A while back, Metro Scene wrote a sympathetic column about a gentle and polite but unkempt derelict who stood at the top of a Metro escalator, cupping his hands to collect voluntary "fares" from people exiting the subway. Each day, I reported, I gave him a quarter, unworried that the money would go for booze.

There were two notable reader responses. One, by a Metro rider, recognized the man involved and blamed him in part for turning the walls and the pavement of the station entry into a stinking public comfort station. The other was from a woman who excoriated me for not inviting this aromatic fellow home for a shower, a square meal and a bed (and, predictably, the plundering of my stored case of Meredyth Virginia wine).

The case became moot, however, when the derelict disappeared. On my initial inquiry, Metro transit police stonewalled. But later Assistant Chief Dennie W. Stewart said that his officers -- as the result of the recent column and needing no Sherlock Holmes capacity to deduce that McPherson Square is the station closest to my office -- picked up the man. They took him to a detoxification center.

About 10 days ago, I saw the detoxified derelict sitting on a park bench, looking more kempt than usual, sipping what appeared to be coffee from a plastic cup.

But on Monday, emerging from the subway station, I saw him again. Obviously drunk, wearing a baseball cap sideways, he staggered in midblock across the traffic stream of I Street, forcing cars to screech to a halt. Then he walked against the signal, again ignoring traffic, across 15th Street toward McPherson Square.

Reaching the curb, he stopped alongside a parking meter and urinated.

The moral to this story? Just that this kind of thing is a ghastly problem that few of us are willing to confront. And a sense of frustration about the lack of answers.