A metal sculpture of a homeless young couple gazing at their infant while warming themselves on a heating vent was finally installed near the Christmas pageant on the Ellipse yesterday after a lengthy dispute between advocates for the homeless and federal officials.
Mitch Snyder, leader of the Community for Creative Non-Violence, which commissioned the artwork, had battled to have the statue included in the official government Christmas display that includes the National Christmas Tree. But the National Park Service, which supervises the Pageant of Peace, called the statue "inappropriate."
On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that said the National Park Service could refuse to include the statue, often described as a modern-day nativity scene.
Yesterday Snyder relented and instead used a permit he had to erect the statue just west of the pageant and outside the fence surrounding the National Christmas Tree and its accoutrements.
Snyder, who is battling federal officials who are trying to close down a shelter for the homeless that CCNV operates on Second Street NW, was not happy.
"Once again the homeless are on the outside," he said, as he watched the three metal figures being arranged on a wooden box with a metal grate.
"It is painful to not be included in the Pageant of Peace," he said. "Just like a number of Americans, we are on the outside. Maybe it is appropriate for us to be here in this location."
Donald Heilemann, a spokesman for the Park Service, said the agency had declined to include the statue, titled Third World America, because, "it is not a traditional symbol of Christmas."
Yesterday, as workmen installed a machine that would send artificial steam up through the grate, hundreds of people gathered to inspect the statue.
Among them were William A. West and his 8-month-old son Paul, who were the models for the sculpture.
West, who once lived at the shelter run by the CCNV before marrying a volunteer and moving to a Northwest apartment, said that it had been hard work posing for seven days as a man bent over a child. And, he said, his son had not been overly enthusiastic about his first modeling job.
"Paul had his good days and his bad days," West said. "But now that it is finished, I feel wonderful that I could be a part of all of this."