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red line

I woke up early on Saturday morning and headed into DC for a photoshoot I had set up several months ago to take pictures of people doing yoga in an urban setting (it’s a little project of mine). While waiting for one other person, I sat on a bench chatting with two other yogis in Washington Circle Park when we heard one of the homeless people yelling something at us, but couldn’t really make out what he was saying. As most people in the city do (unfortunately), we shrugged our shoulders and continued on with our conversation.

Not a minute or two later, he walked up to us and then directed his comments at me. He looked at me and said “you can make a change with your camera.” (I had my camera out at this point.)

I was a little confused, but he went on. “You can make a change with your camera by taking pictures of us, the homeless. There’s a real problem in DC with homelessness. You can take pictures with your camera and send it to the Washington Post.”

My heart sunk.

“I’m an educated man,” he went on. “I went to Howard University. I had a job. But now I’m on disability. I can’t afford a place anywhere around here.”

He told us how awful the shelters are (which many people are aware of here), the fighting that goes on there, and the over crowding.

I just didn’t know what to say, but I stupidly blurted out that the Washington Post (or any media entity that large) would never accept my photos.

“Yes you can. You can make a difference,” he said.

I felt….hopeless. I didn’t know what to say or do. He was well-spoken and kind. He told us more details about his life, but I can’t remember everything because I always have to write things down, otherwise it flies right out of my memory. Then he thanked us for listening to him and said good-bye.

I should have gone after him and taken his picture and shared it on Instagram and this blog. I could have tagged some places in DC and maybe even Humans of New York, asking them to please help by coming to DC and taking pictures of DC’s homeless. It is a real problem and those in power have failed them because they are selfish and self-serving miscreants.

We walk by and ignore them, but they are here sleeping on the cold sidewalk, unable to secure food, shelter, or even healthcare. It’s not enough to throw money at them (if anyone even does that anymore), instead, the system itself has to change.

But the realist in me knows that I myself would be ignored. Nobody cares what I have to say. I’m a small nobody. A blip in the system.

And yet…I still want to help. I don’t know if I can make a difference, but maybe I can try?

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ack. I handle those moments so badly. Especially since there are jusssst enough homeless people who are on the crazy/violent side who do things like, oh, say, chase you down the sidewalk screaming at you for being a whore [hypothetically. or completely not hypothetically and that has definitely happened] that it makes me not want to engage with anyone at all. Which is awful for guys like the one who approached you. Gah.

    Good thing we have so many lawmakers who will help him! …oh wait, or who will blame him for being in that situation because if he just worked a full day like a real American he’d be fine. UGH UGH UGH.

    September 28, 2015
    • Marie #

      I have definitely had the screaming at me homeless person (at 7 in the morning which actually woke me up). It is so hard to figure out who is not going to yell/attack you vs those who are just like us, but have fallen on really bad and unfortunate times and could use a helping hand. I think a lot of it has to do with funding programs like mental health, affordable housing programs, better schooling, etc. But of course certain lawmakers see that as a hand out *cough* Republicans *cough*.

      September 29, 2015
  2. dawn #

    Marie! I think you would be a perfect person to take pictures of those in need and share their stories. And if I worked at the Post I would accept your photos immediately. You should contact HONY, maybe you could be his second arm for HODC. I’d subscribe and share your images and stories happily!

    September 29, 2015
    • Marie #

      You have way too much faith in my abilities! I bet HONY gets a bunch of those types of emails asking if they could be the HONY to [insert name of city here]. You are too sweet!

      September 29, 2015
  3. A surprise twist to the story and the man talking at you. I totally understand where you are coming from. I also believe that one person cannot make a difference. But I also believe that one person can take small steps, which leads to bigger steps. It does take time, perseverance and passion though.

    September 29, 2015
    • Marie #

      Agreed Lisa. I think this is a problem that needs changing at the policy level, which I really don’t see happening and it’s very frustrating. We can throw money at small organizations as much as we want, and while they do help somewhat, this really requires a shift in policy and putting in place systems that will help the poor and homeless – from education and reducing gentrification, to improving neighborhoods and funding health care, and providing affordable housing. A lot needs to be done.

      September 29, 2015
  4. It’s really interesting you should post this. I’ve been toying with the same idea for months — offering to take portraits of the homeless people I see, hearing their stories and then paying them a small fee for their time. The two things holding me back are: what would I do with the portraits in the end and will I be safe? Wish we could shoot them together!

    October 2, 2015
    • Marie #

      I so wish we lived closer so we could do this together! I’m with you, I’m pretty worried about the safety issue. I’d think possibly publishing them somehow? Trying to make people more aware of their situation. Something along those lines.

      October 6, 2015
  5. Photos like that would be amazing. Please follow up. I would do it in s heartbeat and you were just welcomed in. Yes. Do it. Now.

    October 5, 2015
    • Marie #

      I want to, but one big fear of mine is a safety issue. I wouldn’t want to do this on my own.

      October 6, 2015

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