The District's missions, emergency shelters and charitable establishments have been filled with homeless, hungry and destitute persons seeking relief from the bitter cold during the past few days.
The indigent, many of them suffering from alcoholism or mental disabilities, ask only for a bowl of soup or a bed for the night, spokesman to the various institutions said. They said they have had to turn many of the homeless away because the facilities are full.
They said another group of people seeking help are the elderly, women with children and others on fixed incomes that will not stretch to pay for the extra fuel needed in this record-setting cold.
Requests for shelters at the Central Union Mission, 613 C St. NW, have increased about 50 per cent in the past few days, according to Supt. Thomas B. Hanlon.
"We have 50 transient beds and each evening we are running to capacity," Hanlon said. As for those who miss the 6:30 registration at the mission, Hanlon said, "you'll find lots of them sleeping on the steam (heat) grills," outside government buildings.
Besides the larger number of people seeking shelter at his church-supported mission, Hanlon said he is besieged with calls from other overflowing agencies, "wanting to know if we can take any more."
"We start registering at 5 p.m. and by 5:30 we are full," said Clyde E. Baumgardner, manager of the gospel Mission, 810 5th St. NW. "Naturally you get more requests when it gets cold," he said.
For $2 a night, about 150 men get a bed and two meals, but about 20 per cent of those are accomodated free because they are broke, Baumgardner said.
"Most of them have alcoholic problems and some get veterans' unemployment or welfare, but because of the drinking they can't handle it," he said. In addition, many of them have mental problems that prevent them from working, Baumgardner said, and an increasing number of them are young men 18 to 26 years old.
"I don't know where they go" when the mission is full, Baumgardner said. "The good Lord seems to take care of them and they survive."
Several other mission directors and city Medical Examiner Dr. James Luke shared the view that Washington's derelicts are a heart group, adept at surviving. Luke said his office received no reports of fatalities caused by exposure this winter and only one of an unidentified victim whose death was not a weather-related case.
So Other May Eat (SOME), a popular feeding and counseling house at 1100 1st St. NW, has had more for its daily breakfast and lunches since freezing weather set in, a spokeswoman said. Other charity groups, loosely affiliated with SOME because many of its supporters help to run them, have been seen similar increased hardship here because of the severe weather.
St. Vincent De Paul charity only had about 15 overcoats to give away this winter but has requests for clothes for about 100 men, the Rev. Lawrence McKenna, a member of the SOME board, said.
"In addition to the city services, we have to pick up the slack from the churches, private agencies and the Salvation Army," Father McKenna said. Spokesmen for the private groups generally agreed that the city services leaves much slack in providing for District indigents.
"Many of these problems are the result of slow welfare" application processing, Father McKenna said. Representatives of other groups said their attempts to help the needy in getting public assistance is often stalled by the bureaucracy of the Department of Human Resources.
The Salvation Army's small waiting room and emergency shelter at 5th and E Streets NW have been filled with families and elderly people, many of them asking for emergency fuel funds, Brig. Eupha Gibson, director of family social services said.
"Many of them are people who would normally have sufficient money but their neating bills have shot way up," because of the severe weather, spokeswoman Ellen Paul said.
An emergency assistance program run by DHR is "kind of elusive" for many of those who come to the Salvation Army, Brig. Gibson said. The funds are available to persons who have an immediate and one-time need. Applicants are required to show how they will avoid future emergencies, in order to qualify.
The Salvation Army maintains credit accounts with eight local oil companies to provide fuel oil for familiesin dire need. However, the minimum purchase of 130gallons per household lasts only a short time in the old, drafty houses where many of the applicants live, according to Salvation Army social worker Cherry McNair.
A supply of donated coats, boots and other winter clothing that the agency maintains for needy persons has been exhausted, a spokeswoman said, another indication of the hardship caused by the severe weather.