Occupy D.C., now one of the longest-running offshoots of the Occupy Wall Street movement, closed its community kitchen this week and had a visit from city health officials after repeated complaints about an uptick of rats around the area.
D.C. Health Department Director Mohammad Akhter personally inspected the protest area Thursday and said there were definite signs of rodents thriving among the food and trash from the group's outdoor kitchen, D.C.'s WUSA-TV reported. According to the Washington Post, rats have been spotted for weeks scurrying around tents and pallets.
In response to the complaints, Occupiers launched a full-scale clean-up effort and even voluntarily shut the kitchen down.
"On a regular basis," Occupy's unofficial chef Basant Khalsa told WUSA. "People will sneak into the kitchen after I done washed up all the dishes and went to bed. And they will make messes in there."
Akhter said he's also concerned about the danger of fires and hypothermia as temperatures dip and winter sets in. He is expected to make recommendations for the future of the camp based on his assessment.
While D.C. officials have been largely supportive of the Occupy movement, the Associated Press reported that it was Mayor Vincent Gray who ordered the inspection.
"Mayor Gray and [Health Department Director Mohammad Akhter] feel the protesters have a right to be there, but our primary concern is the safety of District residents," Health Department spokeswoman Najma Roberts said, according to the Washington Examiner.
But protesters who spoke to WUSA denied the rat infestation was due specifically to Occupy.
"I was in this park before Occupy began," Mark "Bear" Parker told the station. "We had rats all the time. A lot of people leave food lying around. You're going to have rats attracted to it."
He vowed a controversy over sanitation wouldn't be enough to shut the camp down.
"We're here. We're here to stay," Parker said.