Another installment of “The Invisible Ones” of Washington, DC
I recently met James, who is 57 years old, on a residential street in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of NW Washington, DC. It was trash pick up day and James was picking through some articles left on the curb hoping to find something of value. He tells me that he has a schedule of trash days for the “better neighborhoods” in DC and makes it a point to be there before the trucks come. He shows me the leather jacket he’s wearing as evidence of his labor. He says he picked this up earlier in the Fall and it cleaned up real nice except for a tear in the lining which nobody sees anyway. The same is true for the USC Trojans cap he is wearing. He says he likes to mess with people telling them he went to college at USC. He asked if I would believe that. I said, probably not and he replied that I was smarter than I looked. After we dispensed with these civilities I asked him about how came to be homeless. He said he was houseless, not homeless. Home is wherever I sleep at night, a doorway, a bench or anyplace warm. I don’t need a house to do that. I have heard this before from people living on the street. James says he did have a house for 20 years, 4 months and 3 days. That was when he was in prison in Illinois for being part of a car theft ring. He said they tried to make him out to be the boss of the operation but he was just the delivery man, meaning that he stole the cars and brought them to a warehouse. His middle initials, HW, stand for hot wire. He smiles broadly when talking about how he could boost a car in the blink of an eye. Interestingly enough James says he has not been incarcerated since he left prison in 2002. He gets by doing cleaning jobs, selling things he finds in the trash and panhandling.He says there isn’t much call for making license plates on the outside. James is a funny and affable man who is surprisingly upbeat given his circumstances. He agreed to participate in the Invisible Ones photo project in exchange for a cup of coffee and some food. If you see James or someone like him rooting around in your trash, try having a conversation. Ask if you can help out in someway. I’m betting that you’ll both be better off for having had that experience.