Another installment of “The Invisible Ones” of Washington, DC
I caught up with Barbara just after she was removed from Union Station property by the police. I had noticed her earlier arguing with them about something, it turns out she was panhandling and an offended traveler complained to the police. That’s all it takes these days to get yourself arrested for trespassing in Washington, DC and the privately owned Union Station complex has become known for their aggressive enforcement. I have seen Barbara around this area many times over the course of this project. She is chronically and seriously mentally ill and from time to time is just too incoherent to engage in conversation. Today her thinking was still fairly disorganized but mostly she was just angry because she wasn’t bothering anybody. This, in fact, was true because Barbara is a passive, non-aggressive panhandler. She was just unlucky that she offended someone’s delicate sensibilities with her disheveled appearance. Much to the displeasure of the Union Station Security force, I took Barbara inside and bought her something to eat and a cup of coffee. Since I was her escort there was little they could do other than making sure we left together. Barbara agreed to this photograph in exchange for the meal.
Barbara and other mentally ill persons living on the streets of DC are a constant reminder of the failure of this city to care for it’s most vulnerable citizens. So while our elected officials tout their campaigns to end homelessness in the city, people like Barbara risk being arrested for trespassing while trying to get enough spare change to buy something to eat. Talk about a disconnect between campaign rhetoric and reality! So as the harsh Winter weather sets in and you see someone like Barbara on the street, stop and have a conversation, ask if you can help out in someway. You’ll both feel better having had that experience.