Black and white photo, both officers are wearing PPE also. One is staring straight at the camera.
U.S. Park Police officers in riot gear form a line in Lafayette Square Park on Sunday, May 31. Photo by Benjamin Burgess

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afayette Square Park, directly behind the White House, was a home away from home for many displaced or homeless people in downtown D.C. It’s one of the places I go to lie and sleep. It’s where I first learned about Street Sense Media. Churches and donors would show up to give clothes, food, or anything else to the people sleeping on the park benches. If you needed something to eat, all you had to do was go to Lafayette Park. Unfortunately, that’s not true anymore.

I’ve seen all kinds of demonstrations in Lafayette Park. But during the first weekend of the protests against racism and the murder of George Floyd, it was hijacked by the U.S. military, the U.S. Park Police, and other law enforcement departments of different jurisdictions. First came the barriers and police lines. Then 8-foot-tall fencing. Lafayette Park was taken from people that called it their household. It’s now more of a military base than the welcoming place people used to love. 

What if they couldn’t move their belongings in time? What if they were still there when peaceful people were tear-gassed? What happened was just despicable and disrespectful. Someone needs to apologize for this. This is just unbelievable.

Anyone who slept in Lafayette Park had to find a new place to take refuge. The Secret Service said the fencing would stay up until June 10.

The protests have made it hard for homeless people to reside in the District of Columbia.

Every day programs like the city’s facilities at Adams Place in Northeast or the Downtown Day Services Center in Northwest have been shut down for a couple months. I know that was due to the pandemic, but the fact of the matter is more homeless people were forced to move into downtown Northwest to get better services. 

Now, because of the protests, they can’t even sleep on the church steps across the street from Lafayette. The historic St. John’s Episcopal Church there —  where Trump ordered officers to tear-gas protestors a half an hour before the stated curfew so he could take photos with a Bible — is where homeless people could often get food and where multiple people can usually be seen sleeping on any given night when the streets are calm.

These individuals that were displaced by unnecessary fortifications for the White House will never be known or counted because they resided on park benches. Their voices have been thrown out. They have been forgotten and abandoned. Someone needs to step up.

Colly Dennis is an artist and vendor with Street Sense Media.