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The hands that help the jobless and hungry

Leslie Smith was hungry. Jobless for two years - but still looking for work - he had not had any breakfast and almost missed lunch. Lunch was a couple of cheese sandwiches, part of the soup and sandwiches handed out free at St. Luke's Episcopal Church here, in a big room with a ''Welcome'' sign on one wall. The food is distributed from 10 a.m. to noon. Arriving just at noon, Mr. Smith was told he still might get something if he helped clean up the room, which he did.

Then, in a hallway of the church, he leaned against a door jamb, put down a small tote bag on the floor, and told his story.

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Hunger here, he says, ''is really severe - I'll tell you the truth.''

He does not get food stamps - the nation's largest feeding program for the poor and near poor. Why not? He was told he must have a permanent residence. Living ''on the street'' and with friends, he did not qualify.

The federal rules on food stamps do not require a permanent residency, but do require proof of where you are living, says Tim O'Connor of the US Department of Agriculture. But that can be complicated if someone is living on the street, he says.

That problem is ''something we may want to look at,'' he says.

Smith suggests including poor people in the rulemaking process. His confusion on the rules is understandable: several USDA officials, including one who evaluates food-stamp programs, said they did not know what the rule on residency is.

Smith says some who need food stamps get discouraged with the ''hassle'' of applying, including, he alleges, demeaning treatment by some officials. Applications in some states run more than two dozen pages, says one advocate for the poor.

Some people, Smith says, can't afford a $3 state-issued ID, which he says is needed by applicants who lack other identification. ''That's like $100 to you'' if you are living on the streets, he says.

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Meanwhile, Smith, an Air Force veteran, trained mechanic, photographer, and artist with some college education, keeps looking for a job - any job.

''I've been in the streets about a year,'' he says.

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