This is Barbara

Another Installment of “The Invisible Ones” of Washington, DC

I met Barbara in the main entry hall of Union Station the day after the New Years holiday. This is normally a busy travel day with people coming and going from their holidays. I mention this because Barbara had staked out a place for herself on one of the large benches along with all of her belongings contained in several trash bags. She was having a loud, animated conversation with herself which effectively kept virtually everyone at a distance. Not being put off by such things, I sat down next to her and said good morning. Barbara was able to focus long enough to tell me that she had been living on the streets for only about two years and that she previously had a job as a seamstress at a local dry cleaning shop. She said she had to quit when the heat and the chemicals form the dry cleaning cause her to have “brain problems.” She went on to say that the Dr. wanted her to take medication for this but she refused and is not now under any treatment. Our conversation was difficult in that Barbara was hearing voices, benign voices but inside her head nonetheless. She went on to say that she sleeps at the Federal City Shelter which is nearby, then comes to Union Station for the morning. The remainder of the day is spent wandering around the Capitol Hill neighborhood panhandling. I persuaded Barbara to sit still long enough for this photograph in exchange for a breakfast at McDonalds. She was not interested in dining at the restaurant so she took her meal to go.

Barbara is one of many homeless, mentally ill people on the streets of Washington, DC. Her symptoms are obvious to anyone who passes by but not so severe that she is likely to get into trouble. It would seem that panhandling for Barbara is difficult at best making her even more invisible.

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