This is Al
Another installment of “The Invisible Ones” of Washington, DC
There is a small park on the East end of Chinatown in Washington, DC. It is located at 6th & I streets, NW. It’s a pleasant little grassy area with benches around the perimeter. In the early morning hours the benches are occupied by the homeless street people who have slept on or under them the night before. This is nothing new. What was different this particular morning was I noticed Albert or Al as he prefers to be called walking back and forth through the area picking up all the trash and litter that had collected there. This was a sunny, hot and humid morning and he had worked up a good sweat when I approached him sitting on a bench. I complimented him on his clean up efforts to which he replied, “just cleaning up my house like anybody else.” Al does in fact live in this small park and has slept there virtually every night for the past two years that he has been homeless. He does the clean up first thing in the morning and again late in the afternoon. He says that passersby often thank him for his efforts as they use the park themselves bringing small children or walking dogs. They will often give him a few dollars for his efforts which supplements his panhandling during the day.
Al is from Washington, DC and says he has family in the city. For reasons that he doesn’t care to discuss he is not able to live with them. He is trying to convert his tash collecting into a job with the city but has not had any luck with that. He sometimes makes money cleaning the alleys behind businesses. This is rough work he says, because of the rats.
I have nothing but respect for Al as he and I share a dislike for litter and trash on the streets of DC. Unlike so many people who will step on or over a piece of trash, Al will take the time to do the right thing and pick it up. As he says, “it’s my house.” How ironic that a man who has nothing and has been reduced to living on the margins of society cares about the appearance of the city that all but ignores his plight as a homeless person. Al also is quick to point out that later in the morning the police will come through this small park space and tell any homeless person that they need to move on. The irony of this is not lost on Al, who finds it laughable that after cleaning his “house” he will be told to leave. If you see Al in his park, just tell him it looks nice, he’ll thank you for noticing.