Francisco Perez lies in bed with a note pad in hand, writing a letter to his parents in Havana. He has good news and bad news: he has the flu; but he also has hot tea and chicken soup.
"You've got to get a flu shot, too," says his roommate, John Rosenholm.
Rosenholm is the best news of all.
Two winters ago, Perez was curled up in a fetal position, barefooted and wrapped in a blanket, freezing to death in front of Rosenholm's apartment on Columbia Road NW. After many futile attempts to get assistance for Perez through government and private organizations, Rosenholm asked himself, "If not them, who?"
Last year in August, Rosenholm took the homeless Perez into his own apartment. Today, just over a year later, the only thing standing in the way of Perez's daily job hunt is a mild case of the flu.
"I am looking forward to continuing my job search," Perez wrote to the folks back home. "I am doing well and have even finished my studies."
The last time the Perez family heard about their son, more than a year ago, he was sick from alcohol poisoning and was dying in the streets. He had been shipped out of Cuba in 1980, during the Mariel boatlift that eventually deposited about 300 Cubans in the Washington area. As their adjustment problems became legend, people like Perez -- the well-educated son of religious parents -- were abandoned to a life of despair.
Then came Rosenholm.
"It says in the scriptures, 'What you have done for the least of my brothers you also do unto Me,' " says Rosenholm. "People have to learn to love one another."
Rosenholm sounds like a preacher but in fact works a split shift as a waiter at the Palm Restaurant in downtown Washington. Although he lives mainly on tips, he has managed to come up with enough money to pay Perez's doctor bills, buy him clothes and send him to a technical school.
"If you give of yourself, you get it back," Rosenholm explains. "Truly, we reap what we sow."
Rosenholm, 38, came to Washington from New York nine years ago. Here, he met a man named Bob Jefferies, a former congressman's chef who helped shape his philosophy of life. Jefferies, now 80, was from a large religious family in a small black town in Alabama.
"He is the happiest man I know, so I asked him about it," Rosenholm recalls. "He said the most important thing in life is loving -- and reading the Bible for the truth in it."
The night he stumbled upon Perez, Rosenholm could have been a modern version of the Bible's "good Samaritan," for indeed Perez looked as if he had been mugged by highway robbers, and Rosenholm found only closed doors in his first efforts to get help.
Even hospital doctors did not want to treat him. "They said he didn't have any money, so I offered to pay the bills," Rosenholm recalls. "I even offered to cook dinner for the doctor and his wife. Just don't let him die."
Rosenholm eventually decided to get Perez out of the abandoned building in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood where he hung out with friends. He rented Perez a room downtown and bought him new clothes. But that didn't work.
"He didn't have any idea how a capitalist society works," Rosenholm said. "He was used to the state doing everything."
Now the state was doing nothing, and Perez's anger was apparent. He was known for setting fires in the buildings where he stayed, and when he moved in with Rosenholm, friends of Rosenholm were sure the apartment was headed down the drain.
Rosenholm wasn't always so sure it wouldn't. "Until then I had been able to handle everything either physically or mentally," he said. "This required faith."
By last October it was clear that the risk had paid off. Perez celebrated his 30th birthday, served beer to his friends but did not take a drink himself. An avid baseball fan, he received tickets to a Baltimore Orioles game from sports columnist Tom Boswell and received an Orioles baseball uniform that fit him like a glove.
Perez's plight as a homeless person was not unique. But his rescue reflects an old fashioned solution that is all too uncommon today.