It has to be one of the saddest streets in Washington: Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, where the busiest establishment on the strip yesterday was Galloway's Liquor store.

An overflow of winos had spent the morning of the King holiday watching a parade while spilling all manner of bodily fluids onto side streets and alleys.

"Martin Luther King would be appalled," said Pearline Pearson, a member of Holy Word Church, which is housed in a storefront just off the avenue. "They should never have changed the name if they weren't going to change the people who live on it."

Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue was Nichols Avenue until the D.C. Council renamed it in honor of the slain civil rights leader in January 1971. It was the first major renaming of a city street since Congress changed Conduit Road to MacArthur Boulevard in 1942.

Today, the boulevard named after a war hero runs through some of the most peaceful neighborhoods in Northwest Washington, while the avenue named for a man of peace cuts through some of the District's most violent sections.

"Drugs made everything worse," said Maurice Devaux, an auto mechanic who said he routinely picks up hypodermic syringes from his yard along the avenue. "For some reason, people got the impression that just changing the name was going to make this a better street."

With the Green Line of Metrorail expected to open soon in Southeast Washington, profound change is expected to come to Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, which is the commercial lifeline of the District's poorest area, Ward 8.

The avenue, which intersects Good Hope Road in Ward 6, has been repaved, with curbs added and trees planted along the roadway. But for many residents, this does not mean that the King dream will come true.

"You're talking about sprucing up buildings and streets, while people who need sprucing up may simply be removed," said the Rev. Francis Walsh, pastor of Assumption Catholic Church, which is on the avenue.

The back alleys of upper Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue have the best views of the federal city of any neighborhood in town. Add subway access across the Anacostia River, and those who don't own their homes may be forced to start packing pretty soon.

"Barry Farms {a huge public housing project} is right across the street from the Metro and the property is worth millions," Walsh said. "Those who live there do not own it. The problem with public housing is that the living arrangement amounts to having serfs on an estate."

Walsh said that if the District government made it possible for more low-income residents to own their homes, many of the social ills afflicting Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue would be remedied.

Currently, Ward 8 -- which has the most children in the city -- has the smallest number of privately owned homes and the most public housing units. Crime and poverty rates are the highest, while education and income attainment are among the lowest in the city.

"The only way to root people is to construct a housing system that includes rewards and punishments," Walsh said. "You don't tear up a house if it's your house. You try to build equity. Owning homes builds neighborhoods. Help people get into a home of their own and they begin to get rid of the 'project person' mentality, which makes for third-class citizens, and sets them apart."

But for now, many residents are finding their help in the liquor stores that stretch for blocks along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.

And not everybody is bothered by that.

"I think King would be pleased that people in this city thought enough of him to give a street his name," said Eulalia Galloway, owner of Galloway's Liquor.

Her customers agree.

"King stood up for the down and out, and that's us," one man slurred as he drank wine in an overgrown vacant lot next to Bethlehem Baptist Church. "It gives me hope to know that he could rise to have a street named after him."

"Right on," said his drinking buddy, who was just as drunk. "King had a dream. I had a nightmare. But I'm still struggling, just like King said to do."

It was a sad reminder that, in some ways, the street's original name is more appropriate. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue was not always Nichols Avenue. Because the strip bisects St. Elizabeths Hospital, it had been called Asylum Road.