Another installment of "The Invisible Ones" of Washington, DC.
I first saw Gregory this Monday morning dragging a trash bag around the open green spaces adjoining the US Capitol grounds. At first I thought he was just scavenging for glass bottles to redeem the deposits but as I approached him it was clear he was picking up litter and emptying it into larger trash bins. He says he does this because it's important to keep the grounds clean and it makes him feel useful and productive. He expects nothing in return but if people want to help him out he won't refuse. Gregory is in his early 60's as best he can recollect and has been homeless for at least 20 years. He is originally from Washington, DC but has no remaining family here. Gregory's homelessness is connected to his use of crack cocaine years ago. He was given a 15 year mandatory sentence in 1985 for possession of one piece of crack. Not so unusual back in the days of mandatory sentencing. He severed all of that time in Federal prisons and was ultimately released to the streets of Los Angeles. He spent a few years on Skid Row in LA before making his way back to DC by hopping freight trains. He says he's been clean and sober for several years and seems to be as we spoke this morning. Gregory sleeps outdoors in the warm weather and tries to find church shelters in the Winter as they are safer, drug free and are better supervised. Gregory is a pleasant and friendly man who seems amazingly content to be about his self appointed job of picking up litter around Capitol Hill. If you live or work in the neighborhood and see Gregory, stop and say hello, have a conversation, you'll both be better for the experience.