- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 20, 2013

A dozen or so people, many homeless, regularly camp out in and around a small D.C. park between the Canadian Embassy and the federal courthouse a short walk from where President Obama takes the oath of office Monday.

On a cold Friday night with final inaugural preparations under way, they curled atop steam grates while others unable to get warm spots huddled under blankets on benches. But it was no typical Friday night around John Marshall Park.

Hundreds of thousands of tourists had begun to flood into the city to celebrate Mr. Obama’s inauguration, which meant one thing for the people who usually call this place home — warnings to clear out their stuff.

“Last week some time ago, U.S. Park [Police] pulled up in front of where we were at,” said one man who had his blankets folded up and bags lined on a bench along Pennsylvania Avenue. While he described spending his nights outside in the cold, he did not want to be identified, nor referred to as homeless. Instead, he said, he was a “traveler.”

“Two of them were in the car, one of them got out,” the traveler said of police. “His exact words were, ‘Who’s stuff is this?’ I said, ‘That’s ours.’ He said, ‘You need to send this out. You need to take what you can carry. Anything that’s left will be taken.’ And he got back in the car and left.”

That encounter was typical of others, he said. The man shared copies of fliers that he said people in and around the park had been receiving, including one titled, “The Inauguration is Coming … What does this mean for you?”

The flier notes, “You may be asked to move locations on or around Inauguration Day as they get ready and secure the premises.”

Another flier made clear that restricted areas for the inauguration includes places “where people are currently sleeping and storing personal belongings.”

That document from the Washington-based United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, which included a map of restricted areas, noted that the D.C. Department of Human Services and the city’s Department of Mental Health, along with other service providers, were working to reach out to people displaced by the inauguration.

The efforts included providing 24-hour shelter services and arranging for temporary storage of personal items.
Officials from Presidential Inaugural Committee 2013 declined to comment Sunday.

To be sure, the presence of homeless people in an area so close to the swearing-in poses public relations problems for the nation’s capital, with the city eager to impress visitors from across the country. But there could be security concerns, too, as some people store their belongings in trash bags or backpacks much larger than what is allowed in restricted areas during the inauguration.

Sgt. Paul Brooks, a spokesman for the U.S. Park Police, said he wasn’t aware of any officers advising homeless people in the park to leave, but he said it was possible. He said the parade route needed to be secure, and he referred additional questions to the Secret Service, which had no immediate comment.

The inaugural ceremony begins on Capitol Hill at 11 a.m., and the parade along Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House is scheduled to begin at about 2:30 p.m. Between 600,000 and 800,000 people are expected to attend.

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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