An installment of “The Invisible Ones” of Washington, DC.
I noticed Edward rummaging around in a trash dumpster in an alley in Georgetown, an expensive Washington, DC neighborhood. When he spotted me he asked if I could get him something to eat. For me an opportunity to trade some kindness for a portrait photograph, a deal that Edward was happy to agree with. Edward doesn’t know how old he is but thinks he might be around 60. He has been living on the streets in several cities for over 20 years. These include NYC, Trenton, NJ, Philadelphia, PA and now Washington, DC. In all of these places, Edward has spent time in public psychiatric hospitals. Sometimes voluntarily, other times having been committed against his will. He says the hospitals aren’t so bad because the people are nice and the food is good. The bad part is the medication, Thorazine. Thorazine is a first generation antipsychotic drug that was and still is used in public hospitals because it is inexpensive. The downside is that long-term use often results in chronic side effects known as Tardive Dyskinesia. Edward has all of the symptoms. He says he’s learned to live them over the years. Edward is not currently involved with any mental health services in DC or any other services for that matter. When asked why he just shrugs and says, he gets by well enough and no longer hears the voices in his head. Edward is a classic example of the failed public mental health system in this country. He has been homeless and hospitalized in multiple states and has fallen between the cracks time and time again, never getting connected with the aftercare and services he so badly needs. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 20 to 25% of the homeless population in the United States suffers from some form of severe mental illness. Edward is just one of them.
Edward is a pleasant and affable man. If you see Edward or someone like him in your day to day travels, stop and ask if you can help out in some way. You’ll both be better off for having had that experience.