Another installment of “The Invisible Ones of Washington, DC”
Bernadette is a 62 years old and has been living on the streets of Washington, DC without shelter for over two years. I met Bernadette while she was panhandling on 1st Street in the NOMA neighborhood of Washington, DC. NOMA is an upscale neighborhood of expensive condos and apartments just north of Union Station. It is a busy commuter route and a usually a productive spot for panhandlers. Bernadette is a passive panhandler, meaning that she does not aggressively ask for assistance. She simply relies on the engagement and generosity of those passing her by. I had watched Bernadette from across the street for several minutes and it was obvious that she was quite invisible to everyone. This is the problem with looking more than a little depressed and being withdrawn and passive.
I sat with Bernadette on the sidewalk for awhile and learned that she was originally from Philadelphia where she has relatives. Living with them was no longer an option and she ended up on the streets in Philadelphia. She wouldn’t elaborate as to what the problems were only saying that it was dangerous. She came to DC with a friend about three years ago, worked at a few odd jobs and then became homeless. Like so many homeless men and women in DC, living on the street is far preferable to the city-run shelters which are described as filthy, dangerous places where drugs are everywhere and guarding your possessions against thieves is a full-time thing. So Bernadette makes do dependent upon the generosity and goodwill of passersby. She is a pleasant and affable woman who is easily engaged in conversation if you take the time to do so. Bernadette was willing to participate in the Invisible Ones photo project in exchage for a small monetary donation.
If know someone like Bernadette that you pass by on your way to and from your place of business, stop and say something. Any human interaction goes a long way towards making the invisible feel less so. Ask if you can help out in some way. I guarantee you’ll both feel better having had this conversation.