This Week On Metro Connection: House And Home (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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This Week On Metro Connection: House And Home

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

Welcome to "Metro Connection," I'm Sabri Ben-Achour in today for Rebecca Sheir. This week we're bringing you stories about house and home. Later in the show, we'll take a tour of a former prison in Lorton, Va., and hear about plans to turn it into snazzy new apartments and townhouses. We'll also meet people who get to live in pretty cool, old historic homes, rent free as long as they agree to fix up those homes. First though, we're going to spend some time looking at homelessness in our region. And we begin here...

MS. EBONY SHELLEY

Where's your bottle?

BEN-ACHOUR

Ebony Shelley is sitting on a brick window ledge in front of a discount minimart, riffling through her bag for a bottle.

SHELLEY

My name is Ebony Shelley and I'm 22 years old.

BEN-ACHOUR

Strapped to her chest, in a harness she got from Goodwill is a tiny person.

SHELLEY

My youngest son, Kylha, right now he's two months.

BEN-ACHOUR

It's 8 o'clock in the evening, it's dark, we're in a strip mall in the Washington Highland's neighborhood in Southeast, D.C., near the Maryland line. Half the stores are vacant, boarded up, it's ghostly. Most of the parking lights are out. Ebony's wearing a pair of white tights, a black coat and thin purple shoes. They have holes in them because Ebony walks a lot. So where are you going to sleep tonight?

SHELLEY

I haven't made no definite plans. You know, the past couple of nights, it's just been me and him, just walking around, you know. I -- I don't trust sleeping out here because there's a lot happening around here. You know, you hear gunshots, you know, people running red lights. And, you know, actually a couple weeks ago, because someone ran a red light, me and my three kids almost got hit, almost hit us. Almost hit us.

BEN-ACHOUR

Ebony has four kids, actually. One is in the custody of an estranged ex-boyfriend. The rest with her. She had her first at 16.

SHELLEY

I was 16 years old, yep. My grandmother made sure that I finished school. So, I guess, I was in school with a big old belly and, you know, everyone staring at me, like, oh my God, she's pregnant. So, yeah, I did finish school, though. My oldest daughter is a Amani, she's six. And my oldest son is one, his name is Kyree. But at night, Amani and Kyree goes to her Dad's house to, you know, get their rest. And during the day, he's at work so he'll drop my daughter off at school and then drop my son off and then we'll meet up at my grandparents.

BEN-ACHOUR

Yes, Ebony has grandparents. They work during the day and she spends the day at their place sometimes and visits with her kids for a few hours. And she explains how it's possible that she's still homeless. It becomes clear how messy and fragile her life is because it's not just her who's in a tough situation, it's everyone around her. Why can't you stay -- everyone stay at your grandparent's house?

SHELLEY

My grandparents is -- it's -- by itself, without me and my kids, it's nine people there. So you got people already in a living room. My grandparents sleep downstairs. It's just way, way too crowded. And I love my grandparents to death, but they have a little problem there with bugs. So, you know, bed bugs, I'm saying. So we can barely sit down anywhere, you know. My kids are getting bit up, left to right, I am, too. But, you know, it's all I have. You know, I really don’t have anyone else. My Mom, she wants to help out so bad, but she's in a program herself. You know, she's trying to get help. She has like a little problem, so...

BEN-ACHOUR

Like?

SHELLEY

Drug problems. So she's in a program, but my grandparents is the only option I have. And, you know, being as though we had a situation there, I really can't stay -- stay there.

BEN-ACHOUR

The situation she's talking about is an abusive ex. She left him after he started threatening her.

SHELLEY

When I saw those little red flags, because I was blind to them at first, but once I saw them, I said, oh no. I already know where this is going. I already -- I already know. I see what you're saying, I'm not going to stick around and feel what you're saying. I can't do it. Been there, done that.

BEN-ACHOUR

It wasn't her first abusive relationship. This is typical of about one out of four homeless families in this region. Domestic violence is the biggest factor in their homelessness. Ebony has been pushed down stairs, starved even. So she left and moved in with her grandparents. Her ex followed her.

SHELLEY

He came to my grandparents' house and he started, you know, hell raising and threatening everybody in the house. And, you know, threatening to take my son and he wouldn't leave the premises unless I came out. So we had to call the police. They told me that in order for me to, you know, be safe, I had to put a restraining order against him and I did.

SHELLEY

But my grandparents were very concerned because he even said himself, he doesn't care about this restraining order. From there, my grandparents were like, well, you know, Ebony, just because we don't want no problems here, you know, it's best that you find somewhere else to go. And I found -- you -- like I said, I don't have any hard feelings against my grandparents, but I find that hard.

BEN-ACHOUR

Her other ex, who takes care of some of the kids at night, either can't or won't let everyone move in. But Ebony hasn't been idle. She says she goes to the city's homeless intake center called The Virginia Williams Family Resource Center, every day.

SHELLEY

I was sick and Virginia Williams, for what, maybe about an hour or two, just to hear, well, unfortunately we don't have any openings today, after I'm telling them, ma'am, I'm walking around in the middle of the night, 12:00, 1 o'clock, 2 o'clock, 3 o'clock, 4 o'clock in the morning, 5 o'clock with a two month old kid. You know, it's just like, you guys don’t have anything?

BEN-ACHOUR

The thing is, they did. There were tons of empty beds available, but they were being reserved for hypothermia season. When temperatures reach freezing and the city is legally required to take anyone, everyone in. Hypothermia season started November 1st after we spoke with Ebony.

SHELLEY

And I'm just like, well, when does that start because, you know, me and my son are cold? We're outside, you know, and I was zipping him up in my jacket, like, make sure he's warm, just like this, every night. And, I'm like, please reach 32 degrees, please reach 32 degrees, please. And I'm even calling the shelter hotline at night and like, ma'am, I'm outside with my kid right now. I have nowhere to go.

SHELLEY

My son is two months old, you know, well -- you know, we don't have no space available. And that's all I hear. And it's so discouraging because, where's the sympathy for the babies, you know? Me, I can understand, but my kids, you know, just have some sympathy for them. Like, okay, let's get these kids out of the cold.

BEN-ACHOUR

Homeless advocates say there's been a 73 percent increase in the number of homeless families in the district since the beginning of the recession. The shelters in the entire region are full and there are waiting lists, at least, a yearlong for transitional housing. For some types of housing, the wait list is 20 years, seriously.

SHELLEY

My biggest expense would -- now, would be milk and diapers, milk and diapers. You know, my son, they go through -- both of them are still in diapers. So I can't potty train Kyree because, you know, we're not anywhere stable. So it's not like, you know, in potty training, it's an all day thing. And I can't, you know, go to an interview with, you know, two, maybe three kids with me. But, like, as far as like panhandle, I think if I started panhandling, I think that would be rock bottom.

BEN-ACHOUR

So Ebony Shelley walks, sometimes she sleeps at bus stations, sometimes cat naps in a house where she fears her ex-boyfriend's return, sometimes doesn't sleep at all, just rides the bus around wherever it goes.

SHELLEY

When I leave here, I leave with no destination. I get right on that bus and I'm going nowhere, just to kill time and stuff like that. Even at night, sometimes we ride the bus all the way up to the Monument and stuff. We -- I've even walked around there, you know. And it was pretty interesting because no one was there and I was able to just walk around peacefully and just, you know -- I think it's called Haines Point, the little water thing. Me and him just sat there and we just watching, you know, the water glistening with the light and stuff. It was -- it was bad, but it was a good -- it was a good scenario, you know. We got to watch all the little stuff.

BEN-ACHOUR

Since this story was recorded, Ebony Shelley was finally admitted to a shelter. She's looking for a job and a permanent place to live.

BEN-ACHOUR

For more information and photos, you can visit our website, metroconnection.org.

BEN-ACHOUR

The people we're going to meet next are about the same age as Ebony Shelley, they're college students and they're not exactly sure where they're going to lay their heads when winter break comes and their dorms close. Special correspondent, Kavitha Cardoza, brings us their story.

MS. DARELLE DOLEMAN

Trail mix, $3.79.

MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA

Darelle Doleman is a junior at Trinity Washington University in Northeast, D.C. She works at the campus store part time.

DOLEMAN

Receipt? Okay.

CARDOZA

College is a refuge for Darelle. Her parents were drug addicts, so she grew up in her grandmother's home. When Darelle was in high school, her grandmother died so she moved in with an aunt. For a while, life was good. She got a scholarship for college and everyone kept saying they were proud of her. Then just before finals last year, her aunt called and said Darelle was not welcome back home for the summer break.

DOLEMAN

Something about my godfather's parole officer didn't feel like it was okay for me to be there.

CARDOZA

At first, Darelle didn't believe her aunt was serious.

DOLEMAN

I couldn’t fathom somebody who has been there for me that much telling me that I couldn't come back to their house. It was very heartbreaking. It hurts so bad because I didn't understand, like, what's wrong with me that nobody wants me around, basically?

CARDOZA

Darelle, who excelled in high school, began struggling to keep up with her college work.

DOLEMAN

I kind of had a nervous breakdown. I was very depressed and I was cutting myself and I really didn't want to be here.

CARDOZA

Darelle's holidays aren't happy anymore. She now spends every vacation in a youth hostel and she's learned to pare down her belongings to a minimum. It's easier.

DOLEMAN

I don't have any knickknacks or anything like that. I don't have posters. I don't carry all that stuff with me because where am I going to put it at?

CARDOZA

Monica Gray is the director of programs at College Success Foundation, a D.C. non-profit that works with Darelle and other low income students, many of whom are the first in their families to go to college. Gray says these students are often shocked to find they don't have a home to return to.

MS. MONICA GRAY

In some cases, it's because the family has become homeless. In some cases, it's that another relative has moved into the home. In some cases, it's that the families think, well, now that you're 18, you're sort of on your own. There are instances where the family received some sort of government assistance when the student was under 18, but now that they're over 18, they don't get the same funding to support them.

CARDOZA

These students often have adult responsibilities. They may be contributing money to food and rent or caring for older relatives. Sometimes they're the only ones able to translate for family members who don't speak English. And so, Gray says, for these young people, choosing to go to college can be an extremely difficult choice.

GRAY

It's, do I make a long-term commitment to myself or do I address this short-term challenges that my family is facing now? Do I become another income earner?

CARDOZA

She says the worst part is these students have had to overcome immense challenges to get to college in the first place.

GRAY

They feel like they're doing all the right things, they didn't take the path to prison or, you know, dropping out of high school or what-have-you, and then, you know, they're hit with this.

CARDOZA

Officially, there are approximately 33,000 students who are homeless in college, that's according to Barbara Duffield with the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. But she says that's almost certainly an underestimate.

MS. BARBARA DUFFIELD

Some students may not recognize their situation as homelessness because there's a stereotype that a homeless person is living on the street. I also think there's a lot of fear and shame.

CARDOZA

Duffield says, a national hotline on education and homelessness was swamped with calls about college students, so much so, it had to create a separate number for that subset of callers.

DUFFIELD

There's been growing inquiries, I think, because the problem is getting worse and because there's more awareness about the issue. Students who are being asked for documentation they can't provide, often times the questions will be, what do I do during the breaks?

CARDOZA

Some colleges are trying to provide support for these homeless students. But Duffield says, most aren't doing anything. And she says, in some cases...

DUFFIELD

A hostility towards students who are presenting themselves as homeless and overly aggressive efforts to require things of them that they cannot provide and, frankly, turn them away.

CARDOZA

18-year-old Raven (word?) is one of those students trying to figure out where she'll stay for the winter break in just a few weeks. Several months ago, she moved from D.C. to Greensboro, N.C., to begin studies at Bennett College. She says she was thrilled to get admission.

MS. RAVEN

And I always seen people who didn't go to college and not do anything but getting a minimum wage job and I didn't want to be that person.

CARDOZA

Raven grew up in the foster care system and is supposed to have a home in her foster mother's house until she's 21. But when she recently returned home for fall break, things were different. There were no sheets on her bed, her desk and computer were moved to the basement and everyone ignored her.

RAVEN

I thought it was going to be like everybody was going to be happy and excited to see me. Everybody saying, Hey, Raven, you know, how's college? But everybody was acting like they didn't want me to be there.

CARDOZA

It hurts when she hears her friends talk about their homes and their families.

RAVEN

It hurts a lot to see that I really don't have nobody sometimes, but I just try to hold on. That's all I got to do.

CARDOZA

David Johnson, whose name has been changed, thinks of college as his home. He's a sophomore at George Washington University in D.C. and worked hard for a full scholarship.

MR. DAVID JOHNSON

I wanted to counteract the stereotypes that black men don't go to college.

CARDOZA

But last summer, David's father became increasingly upset with him for getting back in touch with his mother, a former drug addict. His father told him to leave and David started sleeping on friends couches.

JOHNSON

I just figured I would just keep doing that until school started again.

CARDOZA

Keeping up with school work and worrying about his future lead David to fall ill and he was hospitalized briefly, even now, thinking about having to take out loans to pay for housing over the winter break, fills him with anxiety.

JOHNSON

It's like you're carrying something around at all times and you can't separate that from your other life. In college, it really, like, tears at you emotionally. Bad dreams, cold sweats, you feel unstable.

CARDOZA

Yet despite these challenges, David is determined to get his degree.

JOHNSON

I've seen my mother and father struggle all their lives because they didn't finish college and I don't want that for myself. I need to work through the college system in order for there to be a better end.

CARDOZA

David longs for the safety and security of his dorm room, year round. It's the closest thing he has to a real home. I'm Kavitha Cardoza.

BEN-ACHOUR

Time for a quick break. But when we get back, the tale of a man who hunkered down in a tent as superstorm Sandy swept up the coast.

MR. KENNY

I spent hurricane Sandy in just what you see and it was standing up because I didn't go in to (unintelligible) last Thursday.

BEN-ACHOUR

Wow. That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.

BEN-ACHOUR

Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Sabri Ben-Achour in for Rebecca Sheir. This week we're talking about house and home. And, as we've heard, thousands of people in this region don't the privilege of either, which is why D.C.'s given birth to institutions like the one we'll hear about next, which actually is about to move to a new home. Central Union Mission is the district's oldest social service agency. The mission has been helping out D.C.'s homeless and hungry since 1884.

BEN-ACHOUR

It started downtown with a shelter on C Street Northwest, just off of Pennsylvania Avenue. The Mission had to relocate about a century later, when the city began restoring Pennsylvania Avenue and making way for Metro. And since then, the Mission has been stationed at 14th and R, not far from Logan Circle. And, as Rebecca Sheir tells us, Central Union Mission is gearing up for yet another relocation, this time back to the heart of Washington, D.C.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

For Pastor James Lewis, Central Union Mission's senior director of ministries, homecoming sounds an awful lot like this.

PASTOR JAMES LEWIS

We are really kind of returning home coming back downtown. Union Station is only one block away. And if you drive around this area, there are plenty of people that are homeless. And we offer them a respite.

SHEIR

Reverend Lewis and I are decked out in hardhats amidst the buzzing construction at 65 Massachusetts Avenue Northwest, site of the historic 131-year-old Gales School. The building itself seems rather fragile. I mean every time I go by I see those steel beams. Are they holding up the building?

MR. TOM PHELPS

Yeah, the framing that's on the outside of the building were all installed to stabilize the building and keep everything intact as it goes through this transformation.

SHEIR

Tom Phelps is the senior superintendent of this transformation, which began in September. Phelps says they hope to turn the decrepit old school, which is currently owned by the D.C. government, into a state of the art mission by July 2013. And one of the mission's current residents, James Higden…

MR. JAMES HIGDEN

It's almost like waiting for Christmas.

SHEIR

…can hardly contain his excitement.

HIGDEN

To know that you're gonna have all these additional services. They're gonna be in a area that's more centrally located. It's just exciting to watch.

SHEIR

I spoke with the 50-something, fourth-generation Washingtonian at Central Union Mission's present location over on 14th and R. Higden says he came here after years of wrestling with anxiety and depression.

HIGDEN

And it's a much better wrestler than I am.

SHEIR

Now, he's in a Mission program that houses men while they search for work. And as Rev. Rutherford Cook points out -- he's the one who runs the Overnight Guest Ministry -- these guys are just some of the Mission's overnight residents.

REV. RUTHERFORD COOK

We have about 86 beds at this facility that we use to accommodate veterans and our regular overnight guests, plus our work program men.

SHEIR

So Rev. Cook is thrilled that at the new facility on Massachusetts Avenue…

COOK

We will almost double that capacity.

SHEIR

Not only that, but the new building will accommodate guests 24 hours a day. See, right now…

COOK

Our regular overnight guests have to be here at 1:00 for intake.

SHEIR

And, the following morning at 7:00…

COOK

They have to be out of the building and then they have to come back at 1:00 for intake again.

SHEIR

That'll all change at the new location, where the men won't have to split right after breakfast.

COOK

So that's going to introduce some, shall I say, challenges to us, in terms of staffing up to be able to accommodate a larger population of homeless men, and for servicing them over a larger period of time.

SHEIR

But Rev. Cooks says they're up for those challenges. And he's not alone.

MR. PHILIP FORD

It's going to be an adjustment, but we're prepared.

SHEIR

Philip Ford is Central Union Mission's lobby manager.

FORD

Making sure that the guests coming in are taken care of and put in the right direction.

SHEIR

And actually, back in 2004, Ford himself was one of those guests.

FORD

Never was homeless, but I was an addict for about 18 years. Wife, kids, house, the white-picket fence and all that. But I had a drug problem.

SHEIR

In 2005, Ford completed the Mission's Spiritual Transformation Program, which offers a year to a year-and-a-half of counseling, education, job training and work therapy around the Mission. Since then he's been employed at the Mission in a bunch of different capacities, including executive assistant to the executive director.

SHEIR

How does it feel to go from being someone in the program to someone who's helping make the programs happen?

FORD

It's an awesome feeling because the guys see that I was once where they sit. So it gives them a beacon of hope.

SHEIR

And that hope, says director of social work, Shirley Johnson, is what Central Union Mission is all about, no matter its physical location.

MS. SHIRLEY JOHNSON

On our building, it says, Come Unto Me. I think we'll have it on our new building, too. Come Unto Me. We're not saying that we can help the whole world, but we certainly try to help everybody who comes in this door.

SHEIR

What's so wonderful about the new building, she says, is a whole new population will be able to come in that door. You see, while 14th and R used to be an ideal site for a Mission…

JOHNSON

I remember when 14th Street had, what we might want to call streetwalkers.

SHEIR

Now the area is bursting with snazzy retail, restaurants and residences, which don't get me wrong, Johnson applauds.

JOHNSON

But you know that people that we serve could not afford anything around here now.

SHEIR

So, naturally, she's a big fan of relocating downtown.

JOHNSON

We'll get more, maybe, support from businesses and people in the neighborhood who realize that the Mission is providing a service that's good for everybody.

SHEIR

But here's the thing, providing that service at the new facility won't come without a cost.

MR. DAVID TREADWELL

We will spend over $13 million on this renovation.

SHEIR

This is Executive Director David Treadwell. And as he points out, while the District will be charging the Mission a dollar a year for rent, as far as all this construction goes…

TREADWELL

The District will have to put no funds into it. We have a lease of 40 years plus a 25-year extension, so this will be of service to downtown Washington for many years to come.

SHEIR

And back at the Gales School on Massachusetts Avenue, Pastor James Lewis says he looks forward to the additional things that service will entail come 2013, like on-site legal, medical and dental assistance.

LEWIS

And for those that are homeless, for anybody, if you've been to the dentist lately, that's immeasurable for those services to be available.

SHEIR

Pastor Lewis says he's especially pleased because Central Union Mission has had its share of trouble finding a home in D.C.

LEWIS

There's a process called NIMBY, Not in my backyard. The Mission has gone through years of that.

SHEIR

But all of that appears to be over. And now that the Mission will have a stable, solid home of its own, it can devote itself even more to helping Washingtonians find the exact same thing. I'm Rebecca Sheir.

BEN-ACHOUR

You can check out photos of the Mission's current and future homes at our website, metroconnection.org.

BEN-ACHOUR

We're gonna leave the District now and head out to the beach for our "On The Coast" segment...

BEN-ACHOUR

...in which Bryan Russo brings us the latest from Coastal Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The region Bryan covers is packed with sunbathers every July and August, but for some of the people who live on the coast year round, life is anything but an endless summer. And as we'll hear, some of them are being forced to live in makeshift tents.

MR. BRYAN RUSSO

I'm following this stranger named Kenny deep into the woods to the place he's called home for more than a year, a red tent where he keeps everything he owns in the world. We're on a recovery mission to pick up his painting and drywall tools.

KENNY

Without my tools, I can't work.

RUSSO

Kenny's almost 61 or 60 and a half, as he likes to say, and he's moving through the thicket and the briars like a guy half his age. Kenny's a Vietnam vet and a painter by trade, who's lived here on the Eastern Shore his entire life. He lost his job after the housing market crashed several years ago. It was a good job--somewhere in the $50,000 per year range--but since then he's been living in the woods, up until about a week ago, when he literally left most of his possessions in his tent and he went to Diakonia, the local homeless shelter here in Worcester County.

RUSSO

As we get close to the tent he starts to walk faster. Something's wrong. And I quickly notice that the tent has fallen.

RUSSO

So you don't think it blew down in the storm?

KENNY

No. I spent the storm in it.

RUSSO

You spent Hurricane Sandy in this thing?

KENNY

Yes. I spent Hurricane Sandy in just what you see. It was standing up because I didn't go into Diakonia until last Thursday.

RUSSO

Wow. How much -- I mean, we just went around something that had a bunch of standing water. I mean, was there water all around you? Did this flood?

KENNY

Yes. As you see those two other tents over there that you couldn't see until you get here, somebody cut this down.

RUSSO

Kenny starts rummaging through the tent to see if anything's been taken. Kenny's visibly upset. The home that made it through Hurricane Sandy has since been slashed to threads by vandals.

KENNY

You know, and I pretty much know the kids that done it. They're young boys and stuff. I'd like to put them in the place for a little while, mom and dad put them out for a month, make them live without any money, on their hands. They would learn to leave -- I didn't bother nobody. If something happens, at least I could’ve come back to it.

RUSSO

Kenny pulls a tarp over the entire tent. He grabs a few things, including his painting and drywall tools. He has carried them from campsite to campsite for the past few years. And then we abandon the tent. We take the long walk back to the car. We leave a different way though, walking out of the woods and into a clearing. It's a youth soccer field. As we walk, I ask him how much time a homeless person spends trying to better their situation and how much of their time is spent just purely trying to survive.

KENNY

You are always trying to get washed up, catch a shower, catch some food. And when you aren't busy doing that, well, while you were doing that part of it, you also hustle for a job, panhandle, whatever you could do. And there's a lot of restaurants around here that throw away more good food than us boys could afford to buy. And we knew what time they threw out the chicken at Phillip's and this, that and the other and they threw it out in plastic bags. We'd grab it and eat it.

RUSSO

Well, I guess if you think of it that way, I mean, I've worked in restaurants before. I know how much food is thrown away. I mean, was that a big part of your diet?

KENNY

Yes.

RUSSO

How many people do you think are on the brink of being where you just were, in this area?

KENNY

A lot more than really realizes it. I ask everybody out there that hears this statement, if you lose your job, how much savings have you got to get you through? That's pay your mortgage, pay your car payment, pay your rent, whatever. If it's just a couple of thousand dollars, you're within 90 days of being homeless.

MS. CLAUDIA NAGEL

Our numbers have quadrupled.

RUSSO

That's Claudia Nagel. She's the executive director of Diakonia, the lone homeless shelter here in Worcester County. The waiting list for a bed is several months long. She says it was almost pure luck that Kenny got a bed last week. And their food pantry is now so vitally important to this tourist region with a fragile seasonal economy that they've seen folks who used to donate a substantial amount of food, now standing in line in need of a meal.

NAGEL

It is really startling, when you see the numbers of people we are looking at. Last week we distributed over 600 bags of food to individuals and families.

RUSSO

And the numbers just get more alarming from there. Worcester County is considered one of the more wealthy counties in the state. But if you look at the number of retirees who relocate here, you'll quickly see that the wealthy statistic is not based on wage. It's based on reported income. Meaning that much of the wealth is brought to the coast and not necessarily made there.

RUSSO

Eighty-five percent of the properties in Ocean City are not owned by people who live here year round. And the unemployment rates usually skyrocket into the double digits in the off season, regardless of the state of the economy, due to the amount of tourist workers who are left without a job when the summer ends and the businesses close for the winter.

RUSSO

Last winter, unemployment reached 14 percent in Worcester. That means folks like Kenny, who live at Diakonia and are desperately looking for work, have an uphill battle this time of year.

KENNY

I ain't gonna say it's gonna get better. It can't get much worse.

RUSSO

And so Kenny carries on, with his belongings stuffed in a tent deep in the woods and his tools slung over his back as he continues to live like a painter, just waiting on the next job. In Ocean City, I'm Bryan Russo.

BEN-ACHOUR

We'll trek up to Baltimore now, to a free clinic that serves that city's homeless residents. It's called the Baltimore Rescue Mission. And many of the same people go there over and over again in the course of a year for medical treatment, but tracking those people and their often complex medical problems has been a real challenge.

MR. RAYMOND BANKS

Oh, I see something wrong here, right?

BEN-ACHOUR

Raymond Banks is one of the patients here. His 59 years have been rough on him. He's spent the last eight in various shelters, half his teeth are missing. He suffers from hypertension and chronic leg pain. On this chilly Wednesday night he's being examined by Johns Hopkins medical student, Eugene Semenov.

BANKS

I try to go to sleep. I'll be coughing like in the middle of the night, right? Okay.

BEN-ACHOUR

He mentions all the different clinics and emergency rooms he's been to.

BANKS

Union, Memorial, Sinai and Mercy. But my main medical center is Jai Medical.

BEN-ACHOUR

He's come to the Baltimore Rescue Mission's free clinic to get a refill on his hypertension pills, which he admits he doesn't take regularly.

BANKS

It's like when necessary, okay.

BEN-ACHOUR

Semenov and other students and physicians volunteer at this free clinic. He says Banks is pretty typical of the homeless patients they see at the Mission.

MR. EUGENE SEMENOV

Over the last year he's been seen at a number of other emergency rooms, but unfortunately because every time he goes to a new place, they need to start the thing from fresh.

BEN-ACHOUR

Because Banks is somewhat itinerant, his various medical providers do similar procedures with similar results.

SEMENOV

So there's redundancy of care, there is waste of medical resources in this case. And also, he's not getting what he needs. As you can see, he hasn't been entirely well followed because there's an issue of health literacy here. He says that he takes his pills only when he needs to, but what does that really mean? He takes them when he has hypertensive crises. That's not when he needs to. That's the absolute worse. He should be taking it the entire time.

BEN-ACHOUR

Semenov and several friends saw this problem happen again and again here. They also noticed that a lot of records were written on paper by volunteers who didn't have medical training and who didn't always take notes in the same way. There was duplication, inefficiency.

MR. MICHAEL MORRIS

So we thought an electronic record would, one, help them to organize a little bit better. We thought that we could also use it as a teaching tool to help teach the volunteers how to take a medical history.

BEN-ACHOUR

That's Michael Morris, a medical student at the University of Maryland. An e-record would be easy to share across clinics, too. So Morris, Semenov, and two friends wrote their own program for it.

MORRIS

This is kind of like, if you've ever seen a WordPress site, like a blog on the internet that a lot of people use. They oftentimes provide like a foundation essentially, that individuals can then customize.

BEN-ACHOUR

As volunteers and doctors consult, everyone has a laptop or an iPad with the same screen full of checkboxes.

MR. MARC FISHER

Well, these fungal infections are friendly funguses and if they…

BEN-ACHOUR

Marc Fisher is another one of the creators of this program.

FISHER

So what we did is we created a lot of checkboxes to make sure the right questions were asked, are you having chest pain, have your feet been swelling lately, are you having any headaches, things that can uncover underlying conditions that the patients might not necessarily recognize that are very important to ask about.

BEN-ACHOUR

The idea, says Michael Morris, is that one day, one day soon, free clinics all over the region might use a similar platform and share information. Not just to help a clinic run smoothly, but to let different clinics track the same itinerant patient.

MORRIS

This is a very new idea. I mean, it sounds obvious, right? But the reality is that in that medicine, I think that everything takes a little bit more time.

BEN-ACHOUR

One reason, cost. An electronic medical record system can run anywhere from $50,000 to millions of dollars for a big hospital. Plus, programmers aren't doctors, so doctors have to end up changing the software all around to get it to suit their needs. This open-source medical record costs somewhere between $5000 and about $10,000. And its creators say they're hopeful it could save much more than that over time and help particularly vulnerable patients get better care.

BEN-ACHOUR

After the break, the ultimate house-sitting gig.

MR. MYRON HORST

If you look at a house just as an investment, then, I mean, you're just looking at money. Whereas, this is you're looking at it as a place to live, to enjoy, to retire. And it's also a service to our fellow citizens.

BEN-ACHOUR

It's coming your way on "Metro Connection," on WAMU 88.5.

BEN-ACHOUR

Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Sabri Ben-Achour in today for Rebecca Sheir. Our theme this week is House and Home and so far our focus has been on homelessness. But we turn now to the story of people who have houses, old houses and get to live in those old houses for free.

HORST

It's not free, but it's well worth it. It's a labor of love.

BEN-ACHOUR

Okay, well, so not exactly free. That's Myron Horst who lives with his family in a 19th century farmhouse in the Monocacy Natural Resource Management area in Frederick County. The deal is this, he fixes up the old house and the state of Maryland gives him a lifetime lease of zero dollars a month through its resident curatorship program.

BEN-ACHOUR

This sound like a crazy good deal? Well, Horst obviously thinks so, but so does the state. It's a way to restore these historic properties without spending precious taxpayer dollars. Now, 30 years after the program started, it's proven so successful that states up and down the East Coast are copying it, including neighboring Virginia. Jacob Fenston has the story.

MS. AGNES BARTLETT

My children were here yesterday. They had me latch the screen, dear good grief.

MR. JACOB FENSTON

Agnes Bartlett always dreamed of living in an old house.

BARTLETT

I guess for most of my adult life I've wanted an 18th century house.

FENSTON

In the early 1980s, she and her husband were scouring the state of Maryland looking for the perfect old house. She had a realtor friend who did a lot of the legwork asking everyone.

BARTLETT

I have this crazy friend who wants a house, a really old house. Do you know about any old houses where you live?

FENSTON

And the realtor got word of this one vacant farmhouse in Baltimore County.

BARTLETT

And she said, I don't know to whom it belongs, but I know it is an old house.

FENSTON

And that was the catch. It was a lovely old stone house, built just after the revolutionary war, but the owner turned out to be the state of Maryland. The house was located in a small silver of Gunpowder Falls State Park. But the Bartlett's were undeterred. They went to the Department of Natural Resources and said, hey, nobody's living in this house, it's falling apart. Why don't you let us move in and we'll fix it up?

BARTLETT

They said to us, If you want to take care of that house and you want to spend your money to do that, you get your attorney to work with the state's attorney and we'll go from there."

FENSTON

Now, 30 years later, the Bartlett's have restored the house beautifully and it looks like a museum. They spent around $500,000 fixing it up, but Bartlett says it was a good deal. They got to spend three decades here.

BARTLETT

We lived in this house when we had our 40th anniversary, our 50th anniversary and our 60th anniversary.

FENSTON

It was a good deal for the state, too. After success with the Bartlett's, Maryland quickly expanded this resident curatorship program. Today, there are more than 50 houses that have been restored or are in the works. Emily Burrows with the Department of Natural Resources says the state owns lots and lots of land.

MS. EMILY BURROWS

Wildlife management areas, state parks, state forests, Natural resource management areas and that land comes with a lot more than just trees and bunny rabbits. It comes with houses.

FENSTON

And the state can't afford to restore or even maintain all those houses, even though some are historic gems.

BURROWS

Let's see if we can look through here.

FENSTON

On a recent Saturday, I met Burrows at the Stephenson House in Susquehanna State Park. It's currently empty and available.

BURROWS

Okay, so what we're looking at now would've originally been maybe the first parlor.

FENSTON

We're peering in the front window. There's supposed to be an open house but...

BURROWS

The reason we're standing outside right now and not inside is because since we've had wet weather, we've had some mold and it's not safe right now for us to go in the house.

FENSTON

Those sorts of hazards aside restoring an old house is a lot of fun, at least according to Myron Horst.

HORST

I used to be a carpenter and I did work for people and then when we were done, you know, I never saw it again. It was just a job. But this is different.

FENSTON

In 2006, Horst and his wife and six kids moved to this farm just west of Sugarloaf Mountain in Frederick County. They a lot of work to do to make the place habitable. The kids pitched in, Kara, who's 17 helped restore the oldest part of the house, an 1850s log cabin.

KARA HORST

Here in our room, I helped pull rocks out between the logs that were in there. There were flat stones in between the logs and then it was plastered over.

FENSTON

Because Horst's don't own the house, it will eventually go back to the state, they can't pass it on to their kids. But that doesn't bother Myron Horst, even though they've put about $150,000 of work into the place.

HORST

If you look at a house just as an investment then, I mean, you're just looking at money. Whereas, this is, you're looking at it as a place to live, to enjoy, to retire. And it's also a service to our fellow citizens.

BARTLETT

So this would be the grand living room.

FENSTON

Back in Baltimore County, Agnes Bartlett is showing me around the house she and her husband lived in for almost 30 years. Her husband, Larry, passed away last year and now Agnes, who's 85, is packing up and moving to more manageable apartment.

BARTLETT

Just yesterday the man came and took most of the furniture so, the auctioneer.

FENSTON

With all the furniture gone, the rooms echo a bit, but now you can see the old wood floors Bartlett and her husband restored.

BARTLETT

You can't let history be destroyed. It just kills me when I see old buildings being torn down and something new put up and so often the newer architecture is not pleasing. I just like old thing and, of course, I'm in that category myself at this point.

FENSTON

Bartlett says she's proud she able to help save this old house for future generations to enjoy. The state is still figuring out what to do with the property now, but is looking at opening the house to public use, possibly as a state park events center. I'm Jacob Fenston.

BEN-ACHOUR

See photos of some of these houses or for a link to available properties in Maryland, check out our website, metroconnection.org.

BEN-ACHOUR

We're going to end today's show with a home tour. It's, like, not your regular home tour, though, it's of a former prison that was once home to thousands of inmates. It's the Lorton Correctional Complex in Lorton, Va. and as Lauren Landau reports, this sprawling facility is about to get a major makeover.

MS. LAUREN LANDAU

Chris Caperton is giving me a tour of the grounds that once housed Lorton Prison.

MR. CHRIS CAPERTON

They would walk in this building and then one of the dormitories next door.

LANDAU

Caperton is with the Fairfax County Department of Planning and is heading up a project to give the property new life.

CAPERTON

My responsibility is to specifically to work with the redevelopment of the former Lorton Prison property.

LANDAU

The project is called the Laurel Hill Adaptive Reuse Plan. Old dormitories will be converted into apartments. The former dining hall will be used retail purposes and four of the maximum security cell blocks will be transformed into offices and a yoga studio.

LANDAU

Caperton says he would like to start construction within a year.

CAPERTON

We're going to have a vibrant community of people living here, people shopping here and businesses as well.

LANDAU

The prison is on the National Register of Historic Places so when Fairfax County bought it from the federal government in 2001 the deal came with the expectation that most of the 2,500 acre campus would be maintained as park and open space and the buildings would remain intact. Caperton says the property is historic not only because of the buildings' architecture but because of the activities that went on there.

CAPERTON

In 1908, Teddy Roosevelt appointed a penal commission to look at the prison conditions in Washington, D.C. and out of that commission came a recommendation for a new prison and actually a new way to run prisons.

LANDAU

Lorton took an active role in the new methodology, which greatly impacted prison life. Inmates had access to fresh air, lived together in a dormitory and could learn a trade like plumbing or carpentry.

CAPERTON

Basically they just worked off their sentence in the open air working on the farm or at the brick kilns. If you had a little bit longer sentence then you came here to the reformatory where you learned a trade or worked in a vocational type of setting so that once your release came you were trained in an area and you could be a productive member of society.

LANDAU

The prison structures were built by inmates using bricks they manufactured in the kilns. Inmates built the reformatory in the 1920s, using a distinct colonial revivalism style of architecture.

CAPERTON

We're sitting in this courtyard and it could be a campus environment somewhere. You've got beautiful breezeways and arched brick columns. So you might not typically associate this with a prison.

LANDAU

Caperton says reforms initially worked and it was safe for prisoners to live and work together with minimal supervision.

CAPERTON

Of course, the image that we have of Lorton is probably more toward the 1980s and 90s when it was vastly overcrowded and then in that case it was a dangerous place to live.

LANDAU

In those days, 40 or even 50 men would packed into a single room in Lorton's reformatory, where rusty bed frames still line the walls of some rooms.

CAPERTON

As you can see, there's a door at the back end and we have a door on the side and we'll probably have to cut in one new door perhaps for a middle unit. These will probably be one-bedroom units.

LANDAU

Caperton says the buildings are structurally sound and predicts it will take about two years to convert the old dormitories into one-bedroom apartments. But it's hard to imagine people living here, walking their dogs, pushing strollers and hanging paintings where inmate once scrolled his initials.

CAPERTON

Well, as over-planner, I think it's actually kind of exciting because we see reuse all over our country and there are even some examples of the former reuse of prisons for hotels and other municipal type of buildings. So it really is not that farfetched but there's not a lot of people that can say, "I live in a former prison."

LANDAU

But soon people will be able to say just that. One can only imagine the cocktail party conversations that will take place.

LANDAU

If these walls could talk what do you think they would say?

CAPERTON

Well, I think these walls would be talking a lot about the lives of prisoners, many of which came from D.C. and we look around and I see old newspaper clippings and I see Washington Redskin stickers. I think it's important to remember that these were human beings, they were put in a pretty tough living condition here.

LANDAU

No one has lived here since the prison closed in 2001 but there's still evidence that people were here. A gray blanket and discarded razor lay on a rusted out cot in one of the maximum security cells. Cigarette butts hide in the crevices of the cell block and strips of fabric remain knotted to iron bars where prisoners once strung up homemade laundry lines.

CAPERTON

I believe at the height of the prison population in the 1990s, it was about 10,000 inmates here, but that was drawn down to about 2,000 inmates in the year 2000 and by 2001 the last remaining inmates were transferred out.

LANDAU

One of the last to go was former inmate Kevin Petty, who arrived at Lorton Prison in 1980. When it closed, he was transferred to a federal prison where he finished his sentence in 2009. But he never forgot about Lorton.

MR. KEVIN PETTY

I grew up there. You know, I came in uneducated, immature, addicted to everything and a wreck and found myself and found God there.

LANDAU

Within Lorton's walls, Petty earned two college degrees and started a ministry and singing group called The Amazing Gospel Souls. He says it's important to preserve Lorton's history and the memories of what happened there.

PETTY

Some things happened that were really bad down here, but a lot of good came out at the end.

LANDAU

Would you ever consider calling Lorton your home again and moving into one of the condos?

PETTY

Probably, yes, yes. I would love it. That would really be special, for me, for The Amazing Gospel Souls, you know, and all of us that went through that would always be home.

LANDAU

And before you know it, Lorton Prison will be home again. I'm Lauren Landau.

BEN-ACHOUR

To see photos of what Lorton looks like these days and to learn more about the plans for its future, head to our website, metroconnection.org.

BEN-ACHOUR

And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Kavitha Cardoza, Jacob Fenston, Bryan Russo, Rebecca Sheir and Lauren Landau. WAMU's managing editor of news is Meymo Lyons. "Metro Connection's" managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. And we say a heartfelt thank you and au revoir today to our amazing intern, Raphaella Bennin, as she heads on to other adventures in public radio. Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.

BEN-ACHOUR

Our theme song, ''Every Little Bit Hurts," our "Door to Door" theme "No, Girl" are from the album "Title Tracks" by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. You can see all the music we use on our website, metroconnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song.

BEN-ACHOUR

Also on metroconnection.org you can find our Twitter and Facebook links, you can read free transcripts of stories and if you missed part of today's show you can hear the whole thing by clicking on the this week on "Metro Connection" link. To hear our most recent episodes, click the podcast link or find us on iTunes.

BEN-ACHOUR

We hope you can join us next week when we'll bring you an hour all about profiles. We'll hang out with some of our favorite characters from the past year, from the man who runs one of the nation's last drive-in movie theaters to this guy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE

So I said, well, here I go with my commercial intent and design. And I made a living legend out of myself from that.

BEN-ACHOUR

I'm Sabri Ben-Achour and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 news.
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