An article in Thursday's District Weekly incorrectly stated the number of people left homeless by an apartment fire in February and the amount of aid they received. There were 125 people and they received $400 each.
For four months Felicia Massie, 27, and her three young children left their sparsely furnished Northeast apartment at 6 a.m. for a 2 1/2-mile hike to school because the family can't afford bus fare on her $75-a-week salary.
And Massie, who is expecting her fourth child, doesn't expect her financial situation to improve by the time her children return to school in the fall.
The Massie family is among 100 people who were left homeless in February when an evening fire destroyed the 34-unit apartment building in which they were living at 1444 W St. NW.
"Ever since the fire, money has been tight," said Massie, who works cleaning downtown office buildings and lives in Edgewood Terrace.
Like the Massies, many of the fire's victims remember watching in disbelief as practically everything they owned collapsed in flames. Despite the immediate and massive outpouring of money, food and clothing from organizations and individuals, most of the families are still struggling with their loss.
"The majority of the tenants in 1444 had been there since the building opened 10 years ago," said Patricia Williams, the resident manager the apartments, known as Capital Manor. The tenants' average income was about $13,000 a year, and about a third of them received some form of public assistance, she said.
Some of the families moved in with friends in nearby neighborhoods but most were like the Massies. They have been moved to other parts of the city to live in previously vacant apartments operated by First Columbia Realty, the company that manages Capital Manor.
Their new apartments are generally smaller, barely furnished and a greater distance from their jobs and the schools attended by their children.
St. Augustine Catholic Church, at 15th and V St. NW, collected about $56,000 in donations toward an emergency fund for the victims and distributed all of the money within a month of the fire.
"We worked out a formula that took into account how many people were in each of the 38 families left homeless and distributed money on that basis," said Sister Patricia Hamilton, who coordinated the church's relief effort. Hamilton said each family received about $400 in addition some of the donated furniture and clothing.
Those funds enabled Ana Lazarus, whose two-bedroom apartment was gutted in the fire, to pay the security deposit for a small one-room apartment on Chapin Street NW, and to have some of her water- and smoke-damaged furniture repaired.
"I lost everything -- my furniture, TV, clothes, even money I had been saving," said Lazarus, a domestic worker, who has a son, 8.
"We are just waiting for the building to be repaired so we can move back in," she said in a worried voice tinged with a slight Hispanic accent.
Gladys Payne, 57, a retired employe of the Government Services Administration, also lives at Edgewood Terrace. Her apartment is almost bare. There is a kitchen table with mismatched chairs, an end table, a sofa and a small throw rug for the floor. Knick-knacks on the end table and a single framed picture on one wall complete the furnishings of her living room.
"I still don't have enough clothes," Payne said. "I went to the Catholic church the night of the fire and stayed there, then stayed with relatives for about a week until they told us about this place."
The six members of the family of Kai Ahmadu, 43, are now divided up between friends in separate apartments in Adams-Morgan. Ahmadu, a native of Sierre Leone, lives with his son and his cousin's family of five in a one bedroom apartment on 17th Street NW. Ahmadu's wife and their three daughters live with a family of five who are friends in a three-bedroom apartment in the same building.
In addition, Catherine Caulker, another W Street resident and Sierre Leone native, and her three children are also living with Ahmadu's friends and cousin.
That means more than 20 people share the two apartments.
"We are just taking things one day at a time," said Ahmadu. "We've basically had to start all over again, even with all the help we've received. When something like this happens you just do the best you can," Ahmadu said, adding that everyone "definitely wants to go back to the old place as soon as it's ready."
But renovation of the building has barely begun. "Realistically, we won't complete the renovation of the apartments until sometime early next year," said Jack Jones, the First Columbia official overseeing the work. Tenants who were current in their rent at the time of the fire will have the first right to reoccupy their former apartments, Jones said.
Rents in the complex, which ranged from $321 a month for a one-bedroom unit to $428 for a three-bedroom, will increase 10 percent when the building is reopened, Jones said