Features

Addicted to the streets

"Addicted to the streets" Continued...

Issue: "Mayberry no more," July 29, 2006

After a 45-minute service, the breakfast gatekeeper announces names from a clipboard, numbered one to 200. People with high numbers sit and wait, and at the back a woman furtively shows her neighbors what's in her hand, whispering, "I got cocoapuffs"-street slang for joints rolled with the double whammy of marijuana and cocaine. Above her is a stained-glass nave window, a gift in 1910 from the famous Tiffany Studio in New York. It depicts a soul drawn near to God. The woman misses the irony. The church's volunteers pray that she might be the soul.

Greeting familiar faces in line is Albert McNeill, who heads up the free counseling and speaks from hard experience: "Some people you could give a house to and they wouldn't keep it. [Most charities] don't understand that. Unfortunately homelessness is an addiction, too. . . . Before giving them things can do any good, we have to help them re-establish their self-worth."

Paper pushers

Forms and formality now paper over heartfelt needs of the homeless

By Clint Rainey

It's hard to assess the services that organizations aiming to help the homeless provide. Groups tend to embellish, and many homeless individuals criticize everything.

Logical answer: See for yourself. So I donned ratty clothes and wandered Washington unshowered over the course of a work week. My story, to anyone who asked, was that I had recently arrived in Washington (true) and that I was new at this homeless thing (certainly true).

One representative experience: At a homeless center called So Others Might Eat (SOME), I ate a hearty lunch that resembled shepherd's pie. I asked a volunteer where I could go "just to talk to someone." Obviously unsure, she misdirected me across the street-to SOME's clothes closet and showers. I guess she thought hygiene and an outfit without malodor would clean up whatever problems I had inside.

Another trip was to the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV), where I tried to get some medicine-and that required seeing a doctor. To see the doctor, I would have had to register as a patient, and to register as a patient I would have had to fill out a mountain of paperwork, some for the Department of Homeland Security, some certifying my homelessness for the District of Columbia. Endless reams of health-care paperwork can now join death and taxes on that list of sure things in life.

Though this was exasperating, it's a big change from 1990, when anyone could drop in and get almost anything. WORLD's Marvin Olasky posed for several days then as a homeless man and found that, without answering any questions, he could receive all kinds of material help to bandage wounds-but little to check how deep they might go. Now, physical needs are still met, but there's more paperwork.

While authentic in their care, many organizations do not understand the need to fill hearts as well as stomachs.

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