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 John

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

This is John


John is 34 years old and is confined to a wheelchair because he is a bilateral above the knee amputee. His amputations were the result of untreated diabetes and related wound infections. John has been living without shelter on and off since age 13. He is currently looking for stable housing. He wouldn't say if he was currently under medical care for his diabetes. When I met John he was panhandling inside of a restaurant in Union Station asking if anyone would buy him something to eat. This behavior was sure to get him in trouble with the police so I persuaded him to leave with the promise that I would buy him some food in exchange for the photograph that you see. John was not very interested in talking about himself beyond stating the obvious about how hard it was for him being homeless and in a wheelchair. He was grateful for the food and I left it at that. I last saw him wheeling through the crowds in the main concourse asking for money for food. If you see or know someone like John, engage them in a conversation by just saying hello. Ask them how you might help at that moment and do what you can. You'll both be the better for the experience.

This is Anthony

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

This is Anthony

I met Anthony inside of Union Station, in Washington, DC. He had just been warned by Security and the MPD that he could not remain there unless he was a passenger with a ticket or had some other business in the building. Panhandling was clearly not on the acceptable business list. Union Station has a new general manager who is has adopted a zero tolerance policy with regard to the homeless. Just weeks ago you might find dozens of people who were homeless inside the building, bothering no one, sitting quietly, resting or using the public restrooms. These days they are quickly targeted by security and made to leave or face arrest for trespassing. This was the case with Anthony.

Anthony agreed to this photograph and to talk with me in exchange for a small monetary donation.  He tells me he has been homeless and living on the streets of DC for more than three years. I asked what he was doing prior to that and he told me that he was involved in a lot of criminal activity that allowed him to live the fast life. Anthony says, " he had fancy cars, fancy women, expensive clothes and a lot of cash." "I was a somebody, now look at me, I'm asking you for a few dollars so I can eat." When asked why he gave up his previous life Anthony says that "it came to me that all my friends were getting killed or doing hard time in prison and I just didn't see myself ending like that, so I walked away and here I am. No skills, no nothing." Anthony says he struggles every day with the choice he made but mostly feels he is better off. With warmer weather arriving in DC, it will be easier for Anthony living without shelter. He is a friendly and affable man who enjoys talking about his past life and easily engages strangers as he panhandles. If you know of someone like Anthony that you see as you go about your daily business, consider just saying hello or ask them if they need anything. I guarantee that you'll both be better off for the experience.

This is Roy

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

This is Roy.

I met Roy on the sidewalk near Union Station in Washington, DC where he was quietly panhandling. Roy is a 40 something, quiet and affable man who has been living on the streets of DC since being released from Federal Prison almost a year ago. Since his release he has been "on paper" as they say, meaning that he reports to a probation officer and cannot leave the area without permission. The irony of this situation is that Roy was not homeless when he was living in Louisiana at the time he was arrested and sentenced to Federal Prison on a drug charge. As often happens in the Federal Prison system, prisoners are transferred all over the country to make space for newly arriving prisoners or because they can be moved to less secure facilities. At such time that they are released, that takes place in the community where they were last incarcerated. Such is the case for Roy who finds himself far from home with no way to get back to Louisiana. He says he will be free of his probation responsibilities in two months and will try to leave the area. Roy makes no excuses for what got him incarcerated and feels that he has repaid his debt to society. It's too bad that the Federal Prison system actually contributes to the recidivism problem by dumping people on the street and telling them to stay out of trouble. If you see Roy or someone like him ask if you can help out in some way. At the very least say hello. I guarantee you'll both be better off for having had that experience. Roy agreed to this photograph in exchange for a small monetary compensation.

This is Morgan

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

This is Morgan. I met Morgan outside of Union Station in Washington, DC. He wasn't panhandling, just sitting on a low wall with a small plastic bag from a local hospital, the type that you might get when you are discharged. I asked him about the bag and he showed me his frostbitten fingers and pointed to his foot, which he said had frostbite as well. He says he spent yesterday in the hospital getting treatments but couldn't stay any longer because he wasn't sick. Morgan says the frostbite will heal up and shows me the scarring on his other fingers that have been frozen in the past. I asked why he hadn't taken advantage of the emergency hypothermia shelters when it was below freezing. He thinks he probably had passed out somewhere and was found in the morning and taken to the hospital. Morgan says he's been living on the street for at least ten years, probably longer but he can't remember very much. No family that he knows of and no prospects for anything better than surviving the Winter as best he can. He has a long history of drug and alcohol abuse and simply says, he needs to get through the day. Morgan also has very few teeth which he showed me by opening his mouth and pointing to how sunken into his face cheeks were. Morgan is an affable and conversational man if you take the time to speak with him. He is not aggressive nor does he bother anyone that passes by. He has had some experience with Social Services in DC as he mentions needing to get a case manager again. I told him that I contact a local outreach team that would try to help him. More importantly, I told him that he needs to get into a shelter in the days ahead as the temperature will be well below freezing. He was agreeable to that idea as well as allowing me to take his photograph in exchange for a hot coffee and some food. People like Morgan who are living without shelter during the Winter can and do freeze to death or experience severe cases of frostbite. 

Washington, DC has a Hypothermia Plan. Under the city’s cold weather plan, services provided include access to emergency shelter and overnight warming sites. Designated public buildings may open at night to offer access to a warm, safe place. In addition, free transportation to a shelter or warming site is available to anyone homeless in the city during a cold weather alert. City officials say transportation may be obtained by calling 311 or the toll-free Shelter Hotline: (800) 535-7252. The numbers may be used by third parties to seek help for those appearing to need it. If you see someone in need please call the hotline number.

This is Henry

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

I noticed Henry as I was walking on the other side of 1st Street, NE in Washington, DC. This particular street runs parallel to Union Station and is a well-used sleeping place for people who are homeless. Henry was among them this particular morning and stood out more than others because he was sleeping on several plastic bags stuffed full of printed materials, some of which can be seen in the photograph. Henry is easily engaged in conversation but only on his terms. If you choose to listen for awhile you will hear about his pending Supreme Court case and his wrongful discharge case against the Pentagon as well as his being in the witness protection program because he is a whistleblower. All of this he claims is contained in the piles of paper upon which he is sitting. I have not seen Henry before in this part of the city. When asked how long he has been living on the street he just shrugs his shoulders and begins searching through his papers as if the answer might be there. Frustrated with that he returns to the Supreme Court case, saying that he will finally get some justice. It is virtually impossible to determine the veracity of anything that Henry says. What can be known is that he is sleeping on the street, surrounded by bags of letter sized paper and is in need of clean clothing. He does not panhandle but instead tries to engage passersby in listening to his story. Given that this is a major commuter route to Union Station he is largely invisible to most who haven't the time or the inclination to just say hello. Things will get more difficult for Henry as the weather turns colder. If you are so inclined, help him out however you can. I gave Henry a food voucher and a cup of coffee in exchange for this photograph.

This is PK and her two pets.

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

This is "PK" and her two pets

PK was brought to my attention by a woman who had seen my Facebook project "Homeless in DC." She had asked if I had ever seen this woman who had two dogs, a beagle and a chihuahua and was frequently sitting in front of Union Station in Washington, DC. I was not aware of her but promised that I would search for her on my next photo outing. Sure enough, I found her this morning as she was just waking up for the day. PK, as she prefers to be called, has been homeless on the streets of DC for just three months. She came here from California to be with a friend living in DC. This didn't work out for some reason and she found herself on the streets. Since it was Summer and the nights were warm sleeping outdoors in Front of Union Station at the Columbus Fountain was tolerable and really her only option as there are no shelters in DC that accept pets. PK is very attached to her two dogs and does her best to provide for them using whatever money she has to make sure they are fed. As for PK she has no plans to try and return to California as there is nothing for her there. She is most concerned about how she will manage when the weather changes and she is still unsheltered and out in the cold. It is not often that people who are homeless have no options at all when it comes to shelter. For PK her options involve giving her pets so that she can be sheltered, which is no option at all as her pets are to quote PK, "all I have left." As a lifelong dog owner I feel for PK and her companions. My sincere hope is that anyone who follows me and my homeless projects will do what they can to help PK. She can be found on the East side of the Columbus Fountain at Union Station. Be sure and say hello to the dogs as well.

This is Sandra & Michael

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

Michael and Sandra are a married couple who have been homeless for two years. They had been living with Michael's mother here in Washington, DC but when she passed away two years ago they were unable to keep up with the payments and other bills and ended up on the street where they have been ever since. When I first saw them they were sitting in the sun near Union Station drying out from the previous night's rain storms. Michael was panhandling with the clear intention of raising enough money to buy a tent at the nearby Walmart. That particular item would cost them $75.00 but at least it would get them under cover. I contributed to the cause in exchange for this photograph. The shelter system in DC is not very accommodating to married couples, so sleeping outdoors is often the best and safest option. Michael and Sandra are a friendly and affable couple but in spite of this were not doing very well panhandling even though this was the height of the morning rush hour with hundreds of people going to and from Capitol Hill. The problem with being invisible is there is little or nothing you can do to cause people to see you if they are determined not to. If you pass by the Massachusetts Ave. side of Union Station stop and say hello to Sandra & Michael. If you're so inclined,  help them out with their goal of getting that tent. The both of you will be the better for the experience.

This is Barbara

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

I met Barbara in the main entry hall of Union Station the day after the New Years holiday. This is normally a busy travel day with people coming and going from their holidays. I mention this because Barbara had staked out a place for herself on one of the large benches along with all of her belongings contained in several trash bags. She was having a loud, animated conversation with herself which effectively kept virtually everyone at a distance. Not being put off by such things, I sat down next to her and said good morning. Barbara was able to focus long enough to tell me that she had been living on the streets for only about two years and that she previously had a job as a seamstress at a local dry cleaning shop. She said she had to quit when the heat and the chemicals form the dry cleaning cause her to have "brain problems." She went on to say that the Dr. wanted her to take medication for this but she refused and is not now under any treatment. Our conversation was difficult in that Barbara was hearing voices, benign voices but inside her head nonetheless. She went on to say that she sleeps at the Federal City Shelter which is nearby, then comes to Union Station for the morning. The remainder of the day is spent wandering around the Capitol Hill neighborhood panhandling. I persuaded Barbara to sit still long enough for this photograph in exchange for a breakfast at McDonalds. She was not interested in dining at the restaurant so she took her meal to go.

Barbara is one of many homeless, mentally ill people on the streets of Washington, DC. Her symptoms are obvious to anyone who passes by but not so severe that she is likely to get into trouble. It would seem that panhandling for Barbara is difficult at best making her even more invisible.