WASHINGTON -- Sharon Owens worries that she killed her mother. "The heartbreak did it," said the 31-year-old Ms. Owens. "I know her heart finally gave out because of what I went through."
By her own account, Ms. Owens has a sordid history: teen runaway, hooker, crack addict. She grew up in housing projects in Washington. Since she was 16, she has wandered in and out of shelters in New York and the district. Since mid-December, she has lived at the old Madison Elementary School, a women's shelter not far from Capitol Hill.
"I've been living from soup kitchens to shelters," said Ms. Owens, who seems puzzled by life. "I don't own nothing. Without shelters, I guess I'd be hopeless because there's nobody else to take me in."
Ms. Owens has five children. She hasn't seen the youngest, 9-month-old Lyllbell Angel, since birth. Three have been adopted; the other two are in boarding homes, to which she makes weekly visits. In November she lived with 2-year-old Charles at a family shelter, but it got to be too much for her.
She goes to a parenting skills workshop on Thursdays where, she says, "I learn how to talk, keep a schedule, how to feed the babies milk, how to make activities for your child. They also give you punch, crackers and meat. . . .
"I never had my own place," Ms. Owens said. "People never let me have my own space, the same way they used to do my mama. It makes me sickly, all this." Ms. Owens' mother died several years ago.
Overhead, a painted rainbow gives little cheer to the residents. Ms. Owens does not know how to read the words that say, "Dreams Really Do Come True."