Bush won't get cake from homeless neighbors

UPI Senior Editor

WASHINGTON -- When George and Barbara Bush move into the White House, don't expect their closest neighbor -- homeless peace activist Concepcion Picciotto -- to bake them a cake.

Despite her eight-year residence in Lafayette Park just across the avenue from 1600 Pennsylvania, the tiny woman called Connie by her friends never even met outgoing tenants Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

The Reagans, for that matter, never met their other homeless neighbors who sleep on nearby steam grates for warmth.

The president explained recently that some homeless people actually prefer to sleep outdoors but he didn't say how he knew that.

Anyway, he may have been right, a least in the case of Ray Lamb, one of the 11,400 air traffic controllers Reagan fired in 1981 for striking illegally.

Lamb told me a several years ago he preferred sleeping on a steam grate near the White House to shelters, which he considered dangerous places.

But Mitch Snyder, advocate for 'the homeless, has since opened a safe,spotless and sprawling shelter in the nation's capital. The facility is so essential it almost always is full.

The Bush inauguration is expected to cost a record $25 million in privately raised funds. Jimmy Carter's populist bash cost $3.5 million in private funds.

"They should use this money for the good of humanity," said Connie Picciotto, who wears a dark brown wig that resembles a drum major's hat but does not make her look any taller than 5 feet.

Picciotto, a Spanish-born U.S. citizen who said she lived in affluence before she was widowed, is a founder of what she calls The White House Anti-Nuclear Peace Vigil.

At 43, her face is weathered. She survives on food handouts. Donations pay For the peace pamphlets she passes out ! to tourists. She uses the toilet at a nearby fast food restaurant. She showers occasionally at a shelter for the homeless.

The block-square park in front of the White House once was festooned with huge signs proclaiming such peace,messages as "Live by the bomb, die by the Bomb," and "Civilized people do not Nuke fellow humans."

Lafayette Park was shaping up as a free speech bastion in the great tradition of London's Hyde Park.

But during the Reagan years, National Park Service police cracked down hard on the protest activities of Picciotto and other peace demonstrators. Their encampment in the tourist area was considered by some an eyesore.

And now sleeping in the park is deemed by the authorities to be "camping," an offense for which some peace activists have done jail time. Brett Hamrick, a demonstrator originally from Wichita, Kans., known as song," said he, Picciotto and a half dozen or so others plan to stand fast in the park in order to carry their peace message to the hordes in town for the inauguration.

"If we're not here," Song sad cheerfully,:'~ We'll be in jail." The shelter Snyder operates for the homeless is in an old federal building only a few blocks from the Capitol,where lawmakers are plotting to give themselves an administration- supported pay raise from $89,500 to $139,000 a year.

Snyder told me he has information that Republican fat cats will spend double the announced $25 million on the inauguration.

Angrily, Snyder said, "For people who have promised a kinder, gentler nation, to spend 50 million on an inauguration is obscene."

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