- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 20, 2004

Thousands converged downtown yesterday for a trek around the Mall and the Tidal Basin to help raise awareness and money for those with no place to call home.

Overcast skies did not dampen the spirits of the estimated 35,000 people from the area who arrived in the early morning to participate in the 17th Annual Help the Homeless Walkathon.

The 5-kilometer walk is the largest in the country among those dedicated to preventing and ending homelessness. The walkathon was sponsored by the Fannie Mae Foundation, the largest foundation in the country dedicated to ensuring affordable housing and homeownership for families.

College students and preschoolers, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons donned powder-blue T-shirts that read “17th Annual Help the Homeless Walkathon 2004.” The front of the shirts depicted two happy children standing near a house underneath a bright, yellow sun.

Anthony Lamont Smith Sr. worked the midnight-to-8 a.m. shift at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Northwest on Friday night, then made a beeline to the Mall.

“I came directly from work to walk,” Mr. Smith, 39, said. “I had to. There’s a need for change.”

Mr. Smith, who lives in Northwest, said the homeless problem in the District is appalling, especially because this is the nation’s capital and a very wealthy city.

“On any given day, about 14,000 people in our area are homeless,” said Stacey D. Stewart, the foundation’s president and chief executive officer. “When we look behind the numbers, we see that nearly half of them are families, and more than a third are children.”

She also said nearly a third of the region’s homeless adults are employed.

“In other words, the image of ‘street homelessness’ just doesn’t convey the facts,” Mrs. Stewart said. “Less than 10 percent of the homeless people in the Washington area actually live on the streets on a regular basis.”

Organizers said they raised $6.5 million yesterday, some of which came from the event registration fee of $25 for adults and $15 for walkers 25 or younger.

All of the money will go directly to supporting 180 nonprofit organizations in the area that provide housing and services that help people move from homelessness to independent living, organizers said.

The foundation also supports smaller fund-raising activities known as mini-walks, organized by schools, faith-based organizations and others. More than 70,000 walkers last year participated in 512 such walks.

The walk was kicked off by Baltimore Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr.

“The real people who make a true difference are all of you,” he said. “This is going to be a nice leisurely walk around the nation’s capital. I was never known for my speed.”

Mr. Ripken was joined by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Fannie Mae Foundation Chairman Franklin D. Raines and Mrs. Stewart.

Marie Williams, 55, came to show her support. She said she has been homeless for one year and is “staying” in Adelphi.

“I was evicted [from my apartment]. I got behind on my rent when I lost my job,” said Ms. Williams, a former foreign-language teacher who has a master’s degree in international relations.

“There is no [specific] look to homelessness,” she said. “Homeless people come in all shapes, colors and income levels. We are living in cars and sleeping in cemeteries at night. Wherever we can find a place to rest our heads.”

Ms. Williams said she attended the walkathon for herself and the homeless mother who was arrested Friday for leaving her two children locked in a public-storage facility in Maryland.

“She didn’t have any day care,” Ms. Williams said.

Felicia Maxine Dorsey, 33, was arrested at her job Friday after Charles County sheriff’s deputies responded to a call at a self storage facility to get her two daughters, ages 4 and 5, out of a locked unit. The mother and her daughters had been living in the shed since Nov. 11, after being evicted from their Waldorf apartment.

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