Washington DC's failed policy to shelter the homeless.

All of the people pictured in this photo gallery are part of my ongoing photo documentary project known as "The Invisible Ones of Washington, DC." All of these photographs were made within the last year. The first three images were made on 5-9-17 at the L Street overpass in NOMA. All of the images were made within a few blocks of First & L Streets in the NOMA neighborhood of Washington, DC. The signage from the city warning that a forced cleanup will happen on or anytime after the posted date is interesting. Anyone who has lived in a street tent or makeshift shelter on the sidewalk has experienced this process. The city makes a big deal out of saying that these sweeps are for public health and the safety of the tent dwellers. Anthony, pictured above, was cleaning up his living space, removing paper trash, and sweeping the sidewalk when I met him. Compared to some streets in the city, this one is immaculate because those who live here keep it that way. I asked Anthony, who has been homeless in DC for six years, about the upcoming sweep. He tells me what everyone who lives on the street already knows, "the city will make us move on to some place else. Everyone will relocate to someplace nearby and we'll do it all again in the future." The city will make a production out of offering shelter space to these folks. No one will go to a filthy, dangerous, crowded city shelter. Living in a tent is a far preferable option. Everyone knows this but the city insists that "shelter is available." These sweeps and forced relocations are harassment pure and simple. The goal is "out of sight and out of mind."

What isn't available and is at the core of DC's failed homeless policy is affordable public housing. For years Mayor Muriel Bowser has been touting her commitment to ending homelessness in DC. This has become nothing more than a cruel joke to those living on the streets without permanent shelter. Over the past two months, the Washington Post has published three scathing articles exposing the incompetence of the Bowser administration with respect to the homeless crisis in the city. The first on March 17th, detailing a city auditor's report about mismanaged funds in the city's affordable housing program. The second on April 16th, detailing how a homeless family seeking shelter in DC was given a bus ticket to North Carolina. A must read. The third and most reprehensible is the story that DC forfeited 15.8 million dollars in Federal funds for affordable housing over the past three years because of the city missing application deadlines.  How's that even possible for a Mayor who has made ending homelessness a centerpiece of her administration? As they say on the streets, "It is what it is." 

Those living on the streets without shelter are no one's constituents, they don't vote, they don't contribute to campaigns, they just try to survive. Shame on you Mayor Bowser. Just remember come election time, that what goes around comes around.

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 Andrea

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

Andrea is currently one of the thirteen remaining residents of a soon to be demolished tent encampment located just North of Union Station in Washington, DC. More about that here. Andrea has been homeless and living on the street for a relatively short period of time, less than six months by her recollection. The details as to what led to this situation are a little murky but the fact remains, Andrea is living in a tent on the sidewalk. Since the city will be sweeping or cleaning the area soon and without further notice, Andrea will be forced to move or lose all of her belongings. She says she has scouted out a few spots nearby where she can relocate her tent until the city does another sweep.Andrea is an articulate, well-spoken woman who says she has skills as a hair stylist and a makeup artist. She was previously living  and working in a neighboring jurisdiction but ended up with no job and no place to live. Forcing her to seek shelter in DC. I cannot attest to the veracity of these details but the fact remains Andrea is living in a tent on the streets of Washington, DC. She is aware of services for the homeless in the city and utilizes those for taking a shower and getting food. Hopefully, she will get connected with some outreach services and a more comprehensive case management system that will work towards permanent housing. For me, Andrea is an example of how quickly and totally a normally functioning person's life can spiral out of control and put them on the street without shelter or any support system. The tragedy of this is that this may just be the beginning of Andrea's downward spiral unless there is some intervention to stop it from happening. If you see Andrea or know someone like her, just stop for a moment and say hello. Perhaps ask if there is anything you can reasonably do to help. I guarantee you'll both be the better for the experience.


This is Sky

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

I have seen Sky on several previous occasions. I should say, I've seen a pile of tattered blankets and a plastic tarp with what appeared to be a person underneath asleep. I came by this location later in the morning and found Sky to be awake and passively panhandling. She has two small dogs as her companions that did not come out from beneath the blankets. Sky tells me that she has been living on the streets of Washington, DC for almost two years and hopes to get back to Colorado where she is from. That would be the last bit of reality-based conversation that we would have. Any further questions from me were met with rambling, delusional comments about how she designed and built many of the buildings in DC, including the Kennedy Center. When asked about family or contact with Social Service agencies in DC, she just looks away and then reverts to a more delusional conversation. Sky does not appear to have any belongings beyond what she is wearing and supplies for the dogs which come from benefactors who pass by her location. It is always interesting that persons who are homeless with pets always seem to have more benefactors than those without. Sky's location at 1st & M Streets in the trendy NOMA neighborhood of Washington, DC puts her right in the middle of several upscale apartment buildings, a food market,  numerous restaurants and many dog owners who I'm sure are concerned for her pets. While all of this works to Sky's advantage, she is still living on the street, suffering from what appears to be a serious mental illness and, for the most part, is invisible to hundreds of people who pass her by every day.

This is Omar

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

This is Omar

This is Omar, one of Washington, DC's Invisible Ones. I met Omar while he was panhandling outside an upscale food market in the trendy NOMA neighborhood of Washington, DC. Omar tells me he's been living on the streets for about one year. He had been living with his brother here in Washington, DC but the brother became quite ill and was placed in a Nursing facility. Omar could not maintain the apartment and ended up on the street. I asked where he slept at night and he pointed to an area near a construction site saying that it was at least safe there and he wouldn't have the remainder of his possessions stolen which is what happened at the Federal City Shelter. Omar is an affable man who tries to engage passersby in a friendly, non-aggressive way. He is still ignored by almost everyone who passes him by as if he were invisible. Omar agreed to this photograph in exchange for a cup of coffee and some food. I you see Omar or someone like him, say hello and help them out if you can. You'll both feel better about your day.

This is Louis

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

This is Louis

Louis was picking cigarette butts from the gutter when I met him on 1st Street NE in the trendy NOMA neighborhood of Washington, DC. He said he needed to be quick about this because the trash cleaners  would soon be along to clean up the street. So I walked along with him while he foraged for used butts. Louis thinks he's 65 years old but can't be sure as his memory has been pretty bad for awhile. He suspects that his years of drinking had something to do with that. He says that even after he quit drinking his mind was never the same especially after the explosion in his brain. It sounds like he was told he had a stroke of some kind which has left him somewhat impaired. His speech is almost inaudible and halting as if he can't find the word he is looking for.

Louis has been living on the streets or in shelters for the last 10 years by his account. Tragically he prefers sleeping outdoors because, "people will mess you up in those shelters." I asked Louis what he would do when Winter comes on in a few months. He was surprised to learn that it was already October. After he found a supply of cigarette butts he began his routine of panhandling which involved sitting on the curb and calling out to passers by that he could use a little help to get something to eat. As I watched for a bit it was clear that on this busy, weekday morning Louis was truly invisible to the herd of office workers clutching their phones and Starbuck coffees as they stepped over and around him to cross the street.

He gladly agreed to a food voucher in exchange for this photograph.