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Nation’s Capitol - It’s Home for Congress and Stacy Abner

June 24, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A 74-year-old homeless man named Stacy Abner has lived for a decade under the steps of the U.S. Capitol, sleeping and eating within feet of where the country’s leaders carry on the nation’s businees.

″He’s like anything on Capitol Hill for a long time - it gets to be kind of a fixture,″ said Capt. Bob Howe, a spokesman for the U.S. Capitol police.

Abner keeps a bed roll, two folding chairs and cardboard boxes covered with black plastic under the portico at the Capitol’s carriage entrance. His possessions are stacked neatly near a vent that spews warm air in winter.

By day, Abner, a World War 11 veteran, sits outside with two, handwritten cardboard signs stating he seeks redress from the Veterans Administration for ″war-inflicted diseases″ of gout, rheumatic fever and hypertension.

Abner said he lives from handouts people give him - House Majority Leader Jim Wright, D-Texas, has provided shirts; goes to the bathroom in the Capitol building, and takes showers at various places he wouldn’t name.

″I’m just like the rest of the wild animals,″ he said. ″Whatever I can find, I take; whatever I can’t, I do without.″

While many people on Capitol Hill know Abner, others were shocked to learn of his 10-year presence, confirmed by police officers and workmen.

″That’s amazing,″ said Rep. Ted Weiss, D-N.Y., a congressman with a long interest in the plight of the homeless.

As Abner lounged on the stairs facing the Supreme Court one sunny morning, Sen. Mack Mattingly, R-Ga., bounded past him. Mattingly said he’d never heard of the homeless man.

But Sen. Charles Mathias, R-Md., chairman of the Senate committee that oversees the Capitol grounds, said he was familiar with Abner’s situation. ″As you know, there are other places he could go, other arrangements could be made.″

Forcibly removing Abner, however, is not the answer, Mathias said. ″Letting him stay turns out to be a compassionate thing do to,″ he said.

In fact, Abner said he has been jailed 28 times since he came to Washington, and his most recent arrest was last January ″because I wouldn’t leave the Capitol.″

Authorities said Abner’s arrests have stemmed from his refusal to move from the Capitol’s east front when that area has been closed as a special security precaution, such as a presidential appearance.

Day to day, though, Howe said, ″Stacy’s not a nuisance at all.″

Abner insisted he is unhappy with his situation, but VA officials and police officers are perplexed by his behavior.

″I’d like to live wherever I please and I don’t have the choice,″ said Abner, dressed in a unmatched cotton shirt and trousers, leather shoes with no socks and a knit ski cap. His family is ″scattered all over the country,″ he said.

Abner said he has been unsuccessful in his attempts to receive what he believes is fair compensation from the VA for his illnesses.

But VA official Mary Brown said Abner qualified in 1982 for benefits of $114 a month. Those benefits ceased in October 1984 because Abner refused to cash any of the checks, she said.

″He’s a problem at times,″ said VA spokesman Chuck Lucas, adding that VA counselors have tried, unsuccessfully, to work out a compromise with Abner.

Meantime, Abner continues his daily routine, which probably varies only slightly from that of the estimated 5,000 to 15,000 homeless people in the nation’s capital.

Mitch Snyder, head of the Community for Creative Non-Violence and an outspoken advocate for the homeless, said there are only about 1,500 available beds in city shelters. Those facilities, he added, are ″lousy, filthy and overcrowded.″

For the homeless, Snyder said, living on the streets is terrible, but often an improvement over conditions in the shelters.

-85 2145EDT