Barbara Hervey spent this past Christmas in Lafayette Park. Her younger sister found her there three days later, lying on a blanket, shielded from the wind by a hedge, a pint of cheap wine within easy reach. She brought Hervey hot tea and sandwiches for the day and a coat and other clothing for another winter on the streets.

As a Christmas gift, she handed Hervey a small metal box containing cookies, a magazine, moisturized paper tissues and a photograph album with pictures of Hervey's five children and eight grandchildren -- a family from whom she was estranged by painful, but mutual, consent.

On Jan. 4, a week later to the day, the body of the one-time church pianist and secretary was carried out of a downtown Washington alley. She had died that Saturday afternoon, huddled in the rear entryway of a parking garage with a man so drunk he didn't notice she was spitting up blood.

The cause of death, according to a D.C. medical examiner's report: "Massive" hemorrhaging in the stomach and cirrhosis of the liver attributable to chronic alcoholism. She was 52.

"Leaving her on the street was one of the hardest things I ever had to do," said Joan Carney, Hervey's younger sister. She had inherited "the problem of Barbara" 1 1/2 years ago after Hervey's twin sister and other relatives in East Detroit, Mich., Hervey's home town, said they could no longer take care of her or cope with her drinking.

But Carney, a take-charge sort who brought Hervey to Washington and moved her into her Mount Rainier home, had no better results. Hope for a fresh start here collapsed, a casualty of continued drinking bouts and crippling personal relationships. Soon, Hervey was living in seedy hotels and apartments, when she could afford them, or spending the night at a succession of shelters for the homeless, which she often shunned in favor of street life with her boyfriend.

The short, dumpy, gray-haired woman walked with a limp as she made her rounds near the White House, the result of a severe beating from a former boyfriend. She often used a cane, and she had long ago misplaced her false teeth. She frequently was seen pushing the wheelchair of Jesse Broughman, 67, another street alcoholic and near invalid whom she called her husband.

By day, Hervey would sit on a bench in Lafayette Park, usually near the center statue, and visit or drink with other homeless regulars. She kept her belongings in a plastic bag or cardboard box. By night, if she did not go to a shelter, she would sleep on the steps of the nearby U.S. Court of Appeals building or St. John's Church.

"I called the family the week before she died and told them she wouldn't last the winter," said Carney, 42. "We were talking about trying to have her committed -- which is practically impossible in her case -- when she died. Thank God she didn't freeze to death."

Her death was above all a family tragedy. But it was also a poignant illustration of what is and is not being done -- and sometimes of what cannot be done -- for thousands of homeless men and women.

In her sad journey from a three-bedroom brick rambler in Michigan to a trash-strewn back alley behind L Street NW, Barbara Hervey was remembered as a bright, personable woman with a good sense of humor who was considered atypical of most of the city's street population.

But Hervey's alcoholism, according to those who knew her, often undermined those good qualities and eventually obliterated an already precarious foothold on conventional respectability. She slid into the streets and stayed there -- despite the best efforts of family, friends and shelter care workers.

"Barbara is someone who shouldn't have been here," said Sandra Brawders, executive director of the House of Ruth, the city-funded shelter for homeless women in Northeast where Hervey stayed from time to time, and where she practiced her typing.

Brawders thinks there should have been some way for the social service system to have given Carney more help when she took Hervey into her home. Others say it should have been easier to commit Hervey for her own protection, just as many homeless people are brought in off the streets in cold weather. Still others argue that Hervey might have come off the streets voluntarily, and perhaps stopped drinking, if shelters were more attractive, had facilities for couples and offered therapy and other programs for alcoholic residents.

There is no way of knowing if any of these measures would have made a difference in Hervey's life, and experts agree that short of locking people up, there is no way to force someone to stop drinking. They agree on something else, too: For most alcoholics, the streets are the last stop. Pampered by Her Family

Hervey's body lay unidentified in the city morgue for three days, another "bag lady" statistic from the streets. In life, too, she had become something of a nonperson.

But it was not always that way.

"Just because somebody's on the streets doesn't mean there's not somebody concerned and upset about that," said Hervey's twin sister Beverly. "Maybe they can't do anything -- or maybe they just couldn't do any more."

Beverly and Cheryl, the second oldest of Hervey's five children, agreed to discuss Hervey as sister and mother on the condition that their last names not be used.

Born into the large family of an East Detroit sheet metal worker and his strict Baptist wife, Hervey, by all accounts, grew up almost pampered by her mother and siblings. "She never had to dry a dish or wash a floor," Beverly said. "Someone always did it for her."

She married James Hervey in 1952. She was 19, he was a year younger. The first of their five children arrived two years later, and the woman who had had little responsibility growing up soon had more than she could handle.

Jimmy Hervey worked only occasionally as a store clerk. It was Barbara Hervey who found steady employment, working for years as a secretary and proofreader at a community college outside Detroit.

Other family members, including her mother and younger sister Joan, then a teen-ager, helped with child care and housekeeping while the young mother went to work. On Sundays Barbara Hervey played piano for the church choir and taught Bible classes.

But things were falling apart at home.

"The drinking was a problem ever since I can remember," said her daughter Cheryl, now 28. She said she dreaded going home and would pray that she would find her parents asleep. "They both were alcoholics, but she held it together longer."

As the children spent more time with their grandparents or "Aunt Beverly" or "Aunt Joan," Cheryl finally issued an ultimatum, telling her mother to choose between her children and her husband.

"I felt they aggravated and encouraged each other," Cheryl said. "They loved each other but they weren't good for each other."

Sometime in the early 1970s, Jimmy Hervey left and moved in with his mother on the West Coast. The separation seemed to accelerate the self-destruction, not halt it.

In 1973, Jimmy Hervey committed suicide; Barbara Hervey was shattered. A year later, her mother died.

By 1975, she had quit her job and was working part time. Her drinking got worse, and she began to let bills slide. She sometimes attended meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, but she didn't really accept her problem and never stayed on the wagon very long.

Eventually, there was a new man in Hervey's life, Sam, another alcoholic. Five years ago, she stopped working completely, living off severance pay and $230 a month in welfare.

In 1983, arguing over Hervey's plans to look for a job, the boyfriend beat her, injuring her leg so severely that she was in a hospital and nursing home for nearly a year. When she came out, family members found her an apartment.

"But she just didn't want to handle it," said Cheryl. "She could always get liquor, even in the rehabilitation center. And even when we got her the apartment, we'd have to go down there ourselves and pay the rent."

Cheryl, the child in closest contact with her mother, said she reached her breaking point two winters ago when she showed up at her mother's apartment with food, clothes and books -- and found Sam there.

"Here I was trying to handle a career and family of my own, and there she was with the man who had beaten her up," said Cheryl, who has two children. "I threw the bags down and said, 'I'm done, and don't call me.' She did call once when she was drunk. I hung up."

Several months later, Barbara Hervey's sister Beverly found out that she needed breast surgery for cancer. "I was really in no shape to deal with her anymore," Hervey's twin recalled. "We'd been trying to help her for 10 years. But too many times we'd be helping her at one end and she'd be out undoing it at the other."

Enter Joan Carney. With Hervey facing eviction, the younger sister said she would take over. In 1984, during the Memorial Day weekend, Carney and her son drove to Detroit, put a subdued but less-than-sober Hervey into their Toyota, and returned to Washington. No Shelter for Couples

After a three-day confinement at the city's detoxification center and a brief falling out -- during which Hervey tried to get Travelers Aid to send her back to Detroit -- it looked like things might work out.

Carney says she took a month and a half off from work to help Hervey brush up her typing and bought her new clothes for job interviews. By mid-July Hervey was working as a receptionist at the University of Maryland's department of economics.

"She was a very impressive woman," recalled Alys Kerns, who hired her. "She had some business and accounting credits from the community college where she worked, and she said she was learning word processing."

But her drinking problems resurfaced. Two weeks later, when Hervey got her first paycheck, "she did not come in and she didn't call," said Kerns, who said Hervey was let go for this and for spending the night in the office lounge.

Hervey went on other job interviews, but there is no record of permanent employment. She spent less time at her sister's. And she met Jesse Broughman, a man described by one AA counselor as having had only about eight months of total sobriety in the previous eight years.

"She was the sweetest person in the world, she was my right arm," Broughman, 67, said recently during an interview at an AA club in Riverdale, where he and Hervey first met. "I loved that woman, and she loved me."

Broughman received about $185 a month in Social Security, and Hervey soon began receiving periodic installments of money from a settlement stemming from her assault in Detroit.

"The $185? We'd spend that in a day on drinking and a place to stay," Broughman said. When they were broke, they would panhandle or sign themselves into a hospital emergency room just to have a place to stay. Broughman did not like shelters.

"I'm maltreated there," he said. "I got hit upside the head at the new Anacostia shelter, and at Second and D, the people wouldn't have any patience with me."

His chief complaint, however, is that he and Hervey, who sometimes used Broughman as her last name, could not find a shelter that would take couples. They wanted to get off the streets and stop drinking, he said, but until they had a place, Lafayette Park was as good a street community as any.

Hervey tried to move Broughman into the house that she had shared with her sister, but that is where Carney, already at wits end, drew the line.

If she left Hervey alone, Carney said, she would return to find the key in the front door or the stove left on, or her sister gone and Broughman in the house. Carney laid out a new rule: When Hervey was drunk, she was to stay in the basement where she would have shelter but could not do much damage.

Broughman was not welcome, and Hervey knew this. In a sense, Carney acknowledges on reflection, she was asking her sister once more to make a choice about a man in her life. And Hervey did: She stopped coming around.

Carney kept tabs on her sister, nonetheless, calling shelters and making occasional deliveries of food and clothing.

Hervey and Broughman seemed to fend pretty well for themselves in spring and summer, but winters were another matter.

Concepcion Picciotto, encamped in Lafayette Park as part of a 24-hour antinuclear vigil, recalls first meeting Hervey on Inauguration Day, 1985. On a day so cold that the parade had been canceled, Hervey was walking around in shoes with holes in the soles.

"I gave her my boots and $1," Picciotto said.

Hervey checked into the House of Ruth later that day. But she was more hesitant about going to a shelter when she was with Broughman, and almost everyone who encountered them tells of their fights whenever Hervey wanted to get off the streets.

"I used to go out in the van looking for her in the park on cold nights," recalls Ethella Palmer, night manager of the Florida Avenue Shelter for women, run by the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless. "He'd call her names, and he'd tell her not to come back. She'd cry and say she was cold and couldn't stay out there another night."

Shelter workers liked Hervey. They said she had a pleasing personality, was cooperative and willingly took baths. The Florida Avenue shelter always gave her the cot against the wall of its tidy upstairs room for older women.

Hervey seldom, if ever, talked about her family. Angered at Carney, she began listing her twin Beverly or "no one" as the person to contact in case of an emergency.

Hervey had been awarded several thousand dollars in settlement of her assault suit -- which she had asked her lawyer to apportion out -- and last May she and Broughman showed up in his Detroit office for another installment.

The attorney, Donald Housey, said he gave them some money and found them a place to stay. Within a month, however, an embarrassed Housey was getting complaints from the landlord "of drinking, yelling and cussing" and apartment filth. He put them on a plane back to Washington.

In July, Hervey asked that he mail the remainder of the settlement, $3,274, to Broughman's attorney. By November, she and Broughman were on the streets again.

Ethella Palmer saw Hervey in mid-December, about three weeks before she died. She was curled up with four or five other street couples on the steps of St. John's, covered by a coat and two blankets.

"I woke her up to tell her the van was here, but she said she didn't want to come to the shelter," Palmer remembers. "I took the cover and coat and pulled them up around her, and said, 'See you tomorrow night.' But she wasn't there when I went back."

Advocates for the homeless say alcoholics and the mentally ill account for the largest share of the estimated 6,500 or more homeless people in the Washington area, and that the majority of deaths in the shelters are attributable to alcoholism. The disease is less common among homeless women than among homeless men, but it is more difficult to treat because women generally have a harder time admitting they are alcoholics.

The people who run programs for homeless alcoholics and other street people say there is rarely a relative like Carney who stays involved, usually because families have reached the end of their rope by that point. And those who do hang in there may not be the best ones to get an alcoholic to stop drinking, especially if they take on the role of disciplinarian.

"It's a hard balance," Brawders said. "The family has to decide whether it can continue the support, and how far. What is unconditional love?"

Carney lost track of her sister last fall but learned soon after Christmas that she was back in Lafayette Park. Broughman was hospitalized, but Hervey did not want to go home with Carney or to a shelter.

"That last day I saw her, I considered all the options, including chaining her in the basement," Carney said. "I gave her a sweater I had on, and I went to the store and bought her warm clothing and food and candles to warm her hands on."

She also put a note into the photo album, telling Hervey, "If the day comes when you're ready to come out of the cold, find me and I'll help you as much as I can."

During that week, Carney and Cheryl checked on procedures for commiting Hervey to a facility in either D.C. or Detroit, but they were told by authorities that she would be able to sign herself out at will because she posed no danger to others.

Broughman was in a hospital when Hervey died, and no one is sure of her whereabouts in the days before she was found in the alley. Some remember that she was spitting up blood the last time they saw her.

Her body, clad in the coat Carney had given her, was lying on its back under two blankets and atop a blood-stained, urine-soaked piece of old rug padding. The back of the garage, in the 1600 block of L Street NW, was often used as a shelter by homeless people, and it was littered with empty liquor bottles, food containers and cigarette packs. The man lying next to Hervey was taken to the detoxification center.

After identifying the body, Carney called Beverly, who called Cheryl, who called the others.

"We figured if she hit the bottom, she'd have to come back up," Beverly said. "I guess we made a mistake."

A memorial service for Hervey was held in Michigan last month. "There were these people there she had grown up with who had wonderful memories of her," Cheryl said. "That's what hurt the most -- because we never saw it." Hervey's legacy? "None of us kids drinks."

Cheryl said her mother's death hit her hard, even though the family "had expected it, knew it was coming" for a long time. "I cried. I didn't think I would, but I did."