Community for Creative Nonviolence serves annual dinner in

Tom Boland (
Sun, 29 Nov 1998 07:49:01 -0400
FWD  Washington Post - Friday, November 27, 1998; Page B01

                       In Capitol's Shadow, the Homeless Feast
                        D.C. Shelter Serves Annual Turkey Dinner

                        By Hamil R. Harris
                        Washington Post Staff Writer
                        Friday, November 27, 1998; Page B01

                        The U.S. Capitol grounds were transformed again
yesterday into an open-air cafeteria for the needy as turkey, pumpkin pie
and all of the Thanksgiving trimmings were served to hundreds of the area's

                        Georgianna Williams, one of the first in line,
approached the food and perky volunteers with a tear in her eye.

                        "It's sad. I never thought that it would be like
this," said Williams, 38, whose recent breakup with a boyfriend landed her
on the streets four days ago. She said she moved to Washington three months
ago from her parents' home in Jacksonville, Fla., where the only job she
ever had was in the citrus industry.

                        Robin Harris roamed between two serving lines with
a walkie-talkie, making sure there were enough volunteers. The homeless
waiting for a hot meal didn't realize that her situation was not that
different from theirs.

                        "I could leave the shelter and get a full-time job,
but I don't think that I am finished here yet," said Harris, 34. She lives
in the huge downtown shelter operated at D and Second streets NW by the
Community for Creative Non-Violence, which has organized the holiday feast
for two decades.

                        The grounds of the Capitol represented all walks of
life yesterday. An estimated 1,500 homeless people -- battered lovers,
laid-off workers, substance abusers and some suffering from mental problems
-- came for a hot meal and a friendly smile. And about 500 volunteers --
federal workers, union leaders and a Colombian family thankful for being
able to immigrate to this country -- came to help out.

                        "I'm here to volunteer," Minnie Becton, 30,
announced to CCNV's president, Terry Bishop, who quickly dispatched the
Justice Department worker to the mashed potato line.

                        On a day that most people usually spend around
tables with their families, those who spent the holiday with strangers said
they were in the right place.

                        "It means a lot to help others because this country
has helped us so much," said Nelson Gonzalez, a 28-year-old management
consultant from New York, as he served Williams a piece of sweet potato
pie. Gonzalez was joined by his two sisters and his parents, immigrants
                        from Colombia.

                        "This really looks like the United Nations. There
are people here from many backgrounds," said CCNV spokesman Fred Henry.

                        Finding a way to get the region's thousands of
homeless out of soup lines and into jobs and housing, however, presents a
more daunting challenge than providing food and smiles on Thanksgiving.

                        Harris said she moved to Washington from North
Carolina in 1988, looking for a better life. The daughter of a Marine Corps
colonel, now deceased, Harris thought she had a civilian job with the Army
waiting for her. But it fell through, she said.

                        Then Harris met someone from CCNV and moved into
the shelter. She began dating someone at the shelter, became pregnant and
is now caring for her 8-year-old son. As a CCNV staff member, she has free
room and board at the shelter.

                        "The food may not be that tasty, but it's free,"
Harris said. "I don't have to pay rent. Paying rent, that's the scary part.
I could move out and get a full-time job, but I don't think I am there yet.
I like helping others."

                        Like Harris, many of the homeless at CCNV have been
there for years and are now part of the shelter's staff.

                        Jesse Martin, 59, has been a shelter resident for
nine years. He has 11 children in the area, works as a hotel steward and
could have moved out a long time ago.

                        "Because of my past, I am obligated to do something
good because I lived a negative life," said Martin, a volunteer who
returned to Washington in the 1980s after serving several prison

                        "In the 1970s, I looked out for self," he said
Wednesday. "Now I look out for others."

                        CCNV staff members live on the third floor of the
shelter, which also displays dozens of plexiglass urns containing the ashes
of residents who died while living at the shelter.

                        "I have a family here at CCNV," said Martin,
looking at some of the urns. "They [lived] mostly on the streets. Now they
are at home."

                        Nene Bragg, 30, has been banned from CCNV for
violating its curfew. Now she makes her home in front of the shelter -- on
40 milk crates that have become her queen-size bed.

                        "After three years in this neighborhood, I earned
the right to call it home," Bragg said Wednesday as she and another woman
lit a glass tube to smoke what she said was crack

                        Homelessness, said CCNV president Bishop, is not a
shelter problem. It's a community problem. "There are some people here who
really need a place to stay," she said. "And there are some here for other
reasons. If they obey the rules, we don't ask questions. We don't pass

                        Ronald Taylor, 39, said he will never feel at home
at CCNV. "The shelter is a jail without a fence, and some people have
sentenced themselves," said Taylor, who became homeless a year ago after he
lost his job as a relief cook at a Baltimore nursing home.

                        Until three weeks ago, he lived on the streets,
usually near the Department of Justice. "I felt safe down there because the
guards got to know me," he said yesterday.

                        "If I can get myself a job, I am out of CCNV,"
Taylor said as he left the Capitol grounds and headed back to the shelter
with a tray of food. "I got to get out. I am just using it as a base to get
back on my feet."

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