A 2014 point-in-time survey by Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments reported more than 7,000 unsheltered homeless in 2014.
I believe most people walk by these homeless wondering how they got to this place in their lives. I hear the people around me use stereotypes to describe the situation that panhandlers are in.
When I walk by a homeless person, I want to know how they got the things they have. My curiosity doesn’t lie in the “why” but rather the “how.”
This is a podcast series that answers the question “how do the homeless maintain their lives?”
- Rick at Union Station
- Kenny at Foggy Bottom Metro
- Butler at George Washington University
- Aaron Colbert in Tenleytown
- Michael Moore on Connecticut
- Robin Douglass (and friend) at DuPont Circle Starbucks
- Kiwi under I-66 overpass
- Charles in Lafayette Square
- Alanzo and Carmelo under Whitehurst Freeway
- Jennifer Okuson of Street Sense paper
- Introduction (main player at top of page)
- Hobbies & Activities
- Street Sense Profile
- Personal Profile
- Latino Perspective
Episode 2: Where homeless get their food
As soon as I thought of this project, two things came to mind: food and money.
This episode focuses on food. When I conducted my interviews, I simply asked “where do you get your food” or “where do you go for food.” The audio clips you hear are answers to those questions.
After listening to this episode, you’ll understand how accessible this resource really is.
Episode 3: How homeless spend their money
This had to be the number one question for me going into this project. What do they do with that money they get through panhandling?
One time, I gave a few quarters to a beggar. My friend turned to me a few seconds later and said, “don’t you know he’s just going to use that on alcohol or drugs?”
“But that’s what I’m going to use it on,” I replied. “Who am I to judge that guy?”
That has always been my perspective on panhandlers.
What’s amazing is that I learned that there are a lot of homeless that do not spend their money on substances and non-sense.
(Butler makes $25 to $35 per day)
Episode 4: Shelter and Housing
A big surprise for me during this project: shelters have a bad reputation.
Many of my interview subjects showed disdain for shelters.
They feel the shelters are dangerous, unhealthy, and not always helpful. It seems it’s not the organization’s fault, but the inhabitants inside. Shelters seem to draw a bad crowd.
A shelter that got good mentions is New York Ave shelter.
Listen to hear how my guests sleep in rooming houses, on park benches, and elsewhere.
(Kiwi and her boyfriend furnished their tent with a soft entrance)
Episode 5: Hobbies and Activities
This episode was not intended when I first began the project. It wasn’t until I disrespected Kenny’s time that I realized their time is valuable to them as well.
Then, I started to learn all of the different hobbies and activities they had.
I gathered all the clips I could of my guests talking about their preferred past times.
Episode 6: Crime
Crime is right there with bad shelters when it comes to surprises I had during this project.
I never considered the amount of crime that homeless have to deal with. Robbery came up more often than not during my interviews. Homeless people have so few ways to safeguard their belongings that others just take it.
Listen in to hear about this “crabs in a barrel” scenario.
(Crawl space under bridge allows communities to maintain their belongings away from others)
Episode 7: Organization Profile – Street Sense Newspaper
Many of the homeless that I talked with were Street Sense vendors. They were the easiest to talk with. Selling the paper was an easy signal for me to respond to.
I decided that I wanted to give at least one organization a full feature in the series. Street Sense seemed like the best fit with the unique service they provide local homeless.
I interviewed Street Sense’s Communications Director Jennifer Okosun about how the media organization works, how vendors get their positions, and how they fit in the community. Jennifer is a formerly homeless person herself, so she is able to empathize with the vendors she works with.
(Photo courtesy of StreetSense.org)
Episode 8: Personal Profile: Robin the Rock Man
Robin Douglass is easily my favorite interview from the whole project. Robin had so many interesting things to say.
Many of my interview subjects simply answered the questions. Even when I asked for deeper explanation, I would get short, simple answers. Robin took off with his points and had so many different things to say.
I decided that Robin’s interview was so good to just release it as a full length story, rather than cut it up and splice it into the episodes.
Robin paints rocks and sells them. You can see them in the picture below.
In this episode, Robin will tell you how he started selling those rocks and how he works with his clientele.
(Robin the Rock Man selling his painted rocks in DuPont Circle)
Episode 9: The Latino Perspective
I spoke with two Latino men about their situation. The audio is brief, but gives us a glimpse into their struggle. There is a translation below the audio player.
Timothy: Where are you from?
Carmelo: Mexico. Guerrero
T: Why are you in DC and what do you like about it.
C: Jobs, and I have a surgery coming up
A: What I like about DC is, is I may sometimes not have a job or money but there are places that will give
you food and in other states they don’t give you food, umm, Maryland and Virginia don’t give any food
and here in Washington they do give food, I just got back from Miriam Kitchen, I just ate there.
T: Te gusta (Do you like it)?
A: Yes, and many states such as Maryland and Virginia do not give any food out.
T: Do you always live here?
Carmelo : yes, everyday.
T: Do you go to shelters?
T: No, porque (why)?
A: Because I do not like it, too much discrimination.
C: No money to take the bus
T: What do you need in DC?
T: Que mas, mas (what more, more)?
A: Have a house, good health.
T: Tienes familia (have a family)?
C: in Mexico
T: Where do you go for money?
C: Live in the streets, live in the streets
A: Near the capitol, there’s a shelter by New York [Ave]. But you need money to take the bus and money
to take It back here. No job, no money.
T: Frio (cold)?
T: How long have you lived in DC?
A: 5 years and two in Maryland
C: 7 year.
T: Where do you go for Medical:
C: I go to George Washington [Hospital]
T: Do you have family in the area?
A: I have two nephews in Gaithersburg, children of my sister.
Episode 10: Recap
If you listened to the first nine episodes, you should have a better understanding of how homeless maintain their lives in Washington DC.
This last episode is a quick summary of the project. I point out a couple challenges I had making this podcast series and drive home one final point about my guests.
Thank you for taking the time to listen.
I hope you enjoyed it and learned something!