I met Antonio Francisco on the steps of a church that serves as a drop in location in NW Washington, DC. He had just finished his breakfast and was getting ready to make his way to his regular panhandling spot in the Georgetown neighborhood in time for the morning rush of commuters. Antonio came to DC about 10 years ago from Brooklyn,NY where he was born and raised. He had lost his apartment in Brooklyn because he could no longer afford the rent. This was complicated by a serious addiction problem which resulted in numerous incarcerations and alienation from his family. After his last stay in jail in NYC, he decided to start over and made his way to DC. Sadly his untreated addiction to substances came with him and other than being 15 years older nothing much has changed. He does say that at age 65 he doesn't have the endurance to do what he used to do so he gets by with panhandling. As he got up from where he was sitting he unfolded a walking cane for the blind and started to tap his way down the sidewalk. I walked with him for awhile and said I would not have guessed he was blind. He said that's what most people say until I show them. He stopped and held open his droopy eyelids with his fingers. His entire eye was a milky white. He then says with a big grin,"you wanna help out an old blind man?" I sat him down again and we had a chat about my photo project. I told him that in good conscience I could not give him money for drugs and alcohol but would give him a food voucher and a new pair of wool socks. He was amenable to that deal and allowed me to take his photograph and use it in the Invisible Ones Project. It is hard enough being homeless in Washington, DC in the Winter. Add to that a problem with addiction plus blindness and you have what for most people would be an impossible situation. Consider that as you make your way to work during the coming Winter months and pass by a homeless man or woman on the street. Perhaps you could stop and have a conversation or ask if you could help out in someway. I promise you'll both be better off having had that experience.
Another installment of "The Invisible Ones" of Washington, DC
I noticed Shannon panhandling just outside the Whole Foods Market in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, DC. This is a very busy spot during the morning rush hours but Shannon was being ignored by almost everyone who passed by, making her one of the invisible ones. Shannon says she's been living on the streets of Washington, DC for over 10 years. She came to DC from Annapolis, Maryland with a boyfriend who is now in prison and has been homeless ever since. Shannon's lack of shelter is complicated by her addiction problems. She has a noticeable tremor which she says is due to alcohol withdrawal. Shannon is no stranger to detox programs but cannot manage to stay clean and sober. She was recently beaten and raped while staying at a shelter. You can see the wound on her forehead in the photograph. It is for this reason that she prefers to sleep on the street where it is safer. Shannon is a pleasant and affable woman who is not aggressive with her panhandling. She sits quietly, with her tattered cardboard sign asking for whatever help a passerby cares to give. She agreed to this photograph in exchange for a bottle of water and something to eat. If you know or see someone like Shannon, stop for a minute and ask if you can help in someway. You'll both be better off for having had that conversation.
Another installment of "The Invisible Ones" of Washington, DC.
I met Kim on a busy street corner near the Farragut Square Metro station in Washington, DC. She was sitting quietly up against a building holding an empty paper cup in an attempt to collect donations. Kim is a friendly and affable woman who has been homeless and living on the streets of DC for about ten years. She was formerly a nurse but lost her credentials due to severe problems with drugs and alcohol. She tells me she has been clean and sober for two years and is hopeful that this time, she will stay that way. Kim is a good example of someone who previously was a productive member of society that through her own poor choices caused her life to spiral out of control. She would be the first to tell you that and is only looking for a chance to get back on her feet. It is very difficult for women who are living without shelter for all of the obvious reasons. For Kim and other recovering substance abusers, it is even more difficult because of the easy availability of drugs and alcohol on the street. I have a great deal of admiration and respect for people who persevere with maintaining their sobriety under these circumstances. If you know Kim or someone like her, stop and have a conversation. Ask how they are doing and if you can help in some way. I guarantee that you'll both be better off for having had that experience.