She is a heavyset woman of 62 who used to enjoy shoping at open-air markets and strolling through her neighborhood after dinner to check on the progress of her friend's flower gardens.
Today, she seldom ventures from her third-floor apartment at 2101 New Hampshire Avenue NW, trapped by her very real fear of the drug pushers, addicts and prostitutes who are being swept from the 14th Street corridor into neighboring residental areas.
She adamantly insists on anonymity, fearing reprisals from those who drift in and out of the building, buying and selling heroin and shooting up in the once-elegant structure's stairwells, hallways and corners.
A stranger's knock on her door is answered warily. After three pieces of identification are slid beneath the small crack at the bottom of the door, four locks click and it slowly opens to reveal a large, well-scrubbed, modestly appointed living room.
"I'm so sorry," she says. "In the old days, I never even bothered to lock the doors. But you've got to understand how things have changed around here.
"I go the the grocery store once a month. My friends come by to take me to church, and every Wednesday I go to have my hair done. Otherwise, I don't go out."
Like many of the residents of 2101 New Hampshire NW, some of whom have lived there since the building first opened to blacks in the mid-1950s, this woman is caught in a web of abject terror. A web spun out of Mayor Barry's "War on Heroin" and the subsequent push to clean up the 14th Street corridor just steps from what once was a quiet residential area.
Those who live in the adjacent section say they first noticed an increase in drug peddlers, prostitutes and junkies after the push to clear 14th Street began in earnest following the shooting death of D.C. police officer Arthur P. Snyder in February.
The path to the laundry room at the apartment building is littered with syringes, papers and urine. A man sits wide-eyed in a doorway, oblivious to his surroundings. The third-floor tenant shakes her head is disgust, carefully avoiding the man's outstretched feet shod in spotless Adidas.
"Time was," she half-whispers, "that I would put some laundry in here and run up to my neighbor's to visit. Now, I wash my things out in the bathtub."
At night, people congregate six deep outside the building entrances and harass tenants as they come and go. Residents believe one reason is that one of the building's occupants is a drug dealer and his apartment has become a haven for addicts and prostitutes who have nowhere else to go. Outside, people knock on the windows, continuously ring the buzzer and pound on the front door-attempting to gain access to the building.
"This has been going on for months now," Ella Williams, another of the apartment's residents, said. "I got so nervous today that I had to come home from work and lie down. I haven't slept for a week because of the cursing out here, the yelling and screaming at 4 o'clock in the morning -- I'm a wreck."
Williams says that people buying and selling drugs will rush the front door -- sometimes as many as 30 at a time -- if anyone goes out during the night. As a consequence, the residents, many of whom are elderly or infirm, refuse to leave the building, preferring instead to remain prisoners in their own homes.
"I was the third person to live here in 1954 when the building was opened to blacks," Williams said, "and it was never like this. We're in the middle of a ghetto, I know that, but it was always much better than this. I'm afraid to ride the elevator by myself, and I'm afraid to tend my flower garden. I can't even go to prayer meeting anymore."
After repeated calls to the nearby Third District precinct failed to produce what tenants believed to be sufficient response, they wrote to D.C. Police Chief Burtell Jefferson. "'As a result of the concerted effort to clean up 14th Street," their letter said in part, "we, the concerned tenants of this building, feel that these criminals have been driven into our residence . . . this is where we live, and we will no longer tolerate this type of activity."
Williams and another tenant, Lozzie York, hand-delivered the letter to the chief's office, where they waited for a response.
Shortly afterward, police officers were sent to make an inspection of the building, and residents were told that an attempt would be made to patrol the area more frequently. But that, says York, won't help.
"Since he made that promise, we found a junkie sleeping up there on the sixth floor, and a prostitute was robbed at gunpoint in another part of the building," she said. "It's like a carnival of evil in here . . . it's terrible, the worst thing that I ever imagined.
"Sometimes, it seems like they just dropped like rain out of the sky -- breaking locks, barging in, cussing you out. This is just too damn much. Marion (Barry) can walk down 14th Street and I can, too. But when 14th Street comes into your home, well, that's a different thing."
The apartment's resident manager of 11 years, Mary Coleman, says that the William C. Smith Co., which owns the building, has begun procedures to evict the suspected drug dealer, and will use a tighter screening process for future tenants. But as Coleman sees it, that will solve only part of the problem.
"This was a quiet, confortable building until a few months ago," she said, "but stopping the overflow from 14th Street is the only real answer to the problems here. Sometimes, I feel as if it's useless to call the police because they've got their hands full, and a lot of the time they can't do anything, anyway. I shudder to think about what it will be like after the cutback takes place."
At nearby St. Paul and Augustine Church, the Rev. Raymond B. Kemp has a similar fear. Prior to a community meeting last week at which nearly 400 14th Street-area residents expressed concern about rising crime and drug problems in the neighborhood, Kemp said that a cutback in police protection would be "disastrous" for people like the residents of 2101 New Hampshire, whose homes have been turned into what he called "shooting galleries" by drug users.
"We're saying 'bullshit' to the idea of decreased police protection," Kemp said. "We want more police, seven days a week. But we are also asking for something other than more cops. We want to rehabilitate the area."