WE HAVE AN issue in Washington Park. Second String Music is at Fifth and Maine, on the southeast corner of the park. It's an entire square block filled with trees, picnic tables, a large gazebo and restrooms. It's the perfect setting for Blues In The District and hosts numerous downtown summer events.
It's also the summer home of the Outside People.
I'm running down the slippery slope here. I become full of prejudice talking about The Outside People. They are obviously poor with nothing better to do than to literally live in the park during the summer. They sit at picnic tables and smoke away the hours. Except for getting loud a few times, they've never bothered me.
I don't think they should spend all day in the park.
But does it really hurt anything?
We are commanded to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, assist the poor. And they are obviously poor, though they seem to find the cash for smokes. I walk my dog and stare at them from a distance. Then I turn around and go back to the store.
The group ranges from six to 10, but lately new Outside People have been showing up. The matriarch is a grizzled gal wearing the battered fedora. She is usually pushing a stroller - grandchild, great-grandchild, who knows. She smokes cheap filtered cigars. She seems to be the central force and guide for the Outside People.
There are two or three younger women. Somebody is pregnant, always. There are younger guys who drift in and out of the circle. Lately, a guy who appears to be around 40 and never wears a shirt has been showing up with 40-ounce beer bottles in paper bags. He glares at everybody as he walks by. They've been spending a lot of time in the gazebo with this guy.
He looks like trouble.
Ah, prejudice. Such a terrible thing.
I've heard they become unruly at times and have made a mess in the park. And a park isn't made to live in. It's here to be enjoyed by everybody, including the kids who play in the fountain.
The police have visited several times in the past week. Business owners are starting to complain. I know a guy who says he's broken up fights involving the Outside People.
I think I know why they come down here, as opposed to South Park or the river. The services are close by - enclosed bathrooms, Salvation Army, health department, Catholic Charities, food pantries, the dollar store .... it's all within a minute or two. Maybe we should take away the picnic tables in the park - that might drive them away.
Last Friday morning, it poured rain. There were no Outside People in the park. Then the storm quit at 2 p.m. By 2:30, they were all there, sitting at the picnic tables, taking up space. So they have somewhere to stay when the weather is bad or it turns cold.
A lot of them live in the house near Sixth and Jefferson, about a mile from the park. You know the house. There is always somebody sitting outside, usually four or five people. There are dogs running around in a side yard - I think one was removed last year because people complained about deplorable conditions. The porch is full of junk. I don't even want to think what it looks like inside.
If they don't bother anybody and just take up space, it's difficult to tell them to leave. Washington Park is a public place. And these people deal with adversity all the time. If you tell them to go, they'll get mad and just dig in more deeply. But if they are causing problems, I'm not happy. I own a business downtown. I want people to come down here and feel free to use the park, and not feel threatened.
My bottom line is to ignore them, unless they are causing trouble. If they are, they gotta go. They can't live in the park.
There are no winners in this deal.