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 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.

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 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 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 Flora

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

This is Flora

When I met Flora she was sitting on the floor in a side hallway at Union Station. She was trying to avoid being seen by the Union Station security guards who would most certainly evict her from the building before she could panhandle enough money for some breakfast. I told her I'd help her out with breakfast in exchange for a photograph and a little conversation. Flora was happy to oblige when I told her about the Invisible Ones photo documentary project.  She hoped that if people saw her picture they might be more willing to help out. Flora is a large woman with a number of medical issues related to her weight. She says getting around is a major problem for her. She has been in and out of temporary housing and the shelter system in DC for the past seven years and is currently sleeping outdoors because she feels unsafe in the shelters. Flora says she has been on a waiting list for housing through Social Services but has no idea when that will happen for her, so she does the best she can by panhandling for food and other necessities. Flora is a friendly and outgoing woman who easily engages those that pass by, which gives her a certain advantage in panhandling. If you see or know someone like Flora, stop and have a conversation. See if there is something that you can do to help them out. I guarantee that you'll both feel better having had that experience. 

This is Crystal

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

This is Crystal

I met Crystal while she was panhandling outside of an upscale food market one recent morning. She tells me this is a good spot in that in addition to money, passersby often give her food. She says it's important to get here early and be polite and friendly. On this early weekday morning, she has done both. Crystal is originally from Southern Virginia. She fled an abusive relationship there and eventually came to DC with a man who was also abusive. She left that arrangement only to find herself in another just as bad. Crystal is an articulate and insightful woman, who has a good understanding of the behavioral pattern she is caught in. Sadly, living on the street makes it difficult to access the kind of counseling that she needs. There is some hope. Crystal has learned that after six years on a housing waiting list she may soon have housing. She has heard that before and while she is not terribly optimistic, she says that she can't give up hope. You may be wondering about the black eye. I asked her if she wanted to talk about that and she just flashed the smile you see in the photograph saying, no, not really. 

Crystal agreed to participate in the Invisible Ones photo project in exchange for a monetary donation. If you know someone like Crystal that you pass by on your way to and from work, stop and have a conversation. Ask if you can help out in some way. I guarantee you'll both feel better having had that experience.

This is Anne

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

This is Anne

Anne is a 40 year old woman who has been living on the streets of Washington, DC for a little more than six years. I met Anne outside of a fast-food shop near the Dupont Circle Metro. She was sitting on the sidewalk counting the spare change she had accumulated in her plastic panhandling cup. When I stopped to speak with her she asked if I could help her out as she didn’t have enough money to buy something to eat. I told her I would do that in exchange for a photograph and her agreement to participate in the Invisible Ones photo project. She readily agreed to that arrangement. 

Anne was previously homeless in Maryland for a number of years before making her way to DC. She is not very forthcoming with information about her personal history or the reasons for her homelessness. She sleeps outdoors because she fears staying in any of the shelters. Many homeless women and men living on the streets tell me the same thing. 

If you know or see someone like Anne, stop for a moment and have a conversation. Ask if you can help out in someway. I guarantee that you’ll both feel better having had that experience.

This is James

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

This is James

I met James in a small park in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of NE Washington, DC. When asked how he was doing, he said he was very glad to see that the inauguration and all of the demonstrations have gone away and he could return to his normal outdoor sleeping place in this park. He says that the police were very determined to keep the entire area clear of street people during these events but now it's back to normal. James has been living on the streets of DC without shelter for a little more than six years. He spent the previous 10 years incarcerated at a Federal Penitentiary in Kentucky. Upon release, he left with no money and only his personal belongings. He managed to get back to DC but discovered that everyone he had known previously was gone so he was on the streets where he has been ever since. Like so many people who are incarcerated for a long period of time, there is very little done to support their transition back to society and they either become recidivists or flounder in a society that they are no longer a part of. James is willing and able to do manual labor, he cannot get a job because of his prison record. He chooses to sleep outdoors because of the dangers that the city shelters present. The last thing he wants to do is get into a fight, protecting his property and end up back in jail. He says with a smile that, "the courts are not kind to ex-cons from the Fed system."

James is a friendly and approachable man who does reasonably well panhandling. He was quite interested in the Invisible Ones project and offered to help me find other men and women who would be willing to participate. I may well take him up on that offer. James agreed to this photograph in exchange for a small monetary contribution. If you see James or know someone like him, stop for a moment and have a conversation. Ask if you can help out in someway. I guarantee that you'll both be better off having had that experience.

This is James "HW" Garvey

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

This is James

I recently met James, who is 57 years old, on a residential street in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of NW Washington, DC. It was trash pick up day and James was picking through some articles left on the curb hoping to find something of value. He tells me that he has a schedule of trash days for the “better neighborhoods” in DC and makes it a point to be there before the trucks come. He shows me the leather jacket he’s wearing as evidence of his labor. He says he picked this up earlier in the Fall and it cleaned up real nice except for a tear in the lining which nobody sees anyway. The same is true for the USC Trojans cap he is wearing. He says he likes to mess with people telling them he went to college at USC. He asked if I would believe that. I said, probably not and he replied that I was smarter than I looked. After we dispensed with these civilities I asked him about how came to be homeless. He said he was houseless, not homeless. Home is wherever I sleep at night, a doorway, a bench or anyplace warm. I don’t need a house to do that. I have heard this before from people living on the street. James says he did have a house for 20 years, 4 months and 3 days. That was when he was in prison in Illinois for being part of a car theft ring. He said they tried to make him out to be the boss of the operation but he was just the delivery man, meaning that he stole the cars and brought them to a warehouse. His middle initials, HW, stand for hot wire. He smiles broadly when talking about how he could boost a car in the blink of an eye. Interestingly enough James says he has not been incarcerated since he left prison in 2002. He gets by doing cleaning jobs, selling things he finds in the trash and panhandling.He says there isn’t much call for making license plates on the outside. James is a funny and affable man who is surprisingly upbeat given his circumstances. He agreed to participate in the Invisible Ones photo project in exchange for a cup of coffee and some food. If you see James or someone like him rooting around in your trash, try having a conversation. Ask if you can help out in someway. I’m betting that 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.