The weather was Spring-like today and as a result many of the city's homeless were out and about doing what they do. I came across Ricardo as he sat on the curb of a busy DC street corner trying unsuccessfully to attract the attention of passersby. Ricardo says he is a recovering alcoholic and has been sober for five years with more than a few relapses. He was sober on this particular day. He says he's been on the street for longer than he can remember and get by solely on the kindness of strangers. He says his only family is a sister who is a nurse living somewhere in Ohio. He hasn't spoken with her for years and feels she wants nothing to do with him. Ricardo doesn't do well panhandling because he looks angry and glares at people who ignore him. A self defeating cycle for someone who is already invisible if ever there was one. He did agree to this photograph in exchange for a food voucher and a bottle of water.
Morgan is a homeless bilateral amputee in a wheelchair. I came across Morgan as he was panhandling near Union Station in Washington, DC. The area around Union Station is a popular place for the homeless to panhandle and a magnet of sorts for the homeless/mentally ill because of the close proximity to the Capitol buildings. Panhandlers who are affable and approachable tend to do well as it is a busy commuter station for the many government workers on the Hill.
Morgan is such a person. Amazingly upbeat and cheerful given his difficult circumstances, wishing passersby a good morning and God bless. Morgan agreed to this photograph in exchange for a few dollars and some conversation. I was happy to oblige.
As the harsh weather in Washington, DC begins to recede in favor of warmer days, there will be more and more homeless persons on the street. They are only invisible if you choose not to see them.
Frank is a homeless man that I have seen both in Washington, DC as well as near the King Street Metro station in Old Town Alexandria which is where this photograph was made. Frank panhandles but is not very effective at attracting the attention of passersby. Mostly he sits alone off the normal path of tourists and office workers. Frank may suffer from any number of impairments but it's hard to tell as he speaks very little, instead fixing you with the gaze you see in the photo. I asked Frank if he was in fact a veteran and got no answer to that question. He carries all of his possessions with him in a large sack or sometimes a shopping cart. I gave Frank a food voucher in exchange for this photograph. He preferred cigarettes but settled for the voucher.
Speaking of cigarettes, while processing this image I noticed the tape wrapped around Frank's fingers that serves as a shield from the burning cigarette butts he smokes down to the nub. Frank can be quite invisible on the street but if you see him perhaps you can help him out in some small way.
To say Darrell has no fixed address would be an understatement. This Winter I have seen him around at least six Metro stations in Washington, DC and one in Alexandria, VA. Sadly Darrell has an untreated alcohol problem and is usually intoxicated even early in the morning. He says he has been in several detox programs but always goes back to drinking, especially when he is living on the streets for long periods of time as has been the case recently. Darrell wanted cash in exchange for this photo but I told him that in good conscience I could not subsidize his alcohol abuse. I bought him a large cup of coffee and a bagel instead for which he was grateful.
The harsh Winter and cold temperatures are particularly hard on chronic alcoholics and Darrell is no exception. Hopefully he won't freeze to death somewhere in the city before this Winter is over.
Among the ranks of the Invisible Ones Darrell is certainly a card carrying member as he is totally ignored by all who pass him by.
I came across Georgie near the Farragut North Metro station. He was sitting on the sidewalk in front of a busy high rise office building at the height of the morning rush hour. To say that his behavior was odd would be an understatement. He was gesturing with his arms and fists in response to some internal conversation he was having. At first I thought he might be doing Tai Chi but as it turns out he was not and is most likely mentally ill. He was lucid enough to tell me his name and that he lived wherever he could find a meal and a blanket. He was willing to accept a food voucher in exchange for this photograph. I suggested to him that his physical gesturing may be hindering his ability to get passersby to donate anything as they may be afraid of him. His response to that advice was what you see in the photograph. I watched him for a bit from across the street and noticed that people would actually walk in the street to avoid any close proximity to him. Sadly, while Georgie certainly makes himself known to passersby, his humanity remains invisible to most everyone.
I'm calling this man John Doe out of respect for his wish to not be photographed from the front. When I asked him why that was he pointed at the gaggle of people across the park and said, "That's why." "They look at us like we're in a zoo." We talked a bit about his wheelchair repair job that he was working on and how the cold makes the wheels freeze up. He wasn't very forthcoming about his being homeless or much else, so I asked if I could get my photo from behind him capturing the spectators. He appreciated the humor in that and agreed to the photo.
The small park where he is sitting is frequented by many homeless people who sleep or sit on the benches warming themselves in the sun. The park is across the street from the World Bank headquarters in Washington, DC. The juxtaposition of these two places is a story unto itself.
I met Natasha near the U Street Metro station where she was sitting on a pile of cardboard to avoid the freezing cold sidewalk. As I was approaching her I witnessed a well dressed, young woman lecturing her about why she never gives money to people like her because they just use it to buy drugs. As the woman was leaving Natasha wished her a good day. I asked her if that sort of thing bothers her at all. She just laughed and said, "it is what it is."
Natasha has been homeless since she lost the room she was renting following a fire in the building about five years ago. She tried to stay with a cousin in Baltimore for awhile but ended up coming back to Washington, DC. Despite her bleak situation and having to sleep in whatever space she can find at night, Natasha is surprisingly upbeat and optimistic about her future. Her hope is to one day become a nursing care assistant and help other people less fortunate than herself. Natasha gladly agreed to take a food voucher in exchange for this photograph. Her only request was that I shared the photo with other people. I assured her that I would do exactly that.
I came across Rico one recent cold, rainy day as I was walking along 18th Street near Farragut Square. He was huddled in a bus shelter, clothed in a large trash bag which he was using as a rain coat. A passerby had just given him a dollar which he was clutching in his hand. I asked if I could help in someway and he said he was trying to get enough money to get some food. He was willing to exchange this photograph for a food voucher which can be seen in the image. I was particularly struck by the irony of this hungry, homeless man standing in front of a larger than life Egg McMuffin advertisement. Rico says he is not well physically but won't elaborate. He can't say for sure how long he has been living on the streets but judging from his appearance and general condition, It would appear to be quite awhile. Rico is not an aggressive panhandler and relies on the goodwill of people who see him - a tenuous proposition if you are largely invisible as Rico clearly is.
I saw Maria sitting on the steps of a church near the Federal City Shelter on E Street in Washington, DC. I thought she was quietly talking to herself but as it turned out she was praying. She explained to me in halting English that she was a political prisoner who had fled Argentina and was praying for her family who were left behind. She was hoping that the church would help her in some way but thus far they don't believe her story. Maria has a confusing and convoluted story about the CIA, the FBI and her fleeing Argentina. The only thing that seems clear is that she is homeless and has been staying in shelters at night and roaming the streets during the day. She did allow me this photograph in exchange for a bottle of water and a food voucher. Maria does not panhandle so she tends to recede into the background of the city streets making her all the more invisible.
Mary is a homeless, mentally ill woman whom I have seen in several locations around Washington, DC, most recently near the GW Metro station in NW. Mary is quite agitated and not easily engaged in conversation. She did stand still long enough when I offered her a food voucher and a bottle of water. The grimace on her face is a permanent condition caused by years of taking antipsychotic medications, her tongue also moves involuntarily making it difficult for her to speak. Mary could not or would talk about her living situation or if she was currently involved in any social service programs. Base upon her general appearance and deteriorated state of mind, I would guess not. Mary is too disorganized to panhandle so she simply roams around the city gravitating to the crowds at the subway stations. Hopefully Mary will survive the Winter or one of the outreach services will get her into a shelter. Until then Mary will be more invisible than most of the unfortunate souls living on the streets of Washington, DC.