First comes the dawn and then come the street people to SOME, a soup kitchen. In the dim light, about 30 figures file inside, one behind another as if chained. One regular is not among them. He could have frozen to death, for all anybody knows.
Two days later the door opens and he is there - black, thin, wrapped in an olive coat that stops at his knees. A dark blue knit cap covers his head. The sole of one shoe dangles. He shuffles to a chair. It has taken him two days to travel 13 blocks. He says he spent that Sunday night in a doorway on 14th Street NW.
"I know it was Sunday night," he says, "because it snowed. I don't remember much except that it was cold and it was long. Longest night I ever see."
Looking away, he hangs his head. John Doe
In the world where the homeless live, cold is the most bitter enemy.Not that warmer months mean good times, but to street people cold can bring suffering, sickness, fear.
Sometimes they die. Last winter, 11 ended up at the District morgue, dead of exposure. The first victim of this winter arrived there recently. A middle-aged man, he had been found under a stairway of an abandoned building on K Street NW. a John Doe. Breakfast
7:30 a.m.: The SOME (So Others Might Eat) kitchen opens. It's in the back of 71 O St. NW and although there's heat in the front of the building this morning, there's none in the back; the heating people haven't figured out why in the few days since the kitchen was moved from First Street. So everybody sits with their coats; you can see their breath. A radio in the back is tuned to WOL and turned up loud. Few words are spoken; mostly, wveryone sits and looks, as if numbed.
There are three rows of tables, most of them seating four, 52 places in all. The tables are three-quarters full, almost all with black men, though the clientele is said, generally, to include a few whites and women. The chief cook, a short white man with black hair combed back and a towel draped over his shoulder, quickly carries out cups of hot coffee and bowls of hot oatmeal.
A few look for a long time at the watery, lumpy, gray oatmeal but, eventually, because there is no choice, they pick up their spoons and eat."I've got some stuff in there to cut the taste," says the cook, "like sugar and raisins. It's better than nuthin," Up and Out
Not everybody at SOME has been down so long. A few have come crashing down from secure middle-class lifestyles, than slowly pieced things back together. They do not forget what it felt like when their lives were in disorder and they do not forget the suffering around them now.
One is a 67-year-old man from North Bethesda who stands out because he is distinguished looking, with white hair and dark-rimmed glasses, impeccably attired in a tan checked sport coat, tan v-neck sweater, gray slacks, a volunteer under the terms of his parole from the Allenwood, Pa., prison farm, where he was sent for taking part in a kickback scheme in a government agency where he worked.
He leans forward in a chair as he tells how his world crumbled, of the "really traumatic impact" on his wife, the shock to his four grown children and friends, the loss of his job, the feeling of being a prisoner at Allenwood. There is still a look of anguish as he talks about it. "It's a low-security place," he says, "but they never let you forget you're in jail."
Before he went - to "the slammer," as he says - the "the slammer," as he says - he worked for a time at the some kitchen. When he was away, he wrote back, saying he wanted to work there again. Now he does publicity for SOME. "I want to continue working here whether I'm on probation or not," he says . "It gives me a sense of real accomplishment." You can see it, walking around here." He mentions a person recovering from a breakdown who's "coming to life. You can see it."
Another man, who works here not because his life crumbled but because it's the kind of work he's come to prefer, says, "I basically feel these people are my people." he says he was an air traffic controller for 11 years, then worked a string of different jobs, then did little for four years except work a day or two a week as a laborer. He adds that he's an artist, and recently has taken up photography. And he drives a truck for SOME.
As a traffic controller, he says he found that "they expect you to be God, they expect you to make decisions without thinking, with hundreds of peoples' lives hinging on it." He says that SOME "impresses" him, that if he ever gets a job somewhere else he'll still make time to volunteer. Crawford's World
Everett Crawford, the imposing black man who runs SOME, appears to ba a friend or father figure to those in trouble; political infighter, who extracts funds and services from government and social agencies; suave speaker and public relations type, who persuades well-off suburbanites to give; a day-to-day wheeler-dealer who comes up with the loaf of bread or canned goods that could keep someone alive.
At 10:30 a.m., the traffic in his office is heavy with people who want to give things - food, clothing, a clothes dryer, a pool table - and who want things. The phone on his desk has three buttons; often they're all lit. In the midst of the turmoil, Crawford, 47, whose hair has gone almost completely gray, tries to figure how he is going to help a confused young man who has arrived in Washington from California to see President Carter and who instead has landed in Crawford's office. The young man has $2. Crawford likes this sort of challenge. He's needed help himself.
A graduate of West Virginia State College, where he studied business administration, played football, and headed the Army ROTC cadet corps, Crawford worked 15 years as a civilian in the Army, where he was a systems analyst, and two years for the District government. Between jobs, he says he learned about some of the problems faced by the kind of people he now tries to help.
(Interrupting his story, Crawford handles three phone calls, all concerned with the nagging but crucial problems he faces every day. "What do you mean you didn't have enough quarters?" he asks the third caller.)
When quiet resumes, Crawford says he literally "ran away" from his civil service job - and ended up in two psychiatric hospitals and jail and eventually divorced. Suffering from "serious depression," he says he almost killed himself.
During this time, Crawford says he lived for a time at the YMCA. "I had lived in Southwest, in a nice apartment. I used to play squash at the Y, and there I was living there in the winter and didn't have an overcoat.I was hiding out and I learned what it was like to see somebody I knew. You feel what's happened to you is written all over you, like you're a neon board. You condemn yourself."
Generally, he adds "You just as well be a leper. People you see, you frighten them. You feel their hate and that amplifies your own guilt. Washington is not the place to be if you're poor; there's so much affluence and politics here that there's just no space, no room, no time, for those that aren't making it." Barry
"Call me Barry," the blonde woman says "I like that name, like Barry Goldwater. I got tired of my name. When I get tired, I let things go." She applies eye makeup and red lipstick as she talks. The top of a tattoo is visible above the open top buttons of her sweater. She says she's 31, the daughter of a Texas truck driver, that she's been all around the country and especially likes Las Vegas, and came here six weeks ago. It's her second time around.
"I was here in 1969. Remember Woodstock? I was hitchhiking and I came down here. Next time, here, I said, I'll make money, have fun. I didn't know how to hustle then. In fact, I promised that the world would never make a prostitute out of me. Then, after a while, you know the saying, 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.'
"Four years ago I started prostituting. I was living 2 1/2 weeks at this hotel here, making good money, living good. Then I got busted. But I didn't have a record in D.C., not even robbery, not even a candy bar. So they excused me." Now she's living at one of two SOME houses nearby but says she doesn't like the 11 p.m. curfew, doesn't know how long she can stay there. "I like to stay out and party all night," she says.
"Hey, are there any amusement parks around here? I'd like to create a big, big, big playland, get all these supper mechanical geniuses together and make the biggest roller coaster in the world. Oh God, that's a fantastic idea. I love roller coasters. The Big Dipper in Cleveland is pretty high, but I'm thinking about twice that high." Giving a Damn
"If you feel your responsibility ends with feeding," says Crawford, "you're going to end up with the same people in other lines, other institutions, jails, or dead.
"We're a stop-off point. If you have to deal with sleeping and eating, it's highly unlikely you're going to get your life together. We want this to be a place which might, you never know, give them enough hope or strength to do better.
"A person needs other people, a connection. If you don't have connections, you don't make it."
Besides food, he says SOME offers counseling, alcoholic rehabilation, job placement, and limited housing. "But when you deal with somebody else's life, that's a hell of a responsibility. It's not something you do out of egotism. You have to be reasonably secure or you couldn't stand it. You can't dwell too much. People huddled over a bottle of wine just to stay alive - it's dehumanizing to the nth degree. There's a limit to how much you can deal with that."
There is no gratitude either, adds a mental health consultant to SOME, speaking of sone street people's reaction to Crawford, or whoever happens to be executive director. "When the door has been closed in your face, when society allows you to live an empty building, you get pretty cynical. He (Crawford) may look like them, he may be nice to them, but there's too much history there to treat him any differently than they do anyone else. When it comes down to it, he's got a job and they don't."
Crawford himself says the indifference of individuals and bureaucratic inefficiency frustrate him, anger him.
"What really comes through," he says, "is that people don't give a damn about poor people.
"There are lots of folks who will send money for the poor, as long as you keep 'em the hell away from them and their friends.
"Americans are great at rationalizing. As long as the D.C. Department of Human Resources is there, or SOME, or the Salvation Army, that leads us to think everything is okay. Ifthere's a disaster, the Salvation Army will come riding up on their horses. The President will send his wife." Helpful Hints
A half dozen men sit outside Crawford's office door, watching television. Barry is giving hints on acting to the fellow from the Coast who wanted to see the president. "You have to think of something that'll make you cry," she says. "That's what acting is about. Actors force these thoughts into their minds and control their emotions. There'll be lots of directors and producers sitting over there. Now, pretend you're real mad . . ."
An old man, who sweeps all the time, smiles and goes outside with his broom. DEATH
A man died
One cold night
In Washington, D.C.
I can hardly
But I do
It was very, very
-E. W. Crawford
Oct., 1977 Dinner
2 p.m.: For the next two hours, dinner will be served, the early meal time a carry-over from former days. The menu this day consists of beef stew, an apple, coffee, and, for later, a sandwich to go, egg salad or peanut butter or jelly. About 130 people come to eat, maybe 20 fewer than usual. Crawford suspects they haven't found the kitchen since it was moved.
One man, his belongings in a large sack, is saying he lives in a car in a parking lot; he says it's a little white car, it's not a Volkwagen or a Volvo, he thinks, he's not sure what, expcet that it was no engine and it sits there as other cars come and go.
Another old man, short and wearing a red cap, eats quickly and goes to the front of the building to lean on a radiator. Others watch television, outside Crawford's office. As the afternoon passes, they begin to leave, in ones and twos. "Some will stay at one of the missions," says Crawford. "A few will go to previously arranged places, maybe two or three guys have a room some place. Others are going out to look for a place."
On his way out, one man asks Crawford for 50 cents. He needs cigarettes, the man says. Crawford gives him $1. The EFEC Man
It's 4:15 p.m. when a fellow roars up on a blue Moped, dismounts, and wheels it in the door. It's the Rev. Griffin Smith, founder and pastor of the Foundation Baptist Church. He's also a SOME board member and founder of Efforts From Ex-Convicts (EFEC), whose members work as security guards in the area. "They're not all ex-convicts," says Smith, laughing. "I have to provide equal opportunity for everybody." Smithe, who says he once served time himself for armed robbery ("I got the kind of sentence the judge gives when he wants you to serve all the time - nine to 10 years"), gets out his walkie-talkie: "This is base, the EFEC man, calling Unit 2 and Unit 3 . . ."
Crawford tells Smith, who steered Crawford himself to work at SOME, about a teen-age boy who has left home and school and come to a SOME house.
"Tell him to come join me," says Smith.
"I'm not sure he likes churches."
"How's he expect to get over the hump? That's where it's happeeing." Ice Man Cometh
"If I had died on the street, nobody would have known," says a man sitting on an old sofa in Crawford's office. I had no address, no name, no nothing. I slept in abandoned cars and empty houses. Some nights I just walked the streets.
"When I came to SOME I was clothesless. I stayed around a while but I left. I went on another bender. I was living at a guy's apartment. A guy with SOME who knew where I was hanging out came for me, a guy named Ice Man. I was sitting in the parlor with my legs crossed. He told me to come get in the car.
"Very few come through here I know are sober today. One out of 10 or 11 make it. But there's always hope for a person. As long as a person has breath in his body, there's a chance." Night
The television set is put away.The place is almost empty. Crawford is standing in the doorway, his arm around the shoulder of the little old man in the red cap; he's talking quietly, his head bent low to the old man's ear. Outside, it's almost dark and the street is quiet. It's cold, and it will get colder.