn them loose.”
“We look out for each other. We have to,” Randolph said. “I have that mister over there, he watches my tent, and I watch his tent, and he watches her tent and you know why? Because people break into your tent and they take anything. They figure it’s worth a dollar to get a hit [of drugs] with.”
SETTING DOWN STAKES — AND NEVER LEAVING
Homelessness has always been a concern in Washington D.C., whose median monthly rent of $1,976 puts it at No. 8 — just behind New York City — on the list of most expensive metro areas in the nation, according to Stessa.com.
The left-leaning city government, run entirely by Democrats, has purportedly made fighting homelessness a top priority.
Mayor Muriel Bowser has spent at least $100 million a year on her vaunted Homeward DC plan since introducing it in 2016. In April, Bowser reported that 4,410 people had been counted living on the street or in a shelter — the lowest number in 17 years, she boasted.
Yet at the same time, the number of tent cities exploded. The district tallied 130 encampments in November 2021 — a 40% increase since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
That’s when the Centers for Disease Control issued a guidance document telling cities that homeless encampments should be allowed to “remain where they are” for the duration of the outbreak.
“Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and … increases the potential for infectious disease spread,” the CDC explained.
Ever since, the camps have festered like a gangrenous wound — and the city and the National Park Service, which owns 22% of the district’s entire acreage, have repeatedly pointed to the CDC guidance for leaving them in place, even in the face of neighborhood complaints and declining COVID cases.
Only a few tent cities, including a notorious encampment on the lawn in front of historic Union Station three blocks from the Capitol, have been closed down.
The camps are scattered throughout the district — both on the federal land, where unauthorized camping is technically prohibited, and in city parks, roadway underpasses, and empty lots, where it is allowed on all but private property.
During a visit this week, The Post planned to stop by five encampments within walking distance of world-famous landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the U.S. Capitol — but stumbled across three more tent cities along the way.
At least nine vagrants have created pieced-together living spaces beneath the underpass of a bridge at 2nd St. and Virginia Ave. SE, eight blocks from the US Capitol. Books, lamps, plastic shelves, chairs, and clothing were scattered at the site within view of students from nearby Capitol Hill Day School as they took recess at Garfield Park.
One block away, another underpass settlement at 3rd St. and Virginia Ave. SE sported a power-washed gravel floor and a set of five matching tents — a gift from Remora House, a homeless advocacy group, said Graves.
And the city has enabled the camps’ expansion.
In May 2020, the district installed 60 bright yellow port-a-potties near some of the most long-established encampments — like the Foggy Bottom site near the State Department, in use since at least 2018 — to accommodate the tent dwellers.
Two and a half years later, the shacks still stud the city’s streets, each costing $1,500 a week to maintain and stock.
SHOCK AND GAWK
Visitors to Washington, one of the nation’s top tourist attractions, are stunned by the scenes of destitution they see around every corner.
“I’m just in shock,” said Devin McCants, 28, a tourist from Atlanta. “There are tents everywhere here … it’s crazy.”
Jersey City, NJ resident Rachel Greene, 28, was sympathetic — to a point.
“These people, they got nowhere to go,” she said. “But it’s kind of like, ‘Damn, you gotta be homeless right here? You couldn’t be homeless like two miles that way where I don’t have to see you and kids don’t have to see you?’”
Workers at restaurants and other businesses near the camps say they have become a dangerous burden.
“We have homeless people on drugs come in here all the time,” said Hailey Yokley, 17, a manager at a Joe & The Juice coffee shop in McPherson Square. “They come in screaming and it scares people.”
Shane Carnahan, 32, a bartender at the nearby Georgia Brown’s restaurant, has called police multiple times to deal with troublesome tent-city residents.
“They’ll come over here and make a little scene,” he said. “Sometimes they come in crazy and shaking their ass and we have to call the cops.”
Many Washingtonians have had enough.
“It makes you sick,” said a Capitol Hill staffer. “The Democrats have let this city be completely overrun. Nowadays, I’m almost embarrassed to take my friends to the White House when they visit D.C.”
“We’re just disgusted by it,” Westover said. “I mean, the richest location on earth and we can’t seem to handle a homeless situation, really?”
Robert Lawrence, 59, who works for the US Department of Veterans Affairs across the street from McPherson Square, said the administration simply “does not have a program that works.”
“It bugs me when I find out there’s a veteran over there,” he added. “These guys, they do their service for our country and then they get left in the cold. … [the government] sends too much money overseas instead of helping out their own.”
RED AND BLUE ISSUE
Mayor Bowser’s office defended the city’s encampment tolerance policy.
“The district continuously engages with individuals experiencing homelessness to connect them with the resources and services available to meet their needs,” said a spokesperson from the city’s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services.
But Republicans in Congress are aghast.
“Democrat-run cities are being driven into the ground and Washington, DC is no different,” said Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-SI/Bkln). “Our nation’s capital is one of our main tourist attractions and it’s become embarrassing … but no one from the Mayor to the President seems to care.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) who sits on the congressional committee that oversees the National Park Service, vowed that change is on the horizon — provided the GOP takes control of Congress in November’s midterm elections.
“It goes a bit back to Rudy Giuliani’s ‘no broken widows’ — you enforce the law,” Gohmert said. “We are not going to let them keep ruining everybody’s enjoyment of our park system just because they refuse to enforce the law.
“This beautiful park that was designed for people’s enjoyment, and you can take it over and just turn it to excrement,” he added. “They’re turning Washington into another San Francisco. The Democrat thinking is we just let people degenerate.”
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