Inauguration Pushing Homeless From 'Their' Park

By Lynne Duke
Washington Post Staff Writer
JANUARY 20, 1989

Tee Houston sat on a blanket; the northeastern edge of Lafayette Park yesterday, a cart Of her clothes, blankets and assorted other belongings overflowing beside her.

The 34-year-old homeless woman and mother of two girls was Puffing on a Kool cigarette and chatting with a street compatriot Wallace (Wild Bill) Duve, 30, when an inaugural sightseer with a canvas tote bag slung over his shoulder stopped and snapped a picture of this all-too common sight on Washington's streets.

Houston exploded. "What you think I am, an animal? You think I'm in a zoo? As the sightseer briskly went on his way, Houston said, " I hate that. That burns me up."

Duve, who was homeless and il the park during the 1985 inauguration, reached down to a brown paper bag on the ground. "You see this bag here! During the inauguration, that's the way we feel, like a piece of trash in the street. That's the way people are treating us."

The place dubbed "peace park" by demonstrators, where homeless people recline during the day and watch the world go by, has been seized by the inaugural machine. Its perimeter is ringed with fencing and bleachers that are 13 rowshigh. Miles and miles of cable snake along its brick walkways.

Its lawns are jam packed with 32 trailers for the media, the National Park Service, U.S. Park Police, the telephone company, construction crews and a commissary. And tourists fill the sidewalks around the park, gawking at the sights of the nation's capital, including the men,women and children who have no place to call home.

Homeless people flock to the park, several said, because they feel a sense of belonging with the people there, including the perennial protesters against such things as war,the arms race and pollution.

Their access to the park, however, has been curtailed during the last few weeks as inaugural preparations have intensified. They have been allowed only on the park's northeastern fringe. Today, they will be fenced in there, in an area set aside for demonstrators.

To Duve, who carries an outdated PTL Television Network employee identification card bearing his name and picture, it is another slap in the face.

"They don't want the homeless out there to interfere with their inauguration," he said.

"I finally put it in perspective, said a peace demonstrator who calls himself Song. "We're being bleachered to death."

Lt. Hugh Irwin of the U.S. Park Police said that homeless people lying or sitting on the sidewalks could impede the flow of traffic and block access to one of the metal detectors through which people have to pass to gain access to the parade.

"I've talked to a couple of them over there and I told them that I don't want them on the sidewalk,"Irwin said. "I'11 move them into the demonstration area."

Sleeping overnight in the park is banned, so Houston and other homeless people who spend their days there go across the street to the steps of the U.S. Couit of Appeals and U.S. Court of Claims at night.

"On a good cold night, you get 20 or 30 of them, like a city," said Park Poiice Officer David Mulholland.

In Lafayette Park and other areas of downtown Washington, 1.330 different people were served between January and October of last year by a Health Care for the Homeless mobile unit, said Dr. Janelle Goetcheus, a physician who works with the program.

Far fewer homeless people bed down around the Capitol, where police were facing the removal of only one homeless person yesterday. The man, in his early seventies, is homeless by choice and has lived beneath the east steps of the Capitol for 13 years to protest government benefits to veterans, said Capitol Police spokesman Dan Nichols. The man was expected to submit to arrest rather than leave as he has done on 21 other occassions, Nichols said.

In Lafayette Park, Houston, who has been homeless eight months and Duve, homeless for about four years, said they plan to make the best of Inauguration Day.

Houston said she'll watch the parade with her fiance. Vernon Parker, who she said recently started a fast food job as "chicken man". And she said she'll try to send a silent message.

"I'm gonna be right there," said. "I'm gonna look one of these dignitaries right in the eyes because their daughter or granddaughter could be out here with me. You never know what the future holds."

"I'm gonna be panhandling the parade." Duve said. But beyond the expected windfall, the experience, for him, will be what he called "S.S.D.D. Same [Stuff], Different Day".

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