Another installment of “The Invisible Ones” of Washington, DC
Louis was picking cigarette butts from the gutter when I met him on 1st Street NE in the trendy NOMA neighborhood of Washington, DC. He said he needed to be quick about this because the trash cleaners would soon be along to clean up the street. So I walked along with him while he foraged for used butts. Louis thinks he’s 65 years old but can’t be sure as his memory has been pretty bad for awhile. He suspects that his years of drinking had something to do with that. He says that even after he quit drinking his mind was never the same especially after the explosion in his brain. It sounds like he was told he had a stroke of some kind which has left him somewhat impaired. His speech is almost inaudible and halting as if he can’t find the word he is looking for.
Louis has been living on the streets or in shelters for the last 10 years by his account. Tragically he prefers sleeping outdoors because, “people will mess you up in those shelters.” I asked Louis what he would do when Winter comes on in a few months. He was surprised to learn that it was already October. After he found a supply of cigarette butts he began his routine of panhandling which involved sitting on the curb and calling out to passers by that he could use a little help to get something to eat. As I watched for a bit it was clear that on this busy, weekday morning Louis was truly invisible to the herd of office workers clutching their phones and Starbuck coffees as they stepped over and around him to cross the street.
He gladly agreed to a food voucher in exchange for this photograph.