This is Tony

Another installment of The Invisible Ones of Washington, DC

This is Tony

This is Tony

I met Tony while I was walking along 14th Street near Thomas Circle in Washington, DC. He was sitting alone on the sidewalk panhandling with a handmade sign asking for anything that would help. Tony couldn’t recall how long he has been living on the streets of DC without shelter. His best guess was at least ten years. He is missing his left eye. The result of a robbery and a beating he endured several years ago. He also walks with the assistance of a cane due to an injury sustained during the same assault. When asked about his sleeping & eating arrangements he says he gets by on the street and the kindness of strangers. He pointed to his GW Squash jacket as an example. “Someone just took it off and gave it to me last year.” Like so many of DC’s homeless men and women, Tony will not use the city-run shelters because they are seen as dangerous and dirty places. He says that as long as people are kind he feels blessed.

If you see or know someone like Tony that you pass by on your way to and from work, stop and say hello. Inquire as to how they are doing and help out if you can. Just acknowledging their existence allows them to feel less invisible just for a moment.

This is John

Another installment of the Invisible Ones of Washington, DC

This is John

This is John

I came across John while he was panhandling near Union Staton. John does not or cannot speak. I know his name because he has an old hospital ID wrist band that looks many months old. When asked if he was in the hospital he only nods. I explained that I wanted to make a photograph of him for the Invisible Ones photo project. He nodded again and began to stike poses for me. I compensated him for his participation and moved on. If you see or know someone like John, take a moment and stop and say hello. Inquire about how they are doing. It will make an enormous diffeence and help them to feel less invisible.

This is Pam

Another installment of The Invisible Ones of Washington, DC.

This is Pam

Pam is a woman who has been living on the streets of Washington, DC without shelter for at least the last five years. Her memory seems to be fading so having a conversation with her was difficult. She was agreeable to allowing me to make this photograph in return for a monetary donation. The idea of being one of the Invisible Ones did cause her to smile in this photo. If you see or know someone like Pam on the street, stop and say hello. Even a small kindness such as that will be appreciated and allow them to feel less invisible.

This is Lynette

Another installment of The Invisible Ones of Washington, DC

This is Lynette

This is Lynette

I met Lynette on a residential street in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, DC. She wasn’t panhandling, just sitting on a bench. As I walked by, I said good morning as I do with most everyone I meet. Lynette was quite surprised that I spoke to her and engaged me in a conversation. Her question to me was, “why would someone of substance speak to someone who had none.” I must admt in all the years that I have been making street portraits of the homeless, I have never been called “a person of substance.” I said as much to Lynete who laughed uproariously and said that compared to her I had substance. This allowed me to engage Lynette in a conversation about the Invisible Ones Project. She readily ageed to allow me to shoot his portrait and include it in the project. I compensated her for her time and moved on.

This is Chino

Another installment of the Invisible Ones of Washington, DC

This is Chino

This is Chino

I met Chino on 14th Street, just South of Logan Circle in Washington, DC. He was camped out in a building alcove surrounded by a large pile of clothing, blankets and other items he had collected. He doesn’t have much to say other than he has been on the street for a number of years and gets by on the kindness of others. I told him about the Invisible Ones project and he agreed to this photograph in exchange for a monetary contribution. If you see Chino or another person living on the streets without shelter, stop and have a conversation. Showing a little humanity toward someone who feels invisible will make you both feel better.

This is Michael

Another installment of "The Invisible Ones" of Washington, DC

This is Michael

This is Michael

I have known Michael for over three years and have made a street portrait of him on three different occasions. Michael is a mentally ill man who has lived on the streets of Washington DC for at least five years. He usually can be found in the same area of the city doing what he does, which is stopping traffic and yelling at nobody in particular. In spite of this impairment Michael is a friendly and affable man if you can get him to sit still long enough to have a conversation. The one thing he is adamant about is that he is not mentally ill. "Don't talk to me about that shit" he will tell you, So I don't go there. Michael seems to survive on handouts and assistance from outreach workers. He has no apparent possessions, but I suspect he keeps somethings stashed somewhere as I've seen him in different clothing. Michael is always agreeable to allowing me to photograph him in exchange for a cash donation or something to eat. If you see or know someone like Michael, stop and say hello. Even that simple act of kindness means a great deal to someone who is otherwise invisible to all who pass them by.

This is James

Another installment of "The Invisible Ones" of Washington, DC

This is James

This is James

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

This is Christine

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"

This is Susan

This is Susan

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.

This is Ronnie

Another installment of the Invisible Ones of Washington, DC

This is Ronnie

Ronnie is a 62 year old man who has been living on the streets of Washington, DC without shelter. I came across Ronnie near the Farragut North Metro station in Washington, DC during the height of the morning rush to work. This is a very busy commercial neighborhood populated by all manner of office buildings and professional workers. In spite of this street traffic Ronnie had nothing in his panhandling cup. When I asked him about that he just shrugged saying, "it is what it is." Ronnie has been on the streets of DC for about 10 years as best he can recall. He has no family and has not been involved with any social service organizations beyond the church operated soup kitchens. When I asked where he sleeps, he gestured to the park in Farragut Square where he stores his belongings during the day. Staying in a city run shelter is not an option he says given the filthy and dangerous conditions. He is always amused when he hears that city outreach workers say that there are plenty of beds at the shelters and that no one needs to sleep outside. Like so many of DC's homeless, Ronnie would be willing to work at odd jobs if only someone would hire him. Not having a fixed address makes employment all the more difficult to find. He speaks eloquently of being invisible and how on some level this gives him a sense of identity and accomplishment. He sums it up by saying," that not many people can survive these streets, so I must be doing something right." This kind of resilience is not uncommon among the homeless people that I meet. I always tell them that after meeting with them whatever trials and tribulations that I have seem trifling by comparison. This always elicits a smile and a laugh. Ronnie was more than happy to participate in the Invisible Ones photo project. If you see Ronnie help him out, you'll both feel better having shared that experience. 

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 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.

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. 

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.

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 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.