Looking around their snug Brooklyn apartment, Sydney and Martha Cookfind it hard to believe that three weeks ago they were sleeping on the ground.
The 76-year-old grandfather relaxes on a tweed couch, dressed in new sweat pants and a clean T-shirt. His wife putters in the kitchen, putting away groceries and showing off a kitchen table andchairs.
"It sure feels good to be here," says Sydney Cook. "We're real pleased. My daughter brought us the table and dishes and curtains for the living room. She paid for the rent and the security deposit."
The Cooks, ejected from his daughter and son-in-law's Glen Burnie homea month ago, had retreated to the woods across from Harundale Mall. Then a neighbor offered a pup tent in his yard, and the elderly couple slept outside on an old mattress.
"We'd still be in the tent if it weren't for her," says Cook, of his 50-year-old daughter, Betty Martinez.
Dozens of people across the county helped too, many calling to offer food or a place to stay. The county Office of Aging sent arepresentative to try to help the couple.
Says Anita Clark, who shared her lawn with the Cooks, "People brought clothes, food and money. They were lovely."
Cook's social security payment, which had been stalled in the paperwork of his Florida bank, arrived several daysafter the couple moved into their new home.
Martinez says she hadbeen looking for a place for her father and step-mother to live but hadn't been able to save any money until recently.
What money she put aside to help her father had been stolen by a family member to support a drug habit, says Martinez, a tall woman with a tired face.
Martinez, who works part-time as a supervisor at a Landover bingo hall, says she is enormously relieved that her father and step-mother have a safe place to stay where they won't be bothered.
Beige carpet covers the floor of the Cooks' new home on Fairhaven Avenue. The apartment, in an aged brick building, is modest and clean. Faux velvet tapestries hang on the walls. The Cooks' television buzzes with the evening news.
"I'm content with this," Martinez says. "I'm looking for a bedroom suite for them, and the landlord said we can get paint and fix the place up."
The Cooks left St. Petersburg, Fla., at theend of July to live with his relatives, but after family disagreements, they were asked to leave.
A coal miner from West Virginia, Cook suffers from heart and stomach problems. He retired five years ago after breaking his hip. He has a steel pin in the hip, and has difficulty standing for long periods.
His wife Martha, 53, has had trouble with her memory since she was hit by a car three years ago and suffered severe head injuries.
She also has a lesion in her mouth that doctors in Florida diagnosed as malignant, says her husband. She isreluctant to have surgery.
The couple hope to obtain medical assistance, and Martha Cook believes she will qualify for food stamps.
Martinez complains, though offering no specific examples, that cuts in government benefits have hurt people like her father.
"The state can afford to fix the roads, but they can't feed the hungry," she says. "I realize roads are important, but it's a question of what's most important."
Cook chuckles. "You can't eat that asphalt," he says.
Although the Cooks now fall under Baltimore's jurisdiction, Anne Arundel County's Social Services department has offered to direct them to the necessary help.
Says George Carr, chief of eligibility,"If they were still homeless, they would qualify for expedited service and food stamps. Now we will help them find the proper aid in the city. We want to help them as much as possible."
But with a roof over their heads, the Cooks seem content. They smoke and watch television.
Seated on the tweed couch, Cook shows off the first pair of sweat pants he's ever owned.
"I didn't like 'em at first, but they're awful comfortable," he says. "Folks have been awful nice."