City Paper is not for tourists
There is no sign anywhere that Ola Dixon lived here. Her town home, 908 3rd St. SE, sits locked and quiet like so many others behind a quarantine of high chain-link. She didn’t leave any physical mementos of her life here. Just a story.
Dixon’s former neighbors start the story at the point when they can relate to it most, when the city began to dismantle their home: the Arthur Capper and Carrollsburg Dwellings. Three years ago, the D.C. Housing Authority started to redevelop the public-housing projects as part of the federal government’s $35 million HOPE VI program. Officials promise a mixed-income neighborhood for both the well-off and the striving in the projects’ place, one that will resemble the brick-and-cornice architectural gravitas of mainline Capitol Hill.
What’s left of Arthur Capper and Carrollsburg lies in a forlorn grid beneath the horizons of a Southeast-Southwest Freeway overpass and of the cranes lurking on M Street SE, between 2nd and 7th Streets. The projects’ east side, where the towers and baseball diamond stood, has been reduced to craters of mud and rubble. To the west, the turquoise-roofed apartment buildings and playgrounds of Dixon’s block are wrapped in belts of 8-foot fence. The last bit of grid, a set of “barrack-style” townhomes, is mostly bricks and boards.
Hundreds of residents have already been forced to depart from their homes. In between the vast vacant spaces, these families left reminders—both of their lives at Arthur Capper and their hurried exits from it. Inside the town houses, dishes still sit in the sink, papers still cover a desk, a couch and stereo await the next party. Only now everything is blanketed in concrete dust and rain and drywall chunks and peeling wallpaper. People left grills and weight sets to rust in their yards and lights still on in their bedrooms. Bags of clothes are still piled in sheds. Family names, adorned with fat roses and leafy olive branches, are still painted on front doors.
Eight families still live among the ruins. They mark their existence with shirts and sheets, flapping from clotheslines like pirate flags.
Dixon’s story is still here, too. It is a story passed neighbor to neighbor—secondhand, with the fever pitch of gossip. It is told by friends and by those who merely knew her as that face, hair always done up, smiling from her porch, smoking her off-brand menthols. And it is recounted by people who never met the woman. They want people to pay attention because this is their story, too. They tell her story to illustrate what it means to leave Arthur Capper.
In a neighborhood near extinction and full of ghosts, Ola Dixon, born in 1939, is the ghost who haunts most.
“She was symbolic of the type of negative treatment, the type of inattention, the type of callous disregard for us as humans, as people being displaced,” explains former resident Debra Frazier. “She was just the worst example.”
“I used to ask her, ‘Why don’t you move out to Maryland, get a nice house or something?’” Dixon’s son Keith McIlwain recalls. “But she never did. It really was no response. She look at me like I’m crazy: ‘This is my home.’”
McIlwain lived on 3rd Street for most of his life. His mother, he figures, lived there for more than 30 years. To Dixon, Arthur Capper had it all. Built in the early ’60s at the southern edge of Capitol Hill, the projects housed more than 700 working-class and senior residents. Long before the housing authority trumpeted “mixed-income communities” and began razing many of the city’s housing projects, Arthur Capper looked very much like public housing’s future. Within its 10 blocks, residents had access to ball fields, a rec center, an elementary school, a church, and small businesses. As recently as late September 1997, thenñMayor Marion S. Barry Jr. and thenñ Washington Wizard Calbert Cheaney tossed the first shot and slammed the first dunk, respectively, as they christened a new state-of-the-art basketball court.
Neighbors would add Dixon’s address to the list of Capper attractions. She didn’t just rent 908—she made it. She put up ceiling fans, redid the floors, put fresh paint on the walls, and turned her back yard into cookout central for her block. She had the back bricked out and loaded down with such party essentials as fold-up benches and a shed to store the supplies. “She had it all, man,” McIlwain remembers.
To fuel her ingenuity, Dixon held down a steady job at a Pentagon mailroom. And she kept working once she got home. When neighborhood kids needed baby-sitting, Dixon volunteered to watch them play in her living room. Sometimes, she would turn her kitchen into Arthur Capper’s soul-food joint, selling her specialty, fried chicken with macaroni and cheese, at $5 a plate.
But by the mid-’80s, Dixon’s home life had begun to unravel. Her beloved husband, Percy Dixon, died, and her eldest son, Tyrone, was in the midst of an extended prison term. Keith McIlwain says that his brother, older by 19 years, was incarcerated throughout the entire time he knew him. Tyrone’s thing was shoplifting big-ticket, felony-charge-producing items. And he grabbed more time as a failed escape artist: Twice he escaped from police custody before being caught.
Despite these setbacks, Dixon always found something at Arthur Capper to distract her from any depression. She answered phones at the Resident Council office, putting neighbors’ worries and pains at ease with humor and advice. She made sure a new neighbor got a free turkey during the holidays. If she went to the store, chances were, her grocery list included a few items for her friends on 3rd Street. “She was always doing something for people,” remembers Yvonne Clary, a former Resident Council president who befriended Dixon in the mid-’90s. “If they needed a favor, she was there volunteering her services.”
Soon those services had to extend to her son Keith McIlwain. After getting expelled from Dunbar Senior High School—for bringing drugs into the building, he says—he became a full-time addict and petty hustler. Eventually he moved out of 908 to live with a girlfriend and their daughter. While away from Arthur Capper, he was shot twice in separate incidents by would-be bandits. He says he was shot once in the back and once in the leg. After the time he was shot in the back, his mother took him in and nursed him back to health.
But as McIlwain grew stronger, his mother started to show signs of strain. Once, after mixing up beer and her pills, she got so out of it she had to be taken to St. Elizabeths, he recalls. She stayed for just over a week. “I visited her every day,” he says. She returned to 908 committed to being drug- and alcohol-free, forgoing her usual evening Budweiser.
In the mid-’90s, Dixon lost her mother and had another breakdown. Then Tyrone died of cancer while incarcerated. The house at 908 was down to two faithful: Dixon and McIlwain. Soon Dixon would add a third. When a neighbor announced that she had enrolled in a drug-treatment program, Dixon took in the woman’s 3-month-old baby until she recovered.
But Dixon could do nothing for her remaining son. He couldn’t shake a drug habit that he says included cocaine, pot, and PCP. He’d spend years shuttling through a similar routine of lame arrests and empty promises, halfway houses and drug programs. “Once I used drugs, I don’t care about the halfway house, the judge, the conditions of my release,” McIlwain explains. “Drugs are my flip side from good to evil.”
“‘What am I going to do about you?’” McIlwain recalls, was his mother’s familiar refrain. She’d visit him in jail and tell him to remember his brother, remember what had happened to him, the neighbor’s baby bouncing on her knee. McIlwain heard what he wanted to hear.
In between his dramatic slides, McIlwain would come by 908 and check on his mother. He’d take her shopping, help with the chores. Sometimes he’d catch her just sitting by the front window staring blankly. “I’m like, She knows something. She knows something,” he says, adding that maybe she got quiet because she didn’t want to tell him about an illness. “There had to be a reason. Maybe she just wouldn’t tell me.”
After yet another minor charge, McIlwain received time in a halfway house and stiff probation. After failing a drug test, he says he pleaded with the judge for another chance. He says he told the judge that his mother needed him. He also tried another tactic: “I’m writing this letter asking you to [give] me a chance at a in-patient drug treatment….The reason that I’m requesting this is because [I need] some help,” he wrote the judge on July 21, 2003. “May ‘God’ Bless you and your love ones.”
The judge sentenced McIlwain to complete a 32-month prison term. Just before hearing the news of his sentence, his mother passed out and had to be taken to the hospital. His prison letters to her went unanswered. “We were too close,” McIlwain, 30, says from the Rivers Correctional Institution in Winton, N.C. “It was just me and her….I was the last one. Ain’t nobody but me. [I remember] I used to hear my mom calling me through the neighborhood: ‘Keith!’”
From that time on, the residents of Arthur Capper noticed a big change in Dixon. She became a shut-in. “She got very depressed and stopped coming out,” Clary says. “She just went into seclusion and wouldn’t open the door most of the time.”
The news of Dixon’s change worked its way through Arthur Capper. The fact that she wouldn’t open the door for strangers and rarely left her house became accepted. A neighbor everyone called Bay brought over dinner most nights. Several others routinely made trips to the store for her. Others tried to counsel her about quitting smoking. “To me she was confused, very much confused,” says Rose, a former neighbor.
At 5:18 p.m. on Nov. 26, 2003, a court summons was left posted on Dixon’s door. The process server reported that Dixon did not answer when he came to the door. Starting in early 2003, she had stopped making her monthly rent payments of $403. On Nov. 18, the housing authority had filed for Dixon’s eviction in Landlord and Tenant Court.
By then the housing authority had started moving other residents out of Arthur Capper. The east end of the project had been cleared of its 178 families, and Dixon’s neighborhood had seen its first set of locks and boards.
When word spread of Dixon’s imminent eviction, the residents of 3rd Street saw themselves in her shoes. They’d witnessed a third of their neighborhood vanish. Two residents say that they went for days without electricity and hot water because they had been cut off by mistake. They felt as if they were being evicted, too.
Residents knew each other and had carved out a life at Arthur Capper. Moving out meant picking either the dicey prospects of a Section 8 voucher or braving another public-housing development. If residents chose public housing, officials issued them two choices. If they rejected both choices, the third option—which could, in fact, be one of the previous two—was mandatory. Each address meant a new mystery for residents to solve: Is it close to public transportation? Is the neighborhood quiet? Is it violent? Do the new project’s people have a beef with Arthur Capper’s people?
Some residents went quickly. Some tried to fight the process. Few had time for goodbyes.
Neighbors just disappeared. Nineteen were evicted between April 24, 2003, and May 16, 2005. Sixteen died. Rumors swirled about hard-luck cases of residents moving to crime-ridden neighborhoods, afraid to leave their new homes, getting roughed up, or coming down with serious health problems. A lot of people lost touch—which made the remaining neighbors feel very alone. And no one was more alone than Dixon.
To judge from the court records, it appears that Dixon did not participate in her case or attend any of her hearings. Records show a default judgment was entered against her on Dec. 9, 2003. According to the records, she owed $3,062 through April 2004. There is some debate among her neighbors about whether Dixon understood the proceedings.
Despite the millions of dollars the housing authority had earmarked for resident-support services and the months her case file spent weaving through Superior Court, Dixon did not receive any personal attention from the relocation specialists or nonprofits charged with aiding Arthur Capper’s residents. Hammere Gebreyes, program manager for Housing Opportunities Unlimited, a Massachusetts-based company charged with aiding residents in the relocation, says that because Dixon was slated for eviction, she did not fall under her company’s responsibility.
The morning of Dixon’s eviction happened to coincide with Diane Rich’s first day on the job as Dixon’s case manager. Asked if Dixon had a prior case manager, Rich says that “she probably did,” though she found no real case file or meeting notes. The company previously contracted to handle case management for Arthur Capper was let go by the housing authority, explains spokesperson Zachary Smith, because of “performance issues.”
LaynÈ Spicer, one of the directors of housing management with the housing authority, says that in Dixon’s case, her office simply did its job. “We are a housing authority,” Spicer says. “Our primary business is to provide housing services. We can’t be everything to everybody….She didn’t pay her rent.”
At about 8 a.m. on June 3, 2004, Ola Dixon cracked open her door. It was a bright, warm day. A neighbor stood on her small concrete porch. This was the morning Dixon was to be evicted, and the neighbor, angered by the news, had decided to lend her support.
Approaching the house, she had found Dixon sitting at her window.
“Ms. Ola, we’re here to help you,” she said.
Dixon let her inside. Most of the shades were drawn. One end-table lamp served as the living room’s only source of light. Dixon didn’t have a phone. Family pictures hung on the walls, including one of Dixon painted by a neighbor that imagined her as a younger, vibrant woman. There was a gold couch covered by plastic, a wood chair by the pair of barred front windows. Nothing had been packed.
Dixon sat in the wood chair, looked out the window, and smiled.
“I will go to jail before I allow you to be evicted,” the neighbor told her. Dixon just smiled again.
But the neighbor meant it.
Soon a handful of residents and former residents had gathered in front of 908 intent on doing one thing: stopping Dixon’s eviction. Five, then six, then seven neighbors clamored with ideas. Should they call the media? Should they call D.C. Housing Authority Executive Director Michael Kelly? They had no set strategy except to make as much noise as possible.
Several members of Friends and Residents of Arthur Capper Carrollsburg, an activist group that had fought for a right of return for residents after the HOPE VI conversion, showed up. “It was real intense,” remembers Frazier, a Friends and Residents founder. “Everybody was thinking about What are you personally risking, and what are you prepared to do? How far is this going to go? Are you going to get arrested? How are you going to make bail? Are we going to back them down?…We were not going to let them take shit out of her house.”
Frazier & Co.’s stand-and-shout strategy had one important effect: It got officials to show up and actually invest some consideration before they did anything with Dixon. One by one, various officials appeared at the edge of 908’s yard and talked with the angry residents.
At the same time, neighborhood drug dealers and teenagers, who had clustered across the street, had started taking up a collection to pay off Dixon’s rent. One protester, Tyrone Moore, 18, remembers that the donations of crumbled bills piled up quickly, totaling at least a couple of hundred dollars. “It was a lot of us,” he says— about nine of his friends.
Some asked Frazier what else they could do. Should they put their bodies in front of Dixon’s door? Should they try and intimidate the property manager? “Whoever’s messing with her,” Frazier recalls one saying to her, “we can handle them some kind of way.”
Dixon just stared out the window and smiled.
Another neighbor, Rose, stood guard in Dixon’s foyer. “I kept my eyes on the door,” Rose remembers. “I tried to keep my focus on the door.”
Rose also tried to keep up a conversation. She had her granddaughter at her side, and Dixon asked about the child. She loved children and loved to talk about her own. “She’s pretty,” Dixon told Rose.
“Is it cold outside?” Dixon asked at one point.
Rose took a break from her vigil to inspect Dixon’s kitchen. “She had so many Oodles packets,” Rose remembers. “I said, ‘I know this lady eat more than Oodles of Noodles.’”
Dixon smoked a menthol. And then another.
“Why are they setting me out?” Dixon asked.
“They aren’t going to set you out,” Rose told her.
“Who’s setting me out?” Dixon asked. She went back to smiling and staring out her window. She would go as far as cracking open her screen door and peeping through it.
Soon Spicer pulled up.
“‘You know you all have to move,’” Frazier remembers Spicer telling the crowd. “‘So what’s the big deal?’” The big deal was inside, gazing wide-eyed through her window.
Spicer says that by that time she had already called off the eviction for that day. In fact, she explains, she had made that decision roughly a week earlier. But she says she didn’t tell Dixon or notify the court in the hopes that the scene, the eviction “looming over her head,” would make Dixon pay off her back rent. “There had to be some threat of eviction,” Spicer says. “It had to be compelling for her to act….It was a strategy.”
When Spicer arrived at Dixon’s house that day, she demanded that Dixon go to the bank and see about her account. A relative showed up and echoed Spicer’s pressure tactic.
“I need you to get your hat, coat, your clothes on,” Spicer told Dixon. “I’m going to wait outside on the porch.”
At her credit union, Dixon found out that bank managers had frozen her account after noticing irregular activity. Several officials familiar with her case say a relative was suspected of stealing from Dixon.
But Dixon discovered that she had the $3,000 to pay her rent.
When the U.S. marshals pulled up on 3rd Street, Spicer waved them off. Minutes later, when a truck full of movers appeared on the scene, she waved them off, too.
By staving off Dixon’s eviction that morning, residents had done for their neighbor what they couldn’t do for themselves. The day produced a rowdy victory—the one true feel-good moment in Dixon’s story. But in the days and weeks ahead, the residents of 3rd Street would continue their gradual exodus from Arthur Capper. A procession of boards and padlocks would follow. Soon Dixon would have only two neighbors left on her block.
Most afternoons and evenings, Capper alumni congregate along the 200 block of K Street SE. Loosed from the knot of actually living here but unable to accept a new geography, they come back to the empty grid to juice up on memories.
Some kill whole afternoons sitting in their cars on the block. Others wander among abandoned homes and try to ignore what’s left behind: the 33 tiny palm prints in white paint against a side wall of 200 I St. SE, the R.I.P.s that cover the back door of the housing-relocation office. To J-Rock. To LiL PhiLL. To Bread. And the R.I.P. to the entire 501 Boys, the crew named after one of the old towers, sprayed in bright orange at the corner of 2nd and K.
Eventually, they’ll end up together on the stoop of one boarded-up house or another. They’ll declare that they have books inside them about this place. And they’ll say those who haven’t done decades in “Capers” are fucking “vapors.” Knowing Ola Dixon qualified you as a true Caper.
On 3rd Street, Matt Sullivan appears. He’s 20 and a returnee. He lives now, he says confusedly, at “Delaware or something?” He spends most afternoons, like this recent one, sitting on his old porch pretending the weeds and boards don’t exist. “We didn’t want to move,” he says. “[They] kept telling us we had a couple more weeks. It’s sad. Me and my friends cried.”
A couple of times, Sullivan says, he broke into his old house through a broken window in his kitchen. “Just walked around and looked at my walls,” he says.
Soon Sullivan is joined by his cousin Leon Henderson, 20, and another friend, Kendrick Pitts, 14. None of them lived too far from Dixon, and that proximity put them into her orbit. Sullivan remembers that she always asked them to walk to the store for her. “She stayed on her porch,” he says. “Half the time she be in the house.” He says he’d bring her bread, eggs, a newspaper. Sometimes she’d tip him $5 for the quick trip.
The errand runs were no big deal. If you lived here, it was something you just did. “She asked everybody to walk to the store for her,” Sullivan says.
Across from a now-empty lot, Curtis Shaw stands in his yard. One of the few remaining tenants, he mourns the place with the returnees, usually with beer in hand.
For years, Shaw says, he served as the neighborhood’s mechanic. He figures he’s fixed close to 100 cars from this lot, including Dixon’s gold Chrysler LeBaron. “It was a hoopdee,” he recalls in his raspy voice. “She needed a tuneup, oil change. I put a in new radiator.”
Shaw says he knew the repairs weren’t meant for Dixon but for McIlwain, who was living with her at the time and taking care of most things. Still, Shaw, too, would go to the store for Dixon. And he participated in 3rd Street’s efforts to get her to quit smoking, telling strangers not to give in to Dixon’s cravings from behind her window. “She kept asking for cigarettes,” he says. “She ain’t supposed to smoke.”
On another dead afternoon, across from the market at 3rd and K, a loose flap of bent fence serves as a lounge chair for a pair of men. B.W., 45, hasn’t lived at Capper since 1980. But he will probably be the last resident, official or otherwise. He started squatting in the old buildings a year ago—in what he calls an “abandominium.” “It’s nice inside,” he explains. “It’s a bed, a couch, a love seat. It was content.” He had cooking gas until just recently.
A heroin addict who calls himself by his rap name, Alley Owl tha Bastard Child, rides up K Street, between sections of rubble, on his electric blue Mongoose Impasse dirt bike. There are no cars anywhere, so he pedals in wide circles, directionless and bored. He’s 30, but his smooth face suggests otherwise.
Alley Owl knew McIlwain from playing basketball at the rec center. He says he was a good dude, friendly as hell. But his mother “was the meanest old lady.” Alley Owl complains that Dixon hated him and his friends who hung out in her front yard. “She got my brothers locked up,” he says.
Still, when McIlwain left, Alley Owl was sympathetic to Dixon. He says he would wash her car, mow her lawn, take up for her son. “We would go and clean her yard out,” he remembers. When he noticed three, four trash bags piling up on her back steps, he took them to the dumpster himself: “It wasn’t a burden or sacrifice.”
The chores got passed around. Nobody took an oath or put a commitment to paper. People just went about caring for Dixon on their own. And often the best thing people did was simply drop by for a visit. Sometimes she’d talk through the door. Sometimes she’d join them on the porch.
On a Friday night, not too far from Dixon’s old porch, a group of middle-aged men gather along the 200 block K Street. They pass around mini plastic cups filled with Courvoisier and crushed ice dispensed from a zip-lock bag. They passed through Arthur Capper a generation ago.
But the eight or so guys are still famous here. They make up the “9-to-5 Crew.” They all worked, Darryl Robinson says, explaining their straight-arrow moniker.
Robinson, 43, remembers helping Dixon carry in her groceries. “I can picture her right now—calling me,” he continues. “Tell me to go to the store for her: ‘Darryl, I need you to go…’ I’d come running. She’s sitting on the porch smoking a cigarette. She’s always happy.”
When Robinson moved away, he continued passing through, making sure to check on Dixon. “Had to,” he says. “I had to. I loved her. She fed me lasagna, roast. Whatever she cooked, I ate.”
Then, about two years ago, Robinson suspected that Dixon was sick. He’d still come over and listen to her advice. “‘Keep the ignorant away from you,’” he remembers Dixon telling him one evening on her porch.
In the days after her near-eviction, Dixon devised a straightforward strategy for dealing with the housing authority: She wouldn’t let them into her house. If they asked if they could come inside, she’d tell them through the crack in her door to stop by another day. Next week would be good. Maybe she figured the housing officials would forget her and just move on.
Dixon had one advantage over those officials: She didn’t have a phone. If they wanted her to move, they would have to come to her concrete porch and drag her out. “She didn’t want to go,” recalls Rich, Dixon’s case manager. “That was what she knew. That was her life….It just seemed to me that it was a place she loved. She was at an age where who would really want to move and leave? But that was out of my control. That wasn’t something I could stop. I was just doing my job.”
Soon Rich’s job included interpreting Dixon’s body language and the varying degrees to which Dixon would crack her door. She had began to shepherd a series of social workers to 908 in the hopes that if Dixon refused to move, maybe she could help solve her other problems. They queried her eating habits, her connections to family, and the possibility of installing a phone to provide local service for cheap.
Dixon said no to the phone and most everything else. A social worker with Adult Protective Services tried to get her to seek a doctor’s care for her hypertension. She refused. “She was very adamant, very stubborn,” Rich says. “She just wasn’t having it. I even told her I would go with her.”
Dixon finally allowed the most familiar face, Rich, into her home. Rich’s next step was to try and convince her to leave Arthur Capper. Rich says it took her more than a month to prevail—and only after some heavy-duty lobbying. “She felt Keith wouldn’t know where she was when he came home [from prison],” recalls her friend Yvonne Clary. “They assured her they would let Keith know where she is.”
Finally, in late July, members of the relocation team, Spicer, Rich, another advocate, and a relative held a meeting with Dixon in her living room. Their goal was to sell her on Greenleaf Senior, a public-housing high-rise located at 1200 Delaware Ave. SW, just a short car ride away.
Rich says they told Dixon that the apartment was beautiful, that it would have more space, that the place provided many activities, and that, because she would be in a high-rise, she wouldn’t need to concern herself with the neighborhood. “She just sat there and looked out the window,” Rich says.
“I’ll go another time,” Dixon said.
According to Rich, the meeting lasted 45 minutes before Spicer had had enough. “It got to the point where Ms. Spicer said, ‘You need to get your clothes on so you can go see it,” Rich recalls.
Dixon changed out of her housecoat and went to see it.
“All of us were celebrating that she went,” Rich says. “That was something we had to do.” A week later, on July 23, 2004, Dixon moved out of Arthur Capper and into Apartment 604 at Greenleaf Senior.
The last time Clary saw Dixon was at Greenleaf. Clary says Dixon’s thoughts were on her son and her old neighborhood. “She just would say she didn’t feel they needed to tear down the community,” Clary says. “But she was looking forward to coming back. Her hopes and dreams were just to be with Keith, for him to hurry up and come home.”
In considering the fate of Ola Dixon, the remaining residents invoke one talisman that they insist can ward off the loneliness, confusion, and feelings of abandonment: a grown son. Many of them have sons who serve as in-house decipherers of cryptic housing-authority letters or who are at least a local phone call away. The sons are at their sides when they’re trying to figure out the thug content of Lincoln Heights, Sursum Corda, Barry Farm, or whatever mysterious project comes up as a possible destination. The sons are there to try and hold the relocation folk accountable.
It seems every day that a new unsettling letter slips through someone’s mail slot. On May 2, Diane Delaney became the last occupant left on the 200 block of L Street. That same afternoon, she received an eviction notice of her own. “Your unit has been declared uninhabitable and does not meet health and safety standards,” the notice stated. It went on to add that if she didn’t move out within 30 days, she would be evicted. The letter listed one alternative to the curbside solution: a move to an apartment at 326 Ridge Place SE.
The eviction letter was not in keeping with the housing authority’s promised smooth procedure. But Delaney is used to such pressure. In 2000, she moved to Arthur Capper from Stanton Dwellings, another project that met with bulldozers. “I don’t like moving,” she says. “I feel like a nomad.”
The Capper property manager told her that she had to leave, that it was a safety issue, that they wanted to wrap her block in fence. Even though she had found a Section 8 apartment off Malcolm X Avenue SE that she liked, the manager insisted that there wasn’t time enough for Delaney to wait for that place. She had to go to Ridge Place, and then she could move to the destination of her choice.
But Delaney had her 23-year-old son. “He knew the neighborhood,” she says. “When I told him about Ridge Place, he said, ‘Uh-uh.’” And he reinforced his mother’s concerns about having to move twice. A few days later, Delaney was able to convince officials to simply let her wait and move to the Section 8 apartment.
Agnes Taylor is on disability from two knee replacements, a shoulder replacement, and severe asthma that requires her to keep a nebulizer on hand. But she also has a son who plans on moving in with her. She turned down the first option given to her—Potomac Gardens—complaining that neighborhood had a rivalry with Arthur Capper. She couldn’t go there.
In the first week in May, Taylor was offered Lincoln Heights. But that neighborhood, located in the eastern corner of the city, would make her regular doctor visits in Georgetown that much more difficult and expansive.
The day after she was offered Lincoln Heights, her son was on the phone to the relocation office explaining that if he felt the new housing option was unsafe, he would reject it on his mother’s behalf. He was able to step up for his mother in ways no case manager or relocation specialist could. “I’m not scared,” she insists.
Taylor knows the story of Ola Dixon well: “I thought it was awful,” she says. “They moved her out of a place, and she felt like thrown-away trash. It’s just the fact that she was put there and left.”
People say that Dixon liked her new apartment at Greenleaf Senior. That she liked her balcony and was happy to have two bedrooms. She told one friend that she believed her son would be coming home in a matter of months. But she must have liked her front door best. It was her weapon against the outside world.
Although only a half-dozen blocks separated Greenleaf and Arthur Capper, it still wasn’t her home or her neighborhood. She no longer had her network of grocery boys and eager listeners. The help that did come felt hired and put-upon.
For a while at least, during late summer and into fall, Dixon would let Rich inside the apartment. But the visits were one-sided affairs, with Rich doing most of the talking and Dixon offering only yes-or-no answers to her questions. Most of the visits lasted no longer than 15 minutes. “She never let me go room to room,” Rich explains. “She did the best she could with what she had. Some of her things were still in boxes.”
In between those visits, Dixon was essentially on her own. According to Greenleaf’s property manager, Marilyn Johnson, Dixon had to do for herself. “This is independent living,” she explains. “When people come to take you away, they don’t tell you that information. She stayed to herself….I know it was something strange about her. She didn’t come out to mingle [with] people. She smoked a lot. That’s all I know about her.”
Rich says she tried to change that. She says she would come around usually twice a month to check on Dixon. At one point, she begged her to take advantage of the resident activities—bingo, trips to the mall, crafts. Dixon would offer only a “maybe” on the idea of going downstairs. She rejected an offer for home-delivered meals and never installed a phone.
Soon enough, Dixon withheld Rich’s visiting privileges. Rich had to go back to talking to Dixon through a crack in the door, then through the door. A hope that McIlwain would return in December never materialized.
Dixon got more and more depressed. Rich attributes Dixon’s state of mind to the move. “I’m quite sure,” she says. “For Ms. Dixon, [the move] was like almost mandatory, because she didn’t want to go anywhere.”
On Jan. 16 of this year, Dixon turned 66. Nine days later, on Tuesday, Jan. 25, at 1:13 p.m., Engine 13 and Medic 11 were dispatched to her apartment. When they arrived, according to fire-department records, they found that she “exhibited all signs of being deceased.” The medical examiner’s office attributed her death to a stroke caused by hypertension.
Rich says a Greenleaf manager found her and that it appeared she had been dead for several days. The previous Thursday, Rich says, she had tried to visit Dixon. “We knocked on her door and didn’t get an answer.” CP