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D.C.'s homeless find a place amid inauguration fever

As untold thousands converge on Washington D.C. — in search of safelodging and a piece of history — one group of local residents will beforced to find alternate accommodations for the inauguration: D.C.’shomeless.

As untold thousands converge on this tiny city — in search of safe lodging and a piece of history — one group of local residents will be forced to find alternate accommodations for the inauguration: D.C.’s homeless.

As of yesterday, District police began sweeping the route of Obama’s inauguration-day parade, rounding up the homeless that live in the area and bussing them, free of charge, to a pair of government-funded homeless shelters.

But inauguration day needn’t be one of solitude for the District’s nearly 6,000 homeless. Shelters throughout the city are opening their doors — and beds — for the big night.

The Central Union Mission, D.C.’s oldest social services agency, is offering expanded services for the inauguration, according to executive director David Treadwell. Doors will be open all day, with two big-screen TVs set up and tuned to the swearing-in. And what good is a party without snacks? Ample food will be provided, Treadwell said, so people can “nibble throughout the day.”

The Mission, which serves some 140,000 meals each year, is already booked to capacity, so it won’t have beds for any extra revellers. But its open-door policy guarantees a good time for those who may not be able to afford a $200 ball event.

For Treadwell, an 11-year Mission veteran, “Inauguration Day is like Thanksgiving and Christmas put together.”

After a messy divorce in Florida in which he lost everything, 46-year-old Michael Wilks took off to D.C. in the hopes of finding a new job and wiping the slate clean. He hasn’t been able to do either.

As the economy has been squeezing the job market dry, Wilks has had to take up residence at the Central Union Mission, where he’s been sleeping every night for five months.

You’d think this would be a dismal situation, but Wilks takes heart. At least he can be a firsthand witness to history.

“I might try and get out there in the crowds,” Wilks said. “I’m ecstatic for Obama and our country. We’re getting the change we need.”

And that’s music to Wilks’ ears, who thinks who thinks the economy — and himself — will see a reversal of fortune once Obama takes office.

“We’ll see opportunities like never before,” he said. “More doors will open up for people. Gives me hope.”

 
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