WASHINGTON - McPherson Square, two blocks from the White House, is a common place to see homeless people. They sit on the benches and mostly mind their own business. Something keeps them settled there. Ducks also have a routine of flying down in the late afternoon.
“At one time it was just food … but now it’s not just food,” Thomas Yates, 55, of Washington, said. “It’s a combination of everything. We have counselors … we have all kinds of stuff that comes down here.”
Since 1982 Yates, has been homeless occasionally because of personal problems. He has been coming to McPherson Square to benefit from the service from vans that dock on the curbside ready to serve others like him. McPherson Square is almost at a full recovery after the grass was destroyed last year when it was the site of Occupy DC.
McKenna’s Wagon is one of several programs that provide food for the homeless people at McPherson Square. McKenna’s Wagon is a volunteer run street feeding program that provides food for the homeless people 365 days a year. Volunteers prepare 200 to 275 meals a day and distribute them at three locations. McKenna’s Wagon is a program of Martha’s Table, which started in 1980 as to serve the grassroots needs of the community on 14th Street NW between U and V streets. It gave kids a place to come after school, where they could get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and work on homework. As the needs of the community grew, so did the programs.
“We’re always striving to become what the folks in the community really need. So we’re trying to be as innovative and creative as possible with the programming we provide,” Kimberly Lyons, assistant director of development, said.
Beverly Jones, 67, of Washington, is a volunteer at Martha’s Table. She has helped prepare meals every Thursday for five years. Before her retirement, Jones was senior vice president for the global learning group worked at the Academy for Educational Development, a non-profit organization. She worked on improving education in developing countries.
“A friend and I retired from our jobs and wanted to give something back to the community, and decided this was a good place to do it,” Jones said. “It’s been such a wonderful experience for us because we get to know people that don’t live in our neighborhoods and we really enjoy that. We get to feed these people who are in the street at night.”
“That’s a blessing there, really is, you know, I mean the medical staff,” Williams said. “They on the money, that’s good. … You can walk up here on Wednesday and just get in line right, you know and get taken care of.”
Williams has used Unity’s medical services to treat pain from his arthritis and common sicknesses such as a cold or the flu. Other times he gets his prescriptions filled. Before his life on the street, Williams was a construction worker. He said an unstable upbringing and his own faults led him to the street.
Dr. Anne Cardile, medical director of Unity Health Care’s Community for Creative Nonviolence Clinic, is part of the staff that comes to McPherson Square.
“We’re here in part because Martha’s Table is also here Wednesday, which is a wonderful draw for patients … something to eat and then access to medical care,” Cardile said.
The program started with a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson foundation in the 1980s.
“Our goal is to be a bridge for services to patients and allow absolute access to patients,” Cardile said. “Some patients don’t feel comfortable going into a community care center or community clinic.”
The staff includes a doctor or physician’s assistant, a medical assistant and a social worker. They usually see five patients, 10 on a busy day. The staff treats colds, fungal infections of feet, diabetes, HIV, bronchitis, mental illness and hepatitis. For more serious conditions, including HIV, the program is a bridge to get patients to a more stable setting for the care they need.
The program also provides clothing and blankets for the homeless people in cold weather.
“We try to be eyes and ears for a patient that might be at risk for hyperthermia,” Cardile said. “D.C. has a shelter hotline that we can call and link a patient who might be at risk of hyperthermia.”
McPherson Square, named after Major Gen. James B. McPherson, has forged a small community by lacing everyone together through the mobile services. While one homeless man was in the medical truck getting medical attention from Cardile, Yates assured him he would bring him a meal and a cup of hot chocolate from the food truck. One homeless woman shared some of her food with the ducks, feeding them pieces of hamburger roll. A man stopped by the park and gave away some food from the restaurant where he works, which he said was just going to be thrown out.
“They know their faces right, you know it’s like the same routine right,” Williams said. “A lot of them do know one another, right, a lot of them don’t want to know one another. They just know their faces and stuff like that.”
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