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 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 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 William

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

This is William

This is William

I met William early one morning last week. He was sitting on the sidewalk, leaning against a lamp post at 7th & F Streets, NW. This is a very busy tourist spot as tour buses stop here to unload sightseers at the Spy Museum. In spite of the throng of tourists, William was having no success panhandling. We spoke for a bit and I explained the Invisible Ones project to him. He was happy to participate in return for a small donation. The idea of being invisible even on a busy street seemed especially meaningful to him. William says he has been homeless for over ten years in DC. He sleeps on the streets avoiding the shelters. Like so many other homeless folks he finds them to be dirty and dangerous. At one time he had worked as a cook in a restaurant but now, without an address, it is impossible to find employment so he gets by depending on the charity of others. William is not an aggressive panhandler. If you engage him in conversation, you'll find him to be friendly, articulate and having a sense of humor in spite of his circumstance. If you see William in this neighborhood, stop and have a conversation. Ask if you can help him out in someway. I promise you'll both be better off for 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 Lamont

Another installment of The Invisible Ones of Washington, DC

This is Lamont

This is Lamont

Lamont was panhandling near the World Bank Offices in Washington, DC. an interesting juxtaposition of wealth and power contrasted with a marginalized, homeless man. 

Lamont has a neurological disorder of some kind that manifests itself by causing him to grimace involuntarily and slur his speech which is barely audible to begin with. I asked if he was or had been seeing a doctor for this condition. He just shook his head saying no. Lamont can't recall when he last had a permanent home or where he was before coming to Washington, DC. This is more than likely a memory impairment and part of his overall physical disability.

Lamont is a distinctive looking man and pleasant enough if you take the time to speak with him but passersby are easily put off by his scruffy appearance and facial grimacing so he doesn't do very well at panhandling. He gladly accepted my offer of a food voucher in exchange for this photograph. If you live, work or visit in this neighborhood and happen to spot Lamont, help him out if you can. He's more invisible than most but he's right in front of you if you bother to notice.

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 Ricardo

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

This is Ricardo

This is Ricardo

The weather was Spring-like today, even though it is the end of February. As a result many of the city's homeless were out and about doing what they do. I came across Ricardo as he sat on the curb of a busy DC street corner trying unsuccessfully to attract the attention of passersby. Ricardo says he is a recovering alcoholic and has been sober for five years with more than a few relapses. He was sober on this particular day. He says he's been on the street for longer than he can remember and gets by solely on the kindness of strangers. He says his only family is a sister who is a nurse living somewhere in Ohio. He hasn't spoken with her for years and feels she wants nothing to do with him. Ricardo doesn't do well panhandling because he looks angry and glares at people who ignore him. A self defeating cycle for someone who is already invisible if ever there was one. He did agree to this photograph in exchange for a food voucher and a bottle of water. Ricardo is a frail, older gentleman who may have physical problems secondary to years of heavy drinking. He says he's fine but as a practical matter he looks terrible. He says when he fees sick he goes to Emergency room. He has a number of hospital wrist bands that he shows me as proof. The most recent being a trip to GW after he was knocked out and robbed. Ricardo sleeps outdoors because he feels the shelters are dangerous. He cites his recent assault as proof of that. Ricardo has it harder than most because his demeanor seems hostile and threatening.  The look you see in this photograph came just as I suggested to him that people may avoid him because he looks angry. In spite of his appearance, Ricardo is easily engaged and receptive to any assistance that is offered. If you see or know someone like Ricardo, ask if you can help out is some way or just have a conversation. You'll both feel better having had that experience.

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 Anissa

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

Anissa is a 30 something woman who has been living on the streets of Arlington Virginia and now Washington, DC for the last five years. When I met her she was sitting on a plastic milk crate at the intersection of 27th and K Streets. This particular spot is well known to the homeless as it is a very busy commuter thoroughfare. Anissa tells me that she also sleeps under the overpass where we are standing unless it's really cold, then she will use some of her panhandling money to get a cheap room in a SRO hotel. She tries to avoid the homeless shelters as she finds them to be dangerous places. Anissa came to be homeless following a divorce proceeding because she was unable to maintain the marital home and soon exhausted the settlement money. At one time she was training to be a veterinary technician but never finished her education. She had no other job skills and no prospects because she is homeless. Drugs, Alcohol and mental illness do not seem to part of the problem as best I can tell.

Anissa is an affable and friendly woman who is able to make enough money panhandling to survive on the streets. When I told her about the Invisible Ones project she just laughed saying, "Honey, you have no idea how invisible I can be out here." She's certainly right about that. If you see Anissa or know of someone like her living on the streets without shelter, stop and have a conversation. Ask if you can help out in someway. I promise 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.