Heavy machinery used Monday to clear a homeless camp under an overpass in Washington DC bulldozed a tent Monday with a homeless man still inside, trapped and screaming.
The DC Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement that crews had checked all tents for residents, but unbeknownst to them, one had remained behind and was picked up by a Bobcat front loader machine they were using to clear the camp.
The homeless man, who was not identified, was taken to a hospital for examination but suffered no visible injuries, officials said.
Witnesses said the machine had pushed the tents off the sidewalk under an overpass on the city’s L Street when they began hearing screams from one of the tents.
Heavy machinery clearing a homeless camp in Washington DC picked up a tent (pictured) with a man still inside on Monday
Witnesses said the man started screaming when the front loader started lifting the tent
In the moments that followed, homeless lawyers reportedly started running to help the man, leading to a tense meeting with city officials and police at the scene.
“Across the street we heard the man yelling, but they didn’t hear him when they were right next to them, so we jumped over the things on the sidewalk to get to him,” Yonce X, one of the lawyers at the scene told WTOP.
Some tried to get past the police to get to the man, and a woman was reportedly dragged away by officers, the agency reported.
The incident sparked a tense meeting between police and homeless lawyers on the scene
The man suffered no visible injuries, but was transported to a hospital for examination
“They had to make a hole to make sure this person was okay and they called in the fire service to get him out,” Andrew Anderson, an attorney for the nonprofit People for Fairness Coalition, told WUSA9. “They didn’t really take the time to make sure someone was inside, they just packed the tents and got them out.”
The incident prompted the city to suspend the removal of the homeless camp for a day, but it resumed on Tuesday and barricades were placed along the sidewalk to prevent further tents from being set up.
Wayne Turnage, DC’s deputy mayor for health and human services, said the incident led to a change in how the machines were used to clear the sites.
“There will be a check to make sure there is absolutely no one in that tent, and then a person will stand there while the Bobcat comes to make sure no one gets in the tent after the check is done ‘ he told WTOP.
“Whatever the case, we will make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
He said the heavy equipment is being used to ensure the safety of the crews removing the tents.
The removal of the encampment (pictured) was one of three planned for a pilot program to connect homeless people in the city with housing
About 60 people lived in the camp under the viaduct, (pictured) and about 22 were secured housing, the city said
‘A lot is accumulated; they can be quite heavy,” he told the outlet.
The removal of encampments under the M and L Street overpasses was the first of three planned as part of the pilot program to take homeless people off the streets and place them in homes, the Washington Post reported.
So far, DHHS officials say 22 of the roughly 60 people living under the overpass have already been given housing, and another eight will move in the coming days.
However, the project already appears to be in jeopardy and Monday’s incident sparked even more protests.
“This is the mayor’s pilot program to help people move,” DC City Council member Charles Allen told WTOP, “and while it has some potential, we need to take responsibility for every step of the process.”
He called for an end to the use of the heavy machinery when clearing the camps, except in cases of biological hazards.
Then concrete barriers were placed on the sidewalk to prevent the tents from returning
Brianne Nadeau, also a member of the city council, said the incident raised her doubts about the project.
“One of the reasons we don’t tear down camps is because there are risks involved,” she wrote in a Twitter thread. “There are risks in asking people to move all their belongings and risks in forcibly evicting people.”
“Having seen camp clearings in person, I have witnessed a lot of trauma, and there is no room for error,” she continued. “I’m very concerned about today’s incident during a camp clean-up, and I’m concerned about the future of the pilot program.”
600 people have already signed a letter calling for an end to the evictions, especially before everyone in the encampments is provided with housing, Axios reported.