On freeezing nights Mary Braddy and her four children sleep in one bed, huddled together under a tattered quilt and thin blankets, wearing sweaters trying to keep warm.
The Braddys live in a small ghost town of apartments with few windows in Anacostia, just across the river and west of the John Philip Sousa Bridge. They are among several families who live in a low-income apartment complex under renovation which has heat and no hot water.
Vandals damaged the complex's central oil heating unit and circulating pump for the hot water system during the summer. The hot water was turned off for reparis to the system in September.
The Braddys and several other families have no other place to go.
"I don't have no idea what I am going to do on Thanksgiving Day. I don't know where I will be," said Braddy, a 29-year old mother who receives welfare.
She worries about her children, ages 4, 11, 14 and 16, all of whom have colds. She said they have attended school only twice in the past two weeks because of their colds and the difficulty involved in getting them washed in the morning with no hot water.
"They can't go to school. They can't even take a bath. We have been heating water on the stove, and it has been terrible," she said.
Adding to her misery, Braddy tore ligaments in her leg in a fall some months ago, and the injury has not healed.This, coupled with her 370 pounds, has almost totally immobilized her preventing her from searching for anothr apartment.
She has left her three-bedroom apartment only three times since she moved in last January when a fire destroyed her apartment on R Street NW.
As her four children sat on her bed watching the television program "Good Times," Braddy explained how the children have had to wash their own clothes, shop and cook their own meals because of her injury.
Her 14-year-old daughter Frankie buys neckbones, rice, pinto beans, macaroni, spam, fruit and ice cream for the family to eat. Their meals are always drawn from these items, she said.
Her older brother, David 16, who sleeps most of the day under a blanket in his mother's bedroom, helps her take care of the two younger children. Donnie, who fights for his mother's attention with his sister Joyce, played with toys as his mother talked about the family's problems.
The stove in the kitchen keeps its burners blazing continuously to keep the apartment warm. The small bedrooms are filled with still-packed boxes from the family's move into the complex. Cosmetics are all over the table tops, and pungent body odor pervades the mother's bedroom at the rear of the apartment where the family gathers.
David complained about the inconvenience the family has had since the hot water was turned off. "I'm tried of getting up in the morning and heating water to take a bath," he grumbled, "And I don't like helping with the laundry and cooking."
His sister, nodding as she shyly answered a reporter's questions, agreed. "It is cold at night," she said, "when any part of you gets out from under the covers, you know it. We use body heat to stay warm."
The Braddys are not alone in their situadtion. Across the courtyard, up a muddy hill, between several gutted apartment buildings, the Hall family complains about similar problems.
"All of us are sick," said Cecelia Hall, who along with her husband and four children pays $165 a month for their three-bedroom apartment.
"We have looked everywhere. There is no place we can afford to live. Rent is just too high. I don't know what to do," she said. She wakes up at 6 a.m. every weekday to boil water and get her children ready for school.
Interrupted by a severe cough that rumbles up from her chest, Hall said she was afraid to let her children leave their apartment to play when they return from school because they playground is filed with broken glass and debris from the construction work. "I have decided just to keep my children inside until I can find somewhere else to live."
Eugene Ford, a spokesman Mid-City Developers, Inc., which owns the complex, Dougalss Glen Gardens, knows about the Braddys. He said efforts are underway to find them federally subsidized housing. He also said an electric heater had been purchased for the Braddys.
Ford apparently did not know how many families are living in the mostly vacant buildings as construction continues.
The owners of Douglass Glen Gardens relocated nearly all of the 90 families who were living the complex, adjacent to the Frederick Douglas home, when they assumed responsibility about a year ago. But there have been a few families, like the Braddys, who slipped through the cracks.
Mid-City Developers Inc. and the Frederick Douglass Housing Corporation jointly purchased the 150-unit Dougalss Glen Gardens project recently for more than $3 million from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, Ford said. Their plans is to rehabilitate the three-story brick apartments for low and moderate income residents.
A woman named Jean, who asked not to be indentified further said she was afraid whe would be thrown out of her apartment if the owners knew she still lived there. "My mother used to rent this apartment and they don't know I'm here, so don't say where I live."
Jean said she has been looking all over Washington for another apartment for the past two months, but has not yet found one she can afford.
And 13-year-old Mark Jones, who wandered around the apartment complex during school hours last week because he said he had a cold, said his family planned to leave last weekend for a new apartment on Trenton Place SE.
The Braddy family, however, has not been so lucky.
"I am so tired of living in rundown places, I don't know what do do," said Braddy. "I know there are those peopele who will say this lady is not trying to find someplace to live. But I can't get one. I can't find a place to stay. I want a nice place like anybody else.Every apartment I have lived in since I came to D.C. has been like a rag."