The bulldozers forced Anna Vanhook out of her long-time house in Shaw into the city's Regency House apartments on upper Connecticut Avenue. Then her children stopped visiting.
"I was lonely, just lonely," she said. "I was separated from everything I knew . . . I had beautiful flowers before and I could hang out my laundry and keep myself busy."
So then, for lack of anything better to do, she became an alcoholic.
"We now have drunks going up and down the corridors all night long, ringing bells, their pants hanging down, urinating in the corridors and elevators. Some can't stand up. They are crawling up and down the corridors.
That's what Jewel Wilson, the manager of the city's Fort Lincoln project, told a tenants' meeting two years ago. Today, she said, "nothing has changed."
Throughout most of the city's public housing projects for the elderly and mentally and physically disabled poor, alcoholism is unchecked and growing.
City housing director Robert L. Moore estimates than 20 percent of the 3,000 tenants in these buildings are alcoholics. Along with its companion problem, loneliness, alcoholism is the biggest social problem in these projects, he said.
Tomme Ruth Pierre, head for the council of presidents of projects for the elderly, says 35 percent of the residents are alcoholics.
Sinclaire Wylie, tenants council president at Claridge Towers, estimates 75 percent of the residents are problems drinkers.
"This place is a walking liquor store," she said. "We've found them dead with the bottle beside them." Joseph Hughes, resident council president of Garfield Terrace, estimates that 25 percent of the tenants there are alcoholics. He should know -- until three months ago, he and his wife were two of them.
The estimates vary because an unknown number of tenants are hidden drinkers, according to officials and residents. They drink alone in their rooms and cause no disturbances.
But the "public" alcoholics make life miserable in the senior citizens buildings, according to interviews with more than 25 housing officials, social workers, nurses residents and recreation directors.
The drinkers curse each other, the managers and the sober tenants. They turn elevators into urinals, walk half-dressed or naked in hallways, collapse in a stupor in corridors and lobbies. And they invite in strangers, who sometimes commit robberies and burglaries in the buildings.
Claridge Towers residents, for example, still recall when 33-year-old Robert Fox stabbed his 80-year-old grandmother to death two years ago in that building where they lived.
Fox, who had said he was drunk and that an intruder had killed his grandmothr, was convicted of the murder.
Most of the tenants in these buildings are elderly women and pervasive alcoholism virtually has imprisoned many of them in their small apartments because they fear they might run into an unruly drunk in the hallways.
Police records show that armed robberies, burgalries, and assaults have occurred in almost half the buildings for the elderly so far this year.
For example, Garfield Terrace, which has 247 residents, has been the scene of a murder, a rape, an assault and three burglaries since January.
"There aren't places where I'd want to live," said a police officer reviewing the reports.
Fires are also a problem. The alcoholics frequently start fires -- passing out while smoking, for example -- and set off fire alarms at night as a lark. Both are frightening events in buildings where 50 percent of the residents are either bedridden, handicapped or unable to move easily without assistance.
City fire officials said they could not readily determine exactly how many fires hav occurred in the buildings. However, on high-ranking fire official said it was his impression that "we do have these problems in the senior citizen buildings."
Some won't sit in the lobbies of their buildings because that's where the drunks hang out. In other buildings, the lobbies are off limits to everyone because alcoholics tend to congregate there.
The drinkers live side by side with residents who are very religious. Wilson describes the Fort Lincoln highrise as a building that is almost evenly split between the alcoholics and "the Christians" -- "people who want to live decently and don't want to live around this stuff."
The alcoholism problem is further complicated because three types of people live in the elderly buidlings -- senior citizens, mental patients recently released from St. Elizabeths hospital and disabled veterans, who until two years ago received top priority for openings.
All must be over 65 or totally disabled, and not earn more than $10,200 for a single person or $11,700 for a couple, after certain deductions.
Some disabled residents, mostly men, are in their 30s and 40s.
One 49-year-old disabled Claridge resident said he was once one of these "younger" drunks. "I used to do a lot of cursing around here. Friends would bring women in here once they found out I had a nice apartment. One night a guy brought an underaged girl in here and I told him they would have to leave."
The drinking problem gets worse when Social Security and supplemental security income checks arrive at the beginning of each month.
"They get their money and they get high," Garfield Terrace's Hughes said.
"That's when people get loud and rough."
"We see cases of beer delivered during the first days of the month," said Lorraine Washington, who manages Claridge Towers, the Horizon House across the street, and The James, two blocks away.
Some tenants use whatever money they have to buy liquor rather than food.
Washington said one tenant at Claridge Towers "has no food in her ice-box.
A gin bottle is on the coffee table but nothing is in the refrigerator but beer. She'll come down sometimes and say she's hungry so I'll go and beg food for her."
In most building there are rumors that bootleggers lived in some of the apartments and will sell liquor to residents on credit until their checks arrive.
Wilson, the Fort Lincoln manager, said two years ago police raided the apartment of a suspected bootlegger at the building but did not find enough liquor there to bring charges.
Police officials said that while they have had few bootlegging complaints from the elderly buildings, their records show several gambling reports and the two usually occur together.
Officials added that they have placed more emphasis on more serious liquor law violations and lacked the manpower to crack down on suspected bootlegging operations.
At least one liquor store owner comes to the senior citizens building in his neighborhood at the beginning of the month to cash checks for regular customers.
"It's too dangerous for them to come out," he explained.
Housing officials, redisdents and liquor store owners agree that the loneliness of living in the buildings -- all of which are high-rise apartments -- triggers the drinking for many.
Officials paint a picture of hardworking people who were employed as domestics, porters, dishwashers and construction workers, many of whom never learned to read and write well and who always did some drinking. Now that they are idle, they have started drinking more.
"Most drank before they came there," said Bill Clarke, the housing department's only social worker.
"With the enforced solation and loneliness, that social drinking has become problem drinking. It becomes the way to resolve the problem of nobody to reach out to," he said.
"Families give up on the elderly people when they move into the senior citizens buildings and alcoholism is one way to deal with that," Moore said.
Residents whose families continue to visit them often have far fewer drinking problems, he said.
Despite the extent of alcoholism in the elderly buildings, no one is doing very much about it.
There is one Alcoholics Anonymous chapter for three of the buildings that are downtown. It was organized by Junious Dupree, a Claridge House tenant, in April.
Social Worker Clarke said he has been trying to get funding for a treatment program for several years. No-body cares, he said, because "the tenants in this buildings are old, unproductive and a burden on scarce resources. They are not vocal so we don't really care about them."