Unemployed workers and welfare recipients whose benefits have been eliminated or reduced have flooded Washington charitable organizations with requests for food, clothing, rental assistance and other aid -- requests that many of the charities cannot meet because of staff and budget reductions.
Throughout the city, organizations that traditionally have provided shelter or hot meals to the destitute and homeless are being approached by what they term new kinds of people, recently unemployed able-bodied men and those who have been out of work but until now were able to get by on public assistance.
"We get calls every day from people who do have the capacity to be self-sufficient. They are not street people whose problems are complicated by various neuroses," said the Rev. Tom Nees, director of Community of Hope, an arm of the Church of the Nazarene at 14th and Belmont streets NW.
"The jobless rate has always been high around here, but it's more distressing now that it has been," said Nees. "Much of the distress comes from former workers. People who have been totally dependent on public assistance aren't that much threatened. It's the working poor, the marginal people who have had some income."
Earnest Mills is such a person. Mills, 41 and single, was a part-time presser in a dry cleaning shop in Northwest for three years until he was laid off last October. Unqualified for unemployment compensation, he survived for a while on a succession of day jobs, earning between $15 and $30 a week.
He used part of the emergency food stamps he received in November and December to cover the $25 a month he pays for a room in a friend's basement apartment in Southeast, he said.
"I last worked two weeks ago, just before the snow," Mills said as he waited for a bag of groceries at Assumption Catholic Church in Anacostia. "I got my cheese when they handed that out, but I ran out of food two days ago. I'm a Catholic and I know that if you go to a priest or a sister they'll help you. I'm hoping by the time this bag runs out I'll find some work or else maybe I can be recertified for stamps."
Sister Julia McMurrough, who handed Mills the large brown bag of groceries, said it was new in her eight years of expeirence for men like him to come to the church for food:
"More and more men are unemployed and unable to pick up day jobs to keep things going day by day. The ones we see who are unemployed are coming from jobs that were part-time, day work, that sort of thing, because there's been a cut in that type of service need. These are people who've tried to work their way out of welfare and now they're being thrown back in. It's very defeating.
"We had a woman here last night who was a Kelly Girl. She'd been unable to get the part-time secretarial kind of job she was qualified for and she began calling me. She didn't come until last night when she ended up in the rectory in grave distress. One of the priests took her to St. Elizabeths."
The working poor, those who manage to survive on a combination of their own earnings and some form of public assistance, have slipped a significant notch. Stringent new qualification standards imposed by the Reagan administration have removed large numbers of Washington's working poor from the welfare rolls.
Late last year, city officials proposed a $5 million plan to maintain on the welfare rolls about 3,500 to 3,900 working poor families slated to lose Aid to Families with Dependent Children benefits because of the new welfare guidelines. That plan was abandoned because it would have violated U.S. regulations and incurred federal sanctions.
In its place, the city approved a $2.5 million program permitting more financial assistance in paying heating and utility bills, reasoning that this increase would effectively offset the federal cuts. That made the city one of the first jurisdictions to try to compensate welfare clients for the loss of federal benefits, but it apparently has not been enough.
Theresa McDaniels, staff assistant at Bread for the City, an emergency food center in the Thomas Circle neighborhood, said she is seeing more and more job-seeking men, many laid off from construction and restaurant jobs.
Most are 19 to 25 years old and she frequently has to turn them away because they must have a family or be disabled in order to qualify for groceries or clothing. In November, 964 persons came to Bread for the City, McDaniels said, as compared with about 500 the previous November.
Some say they have found the search for jobs so frustrating and depressing that they've given up. "It's so many people out of work. Usually, by the time I get the paper and call, they've had 25 or 50 people calling," said Frank Gilliard, 36. "It's so discouraging. It makes you feel like you're never going to get work."
Gilliard, the father of two boys, aged 8 and 9, lost his construction job a year ago, exhausted his unemployment compensation in December and now depends on odd jobs given him at the Community of Hope, across the street from his two-bedroom apartment. When the $120 weekly unemployment checks stopped coming, Gilliard said, "I knew I was just one more among the numbers."
His wife, Valerie, 28, took a part-time job at a day care center when her husband lost his benefits. The center is scheduled to close next month because of funding shortages.
One of their sons is repeating the second grade because of a vision problem that was only recently discovered and corrected with glasses. The boy lost the glasses and his parents can't afford to replace them. "We just don't have the $62," Gilliard said.
A number of local charities, including some that receive government funds, are turning people away, often because they're being whipsawed by incresed caseloads at the same time their staffs have been cut back for lack of financing. This has led some agencies to refer people to other organizations that pass them on yet again.
"Our caseload in terms of people coming in for emergency services because somebody in the household has lost a job is up at least 60 percent since last summer," said Gordon White, community services director of Southeast Neighborhood House. "We have been unprepared to handle the increase. We just had to struggle. We try to work with other community service agencies. Some of them have been reduced and others have gone out of business."
Staff reductions at the very time that demands on their services are rising are making the work of the charitable organizations all the harder and in some cases former employes have become clients of their own charities.
"We're getting calls for assistance from our own employes who were RIFed laid-off in a Reduction In Force ," said Pat Shannon, director of field operations for the United Planning Organization. UPO lost 125 staff members on Dec. 7 because of budget cuts.
"They need help with their rent and with utilities, which have been very high this winter, but mostly it's the rent -- in order to preclude eviction," Shannon said.
Those former staff members now on the UPO service roster tend to have been in the $8,000-$14,000-a-year bracket. The organization is making loans to them of around $200 out of "nongovernmental funds -- monies that have been donated or raised in various private ways," Shannon said.
At the Central Union Mission, 613 C St. NW, all 90 beds for men and 12 for women are filled every night and director Robert Rich said he is seeing not just the helpless who normally come to the mission for "food, clothing and a bed," but those who want to work and are capable of working.
"I think it's a combination of wintertime and the signs of the times," said Rich. "Most nights we have to turn people away."
The Salvation Army, too, reported having to turn people away. Last month, according to Maj. Robert Griffin, the organization had 531 requests for assistance, up 213 or 66 percent from January 1981. Of these, Griffin said, "we could provide some form of material assistance" to 380. Most of those seeking help ask for food, he said.
Catholic Charities experienced a jump in calls for help from 80 in November to 136 in December, according to Marita Dean, who is in charge of the D.C. office. "We're seeing people now that no agency ever saw before," Dean said, "people who never had to beg before. They're frightened. They've never had this experience before.
"So you help them this month, but they're not going to be any better off next month. You try to help them find some resource in the community so they know where to go next time. And if you can't do that, you try to counsel them.
"A lot of them are working poor who were making it and then their subsidies or stamps were cut and, bang, they're out of business. If they lose their jobs, there's always a waiting period before that first unemployment check comes. Meanwhile, the rent is due and the food has run out.
"In January, we had to turn down 25 people who needed rent and utilities help. You feel so helpless because without rent money, there's almost nowhere else we can send them."
Cuts from food stamp and Medicare rolls have caused hardship among the city's elderly, and not just in traditionally poor areas.
"We're getting new people, people we never saw before," said Dorothea Lear, head of the Seniors Nutrition Program at Adas Israel Synagogue on Porter Street NW. "They're elderly people whose food stamps have been cut, people whose Medicare has been dropped and they're using whatever money they have to buy medication. So, they can't afford to buy food anymore."
The synagogue provides a hot lunch daily to some 75 people between the ages of 70 and 90. Except for one Chinese woman, Lear said, all are white.
At the Missionaries of Charity on Wheeler Road SE, Sister Leonard, who came to Washington from Calcutta a year ago, reflected on the 40 or so men and women, the mothers and children, who come to the soup kitchen she and the other nuns operate every day but Thursday.
"Some have recently lost jobs, some have not worked for many years," Sister Leonard said in halting English. "Many are in despair. They see no use for living. Some take drugs.
"The poor of Calcutta are really poor, but here they are spiritually and materially poor. Washington people are more poor than in Calcutta in the spiritual way, because this country is rich."