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 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 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.