About 250 homeless people were treated to a picnic in Rock Creek Park yesterday, in an attempt to bring them into the spirit of the Memorial Day celebration. Rather than commemorating those who lost their lives in war, however, they remembered lost homes and jobs.
"This is a good highlight in my life, but there is no place like home" said Darryl Jackson, 29, who sleeps in the Blair Shelter for homeless men. "It's a good start on the weekend and it beats hanging out. Of course, it would be a lot better if there were some jobs out there. I don't mind a good party, but I would rather work."
The picnic was sponsored by the Lutheran Social Services Mental Health Support Center, which operates under contract from the city's Department of Human Services.
"The notion here is that the homeless are people, too, and should not be neglected," said Phyllis Lawrence, director of the support project. "They have participated in the planning and purchasing that made the picnic a success."
A bus donated by the the city made rounds at l0 shelters for the homeless, including eight for women. It was one of the rare occasions when homeless men and women get together for organized activity.
"In the past, they have been separated because the women are afraid of the men," Lawrence said. "But now we have so many young men and women that people tend to hit it right off."
The day's activities featured a softball game, a dance contest, card games a voter registration drive and lunch. The menu consisted of 50 pounds of potatoes, 500 chicken wings, five and a half dozen eggs, as well as hot dogs, burgers and soft drinks.
As the noon hour approached, the crowd began to amble restlessly. It was the regular soup kitchen time, and the feeding lines had become a habit. The staff and volunteers scrambled to get the food out.
When they did, smiles broke out on nearly everybody's faces.
"I still miss my home," said Sarah Hicks, 56, who sometimes stays at the House of Ruth when her friends cannot take her in. When her husband died in l979, she said, her house was repossessed.
"I used to sleep as late as I wanted and I was a good cook," Hicks said. "He just loved my cooking. . . ." The woman drifted off into her memories.
Some of those attending the picnic had been recently released from Lorton Reformatory, and had no place to return to. Others had been released from St. Elizabeths Hospital as part of the city's deinstitutionalization program.
"I think this is a real important opportunity for people to get out and meet other people," said Dr. Bernie Arons, director of the St. Elizabeths deinstitutionalization program. "A lot of times it's difficult for people living in the shelters to know where their next meal is coming from. They almost never get to go on a picnic in the park."
Despite the warm day and good food, some were not able to shake their depression and lay face down in the grass. But most of them appeared to have a good time.
Two women spent the morning sitting in the bleachers at the Carter Barron tennis courts, watching a player practice his serve. They ate lunch and applauded as though they were at Forest Hills.
Two men registered to vote and began to argue. "Don't vote for Reagan," one of them said. "Look," said the other. "I may be homeless, but I'm not stupid."