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 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 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 Alice

Another installment of "The InvisibleOnes" of Washington, DC

This is Alice

This is a photograph of Alice taken on February 14, 2017. Alice is a profoundly mentally ill woman who has been living on the streets of Washington, DC for many years. I made another photograph of her in May of 2016. She was quite mentally then as well. Her condition has only worsened over the course of one year. If you click here you can read about Alice as she was a year ago.

Alice presents herself as friendly and approachable but she is much to thought disordered to carry on a coherent conversation. Judging from her dirty and unkempt appearance I would think she is sleeping outside. She has no personal belongings and is too disorganized to effectively panhandle. I bought her some food and a cup of coffee in exchange for this photograph, which she was agreeable to. Alice and other mentally ill men and women living on the streets of DC are a testament to the failed policies of the city government with respect to caring for the most vulnerable of its residents. Because Alice is not aggressive or disruptive in any way she doesn't come to the attention of the police. She also doesn't cause passersby to even notice her, even though she is sitting on the sidewalk talking to herself. If you see Alice in the NOMA neighborhood, try and help her out is some way. Food and water would be a good place to start. You'll both be better off for having had that experience.

This is Jane

Another installment of the "Invisible Ones of Washington, DC."

I met Jane outside of a supermarket in the trendy NOMA neighborhood of Washington, DC. It was a cold, rainy morning and Jane was huddled under an overhang to keep dry. I brought her into the lobby of the market to see if she would be willing to allow me to photograph her for the Invisible Ones project. It didn't take too long to determine that, Jane was quite mentally ill. When I asked her name, she produced an old hospital wristband dating back to July of 2016. She pointed out that the name on the band said, Jane Doe so that must be who she is. Trying to have a conversation with Jane was really quite pointless because of her rambling and incoherent thinking. She was hungry so I bought her some food in exchange for this photograph. Like many of the homeless, mentally ill living on the streets of DC, Jane is friendly and approachable if you take the time to speak with her. I have no idea how long Jane has been homeless but judging from her dirty and disheveled appearance, I would guess she's been living without shelter for quite awhile. If you see or know someone like Jane, stop and have a conversation. Ask if you can help out in someway. You'll be surprised to learn that you'll both feel better having had that experience.

This is Russell

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

This is Russell

I found Russell lying on the sidewalk in front of an office building in the NOMA neighborhood of  Washington, DC. It was before 8:00 AM and he was just waking up after having spent the night sleeping there with just two ratty blankets and the clothes he has on. Russell may be mentally ill as it was very difficult to get him to focus on a conversation. I know his name only because another homeless person nearby told me he was known as Russell. I asked how long he had been living on the streets and he just smiled without saying anything. I managed to communicate my interest in taking his photograph in exchange for a bottle of water, a bagel and a granola bar. He stopped his incoherent conversation long enough for me to make this photograph.

This man and many men, women and families like him are a living testament to the failure of the city government to provide for the least fortunate of it's citizens. Now that the weather is turning sharply colder with temperatures in the 30's overnight these folks are more at risk for all manner of physical ailments. The mentally ill are particularly vulnerable as they are not easily engaged for even emergency hypothermia shelters. Were it not for the good will of the various not for profit organizations and church groups, I shudder to think of what would become of these folks. The good news from this past Winter is that no one died from exposure to the cold. The bad news is that the homeless/mentally ill population is larger than ever.

A new report released by H.U.D showed that the number of homeless had decreased by a small percentage in 2015, down by 3% over the same period last year. You can read more about that here. The problem with this is 10 cities including Washington, DC showed an increase. Washington, D.C., saw a 14.4 percent increase in homelessness, over 1,000 more people were living on the streets without shelter.  The one commonality with these 10 cities is they all are severely lacking in affordable and/or public housing options. They are not lacking in new residential development with the cities themselves. Since I live in DC I am most familiar with the rapid gentrification of the city and the equally rapid decline of affordable housing stock. The current city government and Mayor Muriel Bowser seem determined to sell off any parcel of city owned land to a developer who will in turn create expensive rentals or condominiums. The cruelest lie of all comes when the developer is required to set aside a small number of units as "affordable housing." The question that is never addressed and never answered is, what does affordable housing mean to someone sleeping on the street. 

So as Winter comes upon us, I hope that we all can think about being our brothers keeper and help out when and where we can. For Russell and people like him it could well be a life saving gesture.

This is Fred

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

 

This is Fred

Fred is a 60 something gentleman that I met panhandling on the sidewalk in a neighborhood of Washington, DC known as the "Golden Triangle" The commercial neighborhood that is home to more than 3,000 organizations such as top law firms, lobbyists, associations, and architecture firms; 200 restaurants; 300 shops, retailers, and 7 hotels. This area is especially busy during the morning rush hour. For Fred however, he may as well have been sitting in the middle of an open field out in the country as he was invisible to all who passed him by. Fred is a quiet man who only speaks if he is spoken to. If one chooses to do that it becomes very evident that Fred is unable to sustain a coherent conversation. I was able to get Fred to focus on his immediate needs for something to eat  and a bottle of water, which he agreed to in exchange for this photograph. Fred is not able to tell me how long he's been living on the street or anything else about himself that is based in reality. So I thanked him for his time and moved on. It is not uncommon for the homeless and homeless mentally ill to be found in this affluent and prosperous section of the city. As has been the case for years, the irony of this tragic clash of poverty and great wealth is totally lost on the city administration who are currently using the police department to move people along who are deemed to be unsightly or unpleasant in some way. If you see someone like Fred on the street. Spend a few moments asking them if you can help out in some way. Two things will happen, they will feel less invisible for a few minutes and you'll feel better for having made that happen.

This is Vernell

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

This is Vernell

I noticed Vernell sitting near one of the non-working fountains outside Union Station out of site from the main entrance where the Union Station Security police are on patrol to discourage the homeless from loitering or entering the main station. When I approached Vernell he was friendly and conversational, sadly he also seems to be mentally ill in that he said he was waiting for his limo to take him back to the White House where he had meetings to attend. If I had a car he would allow me to drive him there instead of waiting for the Secret Service. I don't make it a habit to encourage delusional conversation so I changed the subject asking Vernell if he would allow me to take his photograph in exchange for a bottle of water and a few granola bars. He agreed to do so. There are many homeless men and women in this very same situation and they are largely ignored by those who pass them by every day. I would suggest trying this instead, just ask how they are doing and if there is anything you can do to help in some way. You may be pleasantly surprised by what happens next.