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 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 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 Mohammed

Another installment of The Invisible Ones

This is Mohammed, also known as Bill

This is Mohammed, also known as Bill

I met Mohammed one recent early morning early morning near the Farragut West metro station. He was sitting quietly on the sidewalk with an empty paper cup in spite of the steady stream of morning commuters who were passing him by. When I first approached Mohammed to ask him if I might take his photograph, he introduced himself as Bill. After we talked for a bit he explained that his proper name was Mohammed but he rarely uses it because of the negative reaction he gets from passersby. Mohammed tells me that he was originally from North Carolina where he was working in the construction trades. He sustained a back injury and eventually was fired for missing work too many days. His life spiraled downward pretty quickly and he lost his apartment and ended up on the streets. He came to DC, hoping to get away from the intense hatred and animosity that was directed at him in North Carolina. He was advised by a friend who is also homeless that losing Mohammed would help. He was and is very conflicted about this as it’s his birth name but he hates the negativity even more, so it’s Bill for now. Mohammed spends his days moving about NW DC panhandling for enough money to buy food and a few essentials. He ends up in Rock Creek Park at the end of the day where he he has a safe spot to sleep. After an infestation of bed bugs, staying at any of the city shelters is simply not an option. Mohammed agreed to participate in the Invisible Ones photo documentary project in exchange for a cash donation. If you happen to see Mohammed, or know someone like him, stop for a minute and have a conversation. Ask if you can help out in some way. Even some eye contact and saying good morning means a great deal to someone who is largely invisible. I promise you’ll both be better off having had that experience.

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 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 Flora

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

This is Flora

When I met Flora she was sitting on the floor in a side hallway at Union Station. She was trying to avoid being seen by the Union Station security guards who would most certainly evict her from the building before she could panhandle enough money for some breakfast. I told her I'd help her out with breakfast in exchange for a photograph and a little conversation. Flora was happy to oblige when I told her about the Invisible Ones photo documentary project.  She hoped that if people saw her picture they might be more willing to help out. Flora is a large woman with a number of medical issues related to her weight. She says getting around is a major problem for her. She has been in and out of temporary housing and the shelter system in DC for the past seven years and is currently sleeping outdoors because she feels unsafe in the shelters. Flora says she has been on a waiting list for housing through Social Services but has no idea when that will happen for her, so she does the best she can by panhandling for food and other necessities. Flora is a friendly and outgoing woman who easily engages those that pass by, which gives her a certain advantage in panhandling. If you see or know someone like Flora, stop and have a conversation. See if there is something that you can do to help them out. I guarantee that you'll both feel better having had that 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 Ulysses

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

This is Ulysses

This is Ulysses

I have seen Ulysses in the NOMA neighborhood of Washington, DC for the better part of two years. He is one of the few people who are homeless that does not move around a great deal. He is generally sitting under the M Street overpass along with his pile of blankets, plastic bags, and assorted personal belongings. He will at some point during the day stuff all of this material into a large military style duffle bag and move a few blocks West to sit in front of a CVS drug store. I have approached Ulysses on many occasions trying to engage him in some way. He has never responded to any of my overtures with as much as a look. I was headed to the NOMA subway stop one recent morning and saw Ulysses in his usual spot. Before I could say anything, he asked me if I could help him get something to eat. Not being one to allow a moment like this to pass, I took the opportunity to introduce myself and my photo documentary project.  In return, Ulysses produced a self-made laminated ID badge with his photo, a photo of the Capitol Dome, a birthdate of Jan 14, 1974, and the words, "In God we trust" Ulysses S. Grant III. I'd like to say that we had a conversation but sadly, I think Ulysses has some serious mental health issues as it was almost impossible to make sense of what he was talking about beyond being homeless for at least 10 years and needing something to eat. I agreed to help him out in exchange for this photograph. He would not look at me but was otherwise cooperative and for that, I must thank him. Ulysses is not hard to find and more often than not needs food, water, and basic living items. Apparently, he will not go to any of the shelters and sleeps outdoors year around. So if you see a pile of ratty blankets under the M Street overpass in NOMA. It may well be Ulysses. Say hello and ask if he's eaten recently. You'll both be better for the 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 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.

This is James

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

This is James

I met James in a small park in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of NE Washington, DC. When asked how he was doing, he said he was very glad to see that the inauguration and all of the demonstrations have gone away and he could return to his normal outdoor sleeping place in this park. He says that the police were very determined to keep the entire area clear of street people during these events but now it's back to normal. James has been living on the streets of DC without shelter for a little more than six years. He spent the previous 10 years incarcerated at a Federal Penitentiary in Kentucky. Upon release, he left with no money and only his personal belongings. He managed to get back to DC but discovered that everyone he had known previously was gone so he was on the streets where he has been ever since. Like so many people who are incarcerated for a long period of time, there is very little done to support their transition back to society and they either become recidivists or flounder in a society that they are no longer a part of. James is willing and able to do manual labor, he cannot get a job because of his prison record. He chooses to sleep outdoors because of the dangers that the city shelters present. The last thing he wants to do is get into a fight, protecting his property and end up back in jail. He says with a smile that, "the courts are not kind to ex-cons from the Fed system."

James is a friendly and approachable man who does reasonably well panhandling. He was quite interested in the Invisible Ones project and offered to help me find other men and women who would be willing to participate. I may well take him up on that offer. James agreed to this photograph in exchange for a small monetary contribution. If you see James or know someone like him, stop for a moment and have a conversation. Ask if you can help out in someway. I guarantee that you'll both be better off having had that experience.