This is John

Another installment of The Invisible Ones of Washington, DC

not to be used without permission

I met John recently in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC. He was sitting on the sidewalk with a paper cup, passively panhandling. Even though this is a very busy area during the morning rush hour, John had nothing in his cup. I asked him about that and he said it would probably be better if he were a little more friendly but he wasn’t feeling that way. So, like so many people living on the streets without shelter, John is invisible to all who pass him by. John estimates he’s been on the street for 20 years or more. He prefers to sleep outdoors because the shelters are dirty and dangerous. He is very familiar with the array of services offered by Churches and other non-government organizations so he is able to get by. John does not appear very sociable, but if you take the time to engage him he is quite affable and has stories to tell. John agreed to participate in the Invisible Ones photo project in exchange for a monetary donation. If you see John or know someone like him, stop and take the time to say hello. Ask if you can help out in some way. The simple act of saying hello will make someone who feels invisible, feel less so. You’ll both be better off for having had that experience.

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This is James

Another installment of the Invisible Ones of Washington, DC

not to be used without permission

I met James one morning last week as he was panhandling near Union Station. James was recently released from a Federal prison in Kentucky after serving ten years on a drug possession charge. James like many people was caught up in the “get tough on crime movement.” A small amount of weed but it was his third offense and the Judge said he had no choice but to follow the guidelines. So James did his ten years. He was released with the clothes he came to prison with, no money, no prospects and a bus ticket to DC where he hoped to find some long-lost family. Sadly, James finds himself on the street trying to make do with the money he gets from panhandling. He is amazed at how much DC has changed in ten years. Entire neighborhoods are gone along with the people who had lived there for decades. He says, “there’s a name for that shit, you know what I’m saying.” I do, I told James, it’s called gentrification.

James is a friendly and affable man who will do better than most on the street. He knows how to find services that will assist him with food and shelter when necessary. He hopes he can find something more stable before Winter comes because he says. “he’s not built for the cold and snow.” James agreed to participate in the Invisible Ones photo project in exchange for a monetary donation. If you see James or know someone like him, stop and take the time to say hello. Ask if you can help out in some way. The simple act of saying hello will make someone who feels invisible, feel less so. You’ll both be better off for having had that experience.

This is Christine

Another installment of “The Invisible Ones” of Washington, DC.

not to be used without permission
This is Christine

I met Christine outside of a coffee shop in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, DC. She was panhandling during the morning rush hour trying to get some money for breakfast. She agreed to this photograph in exchange for a cup of coffee and some food. Christine tells me she has been living on the streets off and on since 1992. She has been continually without shelter for the past two years, in spite of being on waiting lists in two local jurisdictions for a housing voucher. Her caseworkers tell her that the lists are very long. Like so many homeless women and men in DC living outdoors is preferable to the city-run shelters, which are seen as dangerous and unhealthy places. Christine says she often finds refuge in the entryway of a church nearby when the weather is bad, otherwise she sleeps outdoors anywhere where she feels safe. Christine is a friendly and affable woman who does well enough panhandling to feed herself and buy essential items. She is eternally optimistic that she will eventually find permanent supportive housing. She says, “I never give up hope. If I do that I’ll be finished.”

If you see or know someone like Christine, stop and say hello. Spend a few minutes making small talk. Help them out if you can. It may not seem like much to you, but for someone who feels invisible, it will make their day.

This is Susan

 

Another installment of “The Invisible Ones” of Washington, DC.

not to be used without permission

I met Susan one morning last week near the Gallery Place METRO station. She had positioned herself near the exit and was greeting morning commuters with a cheery good morning and have a blessed day. She was not panhandling but would accept any assistance from anyone who stopped long enough to speak with her. I spoke with Susan about the invisible ones photography project and she gladly agreed to be photographed in exchange for a small monetary donation.

Susan has been living on the streets of Washington, DC without shelter for two years. Prior to that, she was living on the street in various cities in Maine. She has been homeless for at least ten years. Interestingly, she says the services for the homeless in Maine are far more humane than they are in DC, especially in the Winter. Thankfully, she says, Winter in DC is nothing like Maine. Susan is the sort of person who takes it upon herself to look out for others who are less fortunate and more vulnerable than her. She makes sure that certain people have enough to eat and extra blankets for when it is below freezing. As for herself, Susan hopes to get established with Pathways to Housing, DC and hopefully getting a permanent place to live. If that doesn’t happen, she will continue to make do living on the street and looking out for those less fortunate than herself.

If you see Susan on your way to or from work, stop for a moment and have a conversation. Even a few words are enough to convey to someone who feels invisible that they are still human. I guarantee that you’ll both be better off having had that experience.

You never know how much you’ll miss someone until they are gone.

not to be used without permission

I visited the National Portrait Gallery this weekend to see the portraits of the Obama’s that were recently installed along with all the other former Presidents. Thirty minutes before the gallery opened the line was around the block. This was not the first day of the unveiling but the following weekend. The crowds had to queue up once inside the building to be in a line to file past the portraits. The line was continuous for the hour that I was in the building. A security guard inside the gallery told me that the crowds have been like this since the portraits went on display last week.

In these depressing times it was heartening to see so many people coming to the gallery, standing in line, and just staring and smiling at two of the classiest people ever to inhabit the White House. That thought is what compelled me to make the small Photoshop edit to the photograph because Barack Obama was indeed every American’s President.

This is Nathan

Another installment of “The Invisible Ones” of Washington, DC

This is Nathan This is Nathan

I met Nathan near the Gallery Place Metro station in Washington, DC one early morning this week. During the morning commute, this is a very busy place with hundreds of people coming and going. Nathan was calling out to passersby saying that any help would be a blessing. He was being ignored. Nathan is a friendly, gregarious and not at all aggressive in his panhandling. It was almost impossible to engage him in a coherent conversation as his thinking was very disorganized and rambling. He did tell me that he has been living on the street for longer than he can remember. Judging from his appearance and need for dental work, this would seem to be a factual assessment. Nathan agreed to participate in the Invisible Ones project in exchange for a food voucher and a bottle of water.

Like so many of DC’s homeless, Nathan is largely invisible to most who pass him by on their way to and from work in the city. If you know or see someone like Nathan, stop and say or do something nice. Show a little humanity to someone who feels like they are invisible. I promise that you’ll both feel better having had that experience.

This is Donnelle

Another installment of the Invisible Ones of Washington,DC

As I was walking along in the Chinatown neighborhood of Washington, DC. I spotted Donnelle foraging for cigarette butts. Before I could say anything, he spotted my camera and began to strike various poses, asking me to make him famous. How could I resist an invitation like that?  Beyond telling me his name and posing for the camera, it was very difficult having a coherent conversation with Donnelle. When asked if he was homeless he said that he had hundreds of houses and an army of followers. I explained to him what the Invisible Ones project was about and compensated him for his time. Donnelle is a friendly and gregarious man who will readily engage you in conversation. If you see or know someone like Donnelle, stop and ask how they are doing. You’ll both feel better having shared that moment.

This is William

Another installment of “The Invisible Ones” of Washington, DC

This is William This is William

William has been homeless and living on the streets of Washington, DC for almost ten years. He had a series of job layoffs that made it increasingly hard for him to pay his rent until finally, he found himself both unemployed and without a place to live. Like many of the newly homeless men and women in DC he spent a period of time, staying with friends, “couch surfing” as it’s sometimes called. Eventually, these arrangements wore out and William found himself trying to negotiate the hazards of the DC shelter system. He was quick to discover that sleeping outdoors was safer and preferable to being robbed. William is one of those homeless people who in spite of circumstances that would beat down anyone’s spirit, remains amazingly upbeat and optimistic about the future. He points to our chance meeting on the street and his being a part of my photography project as evidence of his good fortune. I am always deeply moved by such encounters because they put into stark perspective how petty my everyday concerns and wants actually are. I compensated William for his time and permission to make this photograph. If you know someone such as William that you see on your way to work, consider stopping and spending a few minutes having a conversation. Ask if you can help out in some way and consider how doing something seemingly irrelevant may be enormously meaningful to someone else. Try it, you’ll be better for having the experience.

This is Daniel

Another installment of “The Invisible Ones” of Washington, DC

This is Daniel This is Daniel

Daniel is a self described alcoholic who kicked a heroin habit a few years ago but began drinking instead.  He was not panhandling when I saw him sitting in a building entry way looking quite ill. Daniel’s story is not uncommon for people that are dependent on a number of substances. Daniel has family in the DC area but they have taken a hard line with him insisting that until he gets sober he will not have any help from them. This is a position that he totally understands as he has taken advantage of his family all too of†en.  Daniel is well aware of all the sobriety programs that are available in the city. He says he knows when he’s ready to quit. What he wants now is a drink to ward off impending  withdrawl symptoms. Daniel wasn’t particularly disappointed to learn that I wouldn’t give him any money. He was agreeable to a food voucher and a bottle of water in exchange for his participation in the “Invisible Ones” photography project.  It’s easy to dismiss the homeless that are obviously substance addicted. I would not suggest that anyone subsidize that addiction with a cash donation. What may be more useful is to show some humanity. A little time and conversation costs you nothing and means everything to those who are invisible.

This is Peggy

This is Peggy This is Peggy

Another Installment of “The Invisible Ones” of Washington, DC.

I saw Peggy sitting near one of the non-working fountains on the West side of the street in front of Union Station in Washington, DC. She was wrapped in a bed sheet and was trying to wash the clothes she had been wearing by pouring bottled water over them. She had apparently scavenged partially full water bottles from the trash. She reeked of urine and other bodily odors. Peggy was not panhandling. I think she is far too mentally ill for that. She was conversant with me as long as I was willing to believe that she was not homeless and was on her way to the Hyatt Hotel down the street for breakfast. The rest of Peggy’s story is just a jumble of disconnected thinking. So it’s impossible to determine the veracity of any part of it. Peggy was amenable to a photograph. I gave her a few dollars, a fresh bottle of water and a few granola bars which seemed to me like spitting into a hurricane given her dire situation. To say that Peggy is one of The Invisible Ones doesn’t begin to capture her marginalized existence.

A simple solution to a chronic problem …

Richard J. Berry is the mayor of Albuquerque — the 32nd largest city in America and the largest city in New Mexico. One day he had an idea to do something differently. He decided that his city would stop criminalizing the homeless by ticketing and prosecuting panhandlers. Instead, he would offer them the dignity of a days work and a path toward getting off the streets. The results speak for themselves. Watch this short 12-minute video and hear how Mayor Berry did it. It is especially heartening to learn that nine large cities in the United States are implementing pilot programs such as the “There’s a Better Way” program in Albuquerque. Sadly, my city, Washington, DC is not one of them. Our Mayor, talks endlessly about ending homelessness in Washington, DC but does virtually nothing that matters. Making DC a national embarrassment with thousands of homeless, men, women and families living without permanent housing. 

https://embed.ted.com/talks/richard_j_berry_a_practical_way_to_help_the_homeless_find_work_and_safety

The second video is an interview with one of the key players in the Albuquerque program. His name is Will and he drives a van that reaches out to the homeless panhandlers. Will is the point of contact and the liaison between the homeless and the city. Will is empowered to offer work for pay immediately and it appears that there is indeed a better way.

There's a Better Way – Albuquerque, NM from City of Albuquerque on Vimeo.

The problem with being invisible

If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter you already know of my ongoing photo project “The Invisible Ones” of Washington, DC.  There are occasions such as those shown in these images when I am simply appalled by how oblivious and insensitive people have become to those living without shelter on the streets of my city.  This is a busy intersection at 5th & F Streets, NW,  just steps from a METRO station, and the DC Courthouse complex. I could have taken dozens of photos showing passersby treating this women as though she was a piece of trash on the sidewalk. Walking by without even a look or a moments pause. This is what motivates me to continue to try and raise awareness with the Invisible Ones photo project.  For the record, I did approach this woman. She was awake and accepted a bottle of water from me. She would not speak to me. So I moved on. This brief human-to-human contact took all of 15 seconds. I’m guessing anyone can spare that amount of time.

This is Michael

Another installment of the “Invisible Ones” of Washington, DC

This is Michael This is Michael

I met Michael one hot & humid morning last week in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of Washington, DC. Michael was sitting beside a tattered back pack and a plastic bag containing his belongings. He was passively panhandling  with a small cardboard sign inscribed with the words, “anything is better then nothing.” Apparently, passersby had taken him upon that sentiment as he had a total of eight pennies and a bottle cap in his plastic cup. Michael says he has been homeless since 1992 while he was living in Tennesee. As we spoke it became clear that Michael may have some mental health issues, concerning the Department of Justice and the World Trade Center attacks on September 11. This only came up because I asked him why he had come to DC. Once he told me about that we went on to talk about the difficulties of living on the streets of DC and the lack of housing for the homeless. Like so many of those living on the streets without shelter, Michael finds it safer and cleaner to sleep outdoors, finding the city run shelter personally dangerous and infested with lice and bed bugs. Physically, Michael is a frail looking man with skin the texture of a weathered piece of leather. He is also missing numerous teeth. Those that he has remaining are in very bad shape. Michael readily agreed to be a part of the Invisible Ones project in exchange for a small monetary donation and a bottle of water. If you see Michael of someone like him when you are walking around the city, stop and have a conversation. Ask if there is anything that they need. If you can, help them out. I promise that you’ll both feel better having had that experience.

This is Rudy

Another installment of “The Invisible Ones” of Washington, DC

This is Rudy This is Rudy

I met Rudy on a recent Friday morning during the morning rush hour in the area South of Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. There is a very busy coffee shop along Connecticut Ave making for a crush of pedestrians on any given morning. Rudy had propped himself against a wall and was simply holding out a weathered paper cup asking for spare change.  After I introduced myself and explained the photography project, I sat down on the sidewalk to talk. This really disrupted the pedestrian flow and did not endear me to the those were passing by. Oh well. It at least created a small buffer zone for our conversation. Rudy tells me he is 53 years old and has been on the streets of Washington, DC for 35 years. He has long ago lost touch with any family or social network that he may have had. Rudy can speak firsthand about the ravages of the crack cocaine epidemic in DC along with the gang violence that accompanied it. He points to the scar on the left side of his eye but declines to tell me what that was about. He asks that I don’t photograph his bad side. Rudy’s primary means of survival is panhandling and the goodwill of various organizations that try to look after the chronically homeless in DC. He sleeps in the park at Dupont Circle which he says is a safe place relative to most of the shelters in DC. He does make a point of telling me that 35 years on the street teaches you how to look out for yourself. I am certain that is a true thing. Rudy was agreeable to this photograph in exchange for a monetary contribution and a bottle of water. After I left his side on the sidewalk the crowds again began to walk past and over him. If ever there was an example of being invisible, Rudy exemplified that on this particular Friday morning.

This is what being invisible looks like

This is Velma. One of Washington.DC’s Invisible Ones

This is Velma This is Velma

If you see this woman in the Gallery Place neighborhood of Washington, DC,  her name is Velma. During these hot and humid summer months she really appreciates a cold bottle of water. Conveniently, there is a food cart vendor just a few feet away. You’ll both be better off having had that experience.

This is Richard

Another installment of “The Invisible Ones” of Washington, DC.

This is Richard This is Richard

I was roaming around outside Union Station in Washington, DC one recent morning when I spotted Richard picking up trash and litter in the area surrounding the Columbus Fountain. He was using a small trash bag to collect the litter which he would then empty into one of the Union Station trash receptacles. I asked him if he was being employed by the Union Station management to clean up the trash. He just laughed and said that he does this because it’s where he lives and he believes that people who visit here shouldn’t have to look at the trash all over the area. When Richard says that this is where he lives he means that he, in fact, sleeps nearby and spends his time patrolling for litter. Richard has been living on the streets without shelter for two years following the death of his father who he lived with. Richard could not afford to pay the rent, lost his job and has been homeless ever since. He hopes that someone at Union Station will notice his work and offer to hire him. Even if they don’t he says he’ll continue because it’s the right thing to do. When I told Richard about the invisible ones photo project he was happy to participate and allow me to make this photograph. When I asked how I could help him he said that he could really use some disposable gloves and trash bags so he didn’t have to pick up the trash bare handed. I was more than glad to purchase a box of disposable gloves and trash bags for him and his noble cause of keeping the area trash free.

It never fails to amaze me when I meet someone like Richard who in spite of having nothing but the clothes on his back concerns himself with something like keeping a tourist area clean and attractive for no other reason than, “it’s the right thing to do.” We could all take a lesson from Richard. If you see him in his area around Union Station, he would greatly appreciate some disposable gloves and trash bags as well as anything else you’d care to help out with. I promise you’ll both be better off having had that experience.

This is William

Another installment of “The Invisible Ones” of Washington, DC

This is William This is William

I met William early one morning last week. He was sitting on the sidewalk, leaning against a lamp post at 7th & F Streets, NW. This is a very busy tourist spot as tour buses stop here to unload sightseers at the Spy Museum. In spite of the throng of tourists, William was having no success panhandling. We spoke for a bit and I explained the Invisible Ones project to him. He was happy to participate in return for a small donation. The idea of being invisible even on a busy street seemed especially meaningful to him. William says he has been homeless for over ten years in DC. He sleeps on the streets avoiding the shelters. Like so many other homeless folks he finds them to be dirty and dangerous. At one time he had worked as a cook in a restaurant but now, without an address, it is impossible to find employment so he gets by depending on the charity of others. William is not an aggressive panhandler. If you engage him in conversation, you’ll find him to be friendly, articulate and having a sense of humor in spite of his circumstance. If you see William in this neighborhood, stop and have a conversation. Ask if you can help him out in someway. I promise you’ll both be better off for having had that experience.

This is Mohammed

Another installment of The Invisible Ones

This is Mohammed, also known as Bill This is Mohammed, also known as Bill

I met Mohammed one recent early morning early morning near the Farragut West metro station. He was sitting quietly on the sidewalk with an empty paper cup in spite of the steady stream of morning commuters who were passing him by. When I first approached Mohammed to ask him if I might take his photograph, he introduced himself as Bill. After we talked for a bit he explained that his proper name was Mohammed but he rarely uses it because of the negative reaction he gets from passersby. Mohammed tells me that he was originally from North Carolina where he was working in the construction trades. He sustained a back injury and eventually was fired for missing work too many days. His life spiraled downward pretty quickly and he lost his apartment and ended up on the streets. He came to DC, hoping to get away from the intense hatred and animosity that was directed at him in North Carolina. He was advised by a friend who is also homeless that losing Mohammed would help. He was and is very conflicted about this as it’s his birth name but he hates the negativity even more, so it’s Bill for now. Mohammed spends his days moving about NW DC panhandling for enough money to buy food and a few essentials. He ends up in Rock Creek Park at the end of the day where he he has a safe spot to sleep. After an infestation of bed bugs, staying at any of the city shelters is simply not an option. Mohammed agreed to participate in the Invisible Ones photo documentary project in exchange for a cash donation. If you happen to see Mohammed, or know someone like him, stop for a minute and have a conversation. Ask if you can help out in some way. Even some eye contact and saying good morning means a great deal to someone who is largely invisible. I promise you’ll both be better off having had that experience.

This is Delbert

This is Delbert

Another installment of “The Invisible Ones” of Washington, DC. I noticed Delbert sitting on the sidewalk outside of the Whole Foods store in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, DC. with a military style duffle bag and a paper cup in front of him with exactly (4) four pennies in it. I watched Delbert for awhile from inside the store and noticed how he did nothing to interact with passersby other than looking at them. I sat on the sidewalk next to him and he extended his hand introducing himself as Delbert. When asked he told me he had come to DC from Texas about two years ago and had been sleeping on the street the entire time. It soon became evident that Delbert was very delusional. The more he spoke the more pressured and insistent his thinking became. All of his delusions are about his being persecuted by the Federal Government after he was arrested for sleeping in a Government building in Texas. He comes to DC to somehow rectify that situation. He speaks of going to the Capitol building and camping out on the floor until he can speak with the President. He has no appreciation for the fact that he will most certainly encounter the police should he try to follow through with that plan. I asked him why he chose this particular location to panhandle and his response was even more delusional, having to do with the confluence of x-rays from a nearby hospital and radio waves from the State Department which was just a few blocks away. I offered Delbert a bottle of water and some food in exchange for this photograph. He agreed after I promised not to tell the State Department that he as listening in on their radio transmission. While it is interesting to listen to the delusional conversations of the mentally ill, it is also incredibly tragic that these folks are languishing on the streets of Washington, DC. While the city continuously talks about affordable housing and housing for homeless families, mentally ill, single women, and men like Delbert fall between the cracks. The next time you are out and about in the city, take notice of the panhandlers, particularly those who may appear mentally ill. They could use a moment of your time and kindness more than most. I promise that the two of you will be better off having had that experience.

This is Mary then & now

The image on the left is of Mary on February 18, 2014. The image on the right was made May 10, 2017

From time to time I try and locate people that I have photographed in the past just to see how they are doing, if they are still living on the street without shelter, and if anything has changed for the better in their life. Sadly, things are seldom better and for the most part have just remained the same. Such is the case for Mary. Here is a link to the posting when I first met Mary three years ago in February of 2014.

The photo on the right was made on May 10, 2017 at almost the exact same location at the George Washington Hospital Metro Station. While Mary appears a little more presentable and has had a hair cut recently she is still very agitated, disorganized and almost impossible to engage in a conversation. I was able to induce her to sit still for this photograph by buying her some food and water from a convenience store across the street. As it was more than three years ago, Mary is unable to talk about what she has been doing, how she manages day to day, where she sleeps, or anything other than her delusional thinking. Mary does not and most likely cannot effective panhandle. She seems to just meander around crowded areas in the city. As is sometimes the case, passersby will offer her food and or money.

Mary and the other mentally ill women and men like her who live on the streets of DC without shelter are a testament to the failure of this city to care for it’s most vulnerable citizens. That leaves these vulnerable souls to be cared for by the churches and non-profit outreach organizations in the city. If you see Mary or someone like her on the street, try and engage them in a conversation. It won’t be easy and they may just walk away from you but at least try. If you succeed, it will be a rewarding experience that the both of you will appreciate.

Washington DC’s failed policy to shelter the homeless.

All of the people pictured in this photo gallery are part of my ongoing photo documentary project known as “The Invisible Ones of Washington, DC.” All of these photographs were made within the last year. The first three images were made on 5-9-17 at the L Street overpass in NOMA. All of the images were made within a few blocks of First & L Streets in the NOMA neighborhood of Washington, DC. The signage from the city warning that a forced cleanup will happen on or anytime after the posted date is interesting. Anyone who has lived in a street tent or makeshift shelter on the sidewalk has experienced this process. The city makes a big deal out of saying that these sweeps are for public health and the safety of the tent dwellers. Anthony, pictured above, was cleaning up his living space, removing paper trash, and sweeping the sidewalk when I met him. Compared to some streets in the city, this one is immaculate because those who live here keep it that way. I asked Anthony, who has been homeless in DC for six years, about the upcoming sweep. He tells me what everyone who lives on the street already knows, “the city will make us move on to some place else. Everyone will relocate to someplace nearby and we’ll do it all again in the future.” The city will make a production out of offering shelter space to these folks. No one will go to a filthy, dangerous, crowded city shelter. Living in a tent is a far preferable option. Everyone knows this but the city insists that “shelter is available.” These sweeps and forced relocations are harassment pure and simple. The goal is “out of sight and out of mind.”

What isn’t available and is at the core of DC’s failed homeless policy is affordable public housing. For years Mayor Muriel Bowser has been touting her commitment to ending homelessness in DC. This has become nothing more than a cruel joke to those living on the streets without permanent shelter. Over the past two months, the Washington Post has published three scathing articles exposing the incompetence of the Bowser administration with respect to the homeless crisis in the city. The first on March 17th, detailing a city auditor’s report about mismanaged funds in the city’s affordable housing program. The second on April 16th, detailing how a homeless family seeking shelter in DC was given a bus ticket to North Carolina. A must read. The third and most reprehensible is the story that DC forfeited 15.8 million dollars in Federal funds for affordable housing over the past three years because of the city missing application deadlines.  How’s that even possible for a Mayor who has made ending homelessness a centerpiece of her administration? As they say on the streets, “It is what it is.”

Those living on the streets without shelter are no one’s constituents, they don’t vote, they don’t contribute to campaigns, they just try to survive. Shame on you Mayor Bowser. Just remember come election time, that what goes around comes around.

This is Joyce

This is Joyce This is Joyce

Another installment of “The Invisible Ones” of Washington, DC

Joyce has been living on the streets of Washington DC since 2011. For the past two years she has occupied the spot where I met her this morning. She stores her belongings in plastic bags behind some bushes near the “L” street underpass between 1st & 2nd Streets NE, in Washington, DC and sits on a low concrete wall greeting the morning commuters as they walk from the gentrified neighborhoods in NE to the NOMA Metro station. Joyce is an articulate and affable woman who has in the past held jobs as a  housekeeper in a hotel and as a Nanny. This was while she was living in Philadelphia. The story of why she lost these jobs is a little confusing and convoluted as it is mixed in with a variety personal problems. Joyce is absolutely clear about one thing – living on the street is far better than any shelter in the city. She puts it this way, “if you’re not crazy before you go to the shelter, you will definitely be that way once you leave.” She says she has only been beaten and robbed once since living on the street. In the shelters it’s a common thing which is why everyone there carries a weapon to protect themselves.

Joyce readily admits that life gets very hard for her when Winter comes on. She tries to budget money for emergency stays in a SRO hotel that she uses when the need arises. She also takes advantage of the hypothermia buses that the city deploys when it’s really cold. As with many of the homeless that I meet, Joyce has her benefactors that will stop and chat and give her provisions and/or money. She is gracious and grateful for their kindness. When I told her about the Invisible Ones project her comment was, “you’re damn right about that, I feel like a damn ghost most of the time.” She was agreeable to this photograph in exchange for a small sum of money. If you’re in Joyce’s neighborhood stop by and say hello, she has a story to tell and it’s worth listening to. You’ll both feel better for having had that experience.

This is Pam

This is Pam This is Pam

I came across Pam in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, DC. She was sitting on the curb, looking disheveled and in need of some clean clothing. She wasn’t panhandling but didn’t seem to mind my asking her if she needed any assistance in exchange for a photograph.

Pam tells me she was recently released from prison having served 18 months for assaulting two people who were trying to rob another homeless person in the park where they were sleeping. She says she stabbed one of them which got the police involved and she was arrested and charged. She says doing time isn’t a big deal for her as she’s been there before and in some ways it’s better than being on the street. Pam is currently homeless and says she has few prospects given her prison record, drug problems and lack of education. She has resigned herself to either living on the street or ending back in prison. Pam is aware of services available to her in DC but says she doesn’t get along with people so it’s best she keeps to herself. It’s a safe bet that given her invisibility to passersby in this affluent DC neighborhood, she’ll get her wish to remain by herself.

If you see Pam in this neighborhood of Washington, DC, or know someone like her, stop for a moment and have a human to human conversation. Ask if you can help out in some way. I guarantee you’ll both be better off having had that experience.

This is Lolita

Another installment of The Invisible Ones of Washington, DC

This is Lolita This is Lolita

I met Lolita on  H Street in the heart of Chinatown early one morning, last week. She sitting on the sidewalk in a building doorway along with an assortment of newspapers, blankets, and other paper trash. She was also missing her shoes. When I asked how long she had been homeless, she said that she had an apartment but couldn’t stay there because other people had “marked her.” She declined to elaborate on what that meant. Given Lolita’s disheveled appearance and need for clean clothing, it seems unlikely that she has housing. When asked if she needed anything, she replied that she had not eaten in awhile and could use some water. Lolita was not panhandling when I met her but it seems that she is known to some of the regular passersby who help her out on their way to work. I bought her some food and a bottle of water in exchange for this photograph. Like so any of the marginalized people living without shelter on the streets of Washington, DC. Lolita is friendly enough and not threatening in any way. Her passivity causes her to blend in with the environment and to become invisible to most everyone who passes by. If you see or know of someone like Lolita, stop and have a conversation, see if you can help out in some way. You’ll both be better off for having had that experience.

This is Lamont

Another installment of The Invisible Ones of Washington, DC

This is Lamont This is Lamont

Lamont was panhandling near the World Bank Offices in Washington, DC. an interesting juxtaposition of wealth and power contrasted with a marginalized, homeless man.

Lamont has a neurological disorder of some kind that manifests itself by causing him to grimace involuntarily and slur his speech which is barely audible to begin with. I asked if he was or had been seeing a doctor for this condition. He just shook his head saying no. Lamont can’t recall when he last had a permanent home or where he was before coming to Washington, DC. This is more than likely a memory impairment and part of his overall physical disability.

Lamont is a distinctive looking man and pleasant enough if you take the time to speak with him but passersby are easily put off by his scruffy appearance and facial grimacing so he doesn’t do very well at panhandling. He gladly accepted my offer of a food voucher in exchange for this photograph. If you live, work or visit in this neighborhood and happen to spot Lamont, help him out if you can. He’s more invisible than most but he’s right in front of you if you bother to notice.