Yesterday was "Social Security Day" - the high point of the month for hundreds of old people waiting impatiently for the blue government checks and worrying about the muggers, thieves and con artists that they know were also waiting.
At several city-owned senior citizen buildings, elderly men and women huddled around the entrances, watching for the mailman and talking of the fears that rule and restrict their lives.
"I don't have no visitors at my place, only my relatives. I just don't trust people much," said Florence English 68, resident of The James, a public housing building for the elderly at 1425 N St., NW.
"Maybe I shouldn't be that way, but two people have been killed since I've been here," she said.
Retired janitor Troy Arthur, 66, said he regularly turns down invitations and part-time work because he is "scared to go out at night."
The fears are well founded, according to D.C. police statistics, which show that robberies account for 93 per cent of all violent crimes - rape, assault, murder and robbery - against the elderly.
However, experts who say the aged art victims of their fears as much as of the actual crimes this week began a $102,000 federally funded project to reduce both the incidents and the fears.
Conducted by the private National Center on Black Aged, the project is aimed at a nine-block segment of the inner city Shaw area.Its purpose is to educate and increase security for some 2,000 elderly people in the James and two similar high-rise buildings operated by tht D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development.
Andrew Bradley, manager of the project said he hopes to "sensitize (the elderly) to the need to secure themselves" and try to persuade them to trust their neighbors for mutual safety.
The money will also be used for looks and other security equipment, training and educational materials and staff salaries for about 10 persons, Bradley said.
"I sure hope they do break that (crime) up," Arthur commented. "They pick on older people, just because they don't have to put out too much strength" to overcome them, he said.
Arthur said he and his neighbors do not venture far from home, even in daylight, and generally "just sit around all day waiting on death. Every once and a while you hear one (resident) is gone."
"The danger of being overly cautious is that they don't go out, they don't walk the street, they have limited activities and they are suspicious of everything around them," said Bill Clark, residential social worker for the housing department's property management administration.
The District is one of six cities with high crime rates and large elderly populations that were chosen for the demonstration grants from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare's administration on aging. Milwaukee, Chicago, New York, St. Louis and Los Angeles are the other cities.
Bradley said his agency was selected to run the project here because it "has the black focus. When you talk about low incomes and deprivation, you are talking about minorities."