‘Michael on Finding His Heritage’ by Danny Harris

Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. He launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. You can follow People’s District on Twitter @PeoplesDistrict, and can read his previous columns here.

“They say the Algonquian were the first people put on this world. Before China and Rome, there was us. The French wiped out most of the Algonquians in Canada, but many of them survived. My mother was one of them. She met my father, an American who worked for the U.S. Senate, and they had me. I never really knew him, though, and was raised by my mother on an Indian reservation in New Brunswick, Canada.

“On the reservation, we lived on welfare. We didn’t have any job opportunities, and there wasn’t much to do. You know, people talk about cabin-fever. Well, living on a reservation is like having permanent cabin-fever. I just needed to leave, and that’s why I came to Washington two winters ago. I can’t really tell you why I chose Washington. I guess that I am just nosy and looking for answers. I thought Washington might have them.

“We all spend our lives searching for our heritage and our history. Now, a lot of it has been modernized and put in books and on computers. Sometimes I wish that I could bring yesterday back so we could learn the real history of our ancestors. I wish that I could go back to the days of hunting buffalo and living in a teepee. Those were days of purity and beauty and I am searching for ways to live that way again. While I search for that, I have had to learn how to take care of myself on the streets.

“When I first moved to Washington, I lived at the shelter on 14th and R St. I didn’t like it there because it was too claustrophobic. I decided that it was better to live out on the street, so I moved to other side of 14th Street and lived on the corner. The dope addicts there used to punch me while I was sleeping and steal my stuff, so I moved to the corner of 14th and Corcoran. It’s been quieter here and they don’t bother me no more.

Continues after the jump.

“Now, I stay here and have learned how to wash my clothes at night with water from people’s hoses. I learned how to create a private space to change my clothes while I am in my sleeping bag. I found people who let me use their bathroom and give me coffee. I really don’t ask for or need a lot. I’m always wet and damp out here, but I never complain. I feel guilty because I should provide for myself. That is part of my heritage.

“I still have a home on the reservation and I’d like to eventually go back and build another one. My life and culture is with the Algonquian. I speak Maliseet, our language, and want to be around my people. But before going back, I want to travel more and learn a lot. I want to see this country, and maybe even travel to the moon, too. Until that happens, maybe I’ll just try scuba diving. I want to see what life has to teach me so that maybe I can change a little bit. People say that universities make you intelligent, but I feel like living my life the way that I do makes me intelligent, too.”

While Michael doesn’t like to ask for help, he appreciates fresh fruit, especially oranges and apples. If you walk past him on the NE corner of 14th and Corcoran, please consider stopping by to say hello and bringing him some fruit.

28 Comment

  • i’ll definitely drop off an apple or orange next time i go by. i ride by michael every night on my way back home. thanks, danny and PoP, for sharing his story.

  • Those are awesome Addidas, I would love to have a pair like those.

  • Interesting story. Does anyone else have a problem with this guy (a Canadian and maybe illegal alien I presume from the story) making use of our social services (shelters, assistance, etc.) when he has a perfectly good home in Canada but got ‘cabin fever’ and chooses not to live there?

    I suppose if he isn’t using any services or assistance it is a non-issue but c’mon, don’t we have enough on our plate with our own homeless people and those in need? He did say he spent some time in a shelter which may not be public, but may receive some public money.

    I would rather see that money and those resources spent on someone who has fallen on hard times, is mentally ill and can’t hold a job as such, or has substance abuse issues that can be rehabilitated

    Should we be providing for aliens with perfectly good, safe homes that they chose to abandon?

    • The guy is talking about travelling to the moon. That’s a hint that he might be, as my granny used to say, “touched in the head.” Most people that are actually living on the streets for an extended period of time have issues that preclude them from making reasonable choices. While it’d be nice if the Canuckleheads would take care of their own rather than send them south, he’s here now.

      • So he was sent here by Canada? It sounds to me like he was bored.

      • I’ll concede the point about traveling to the moon, but I read it as more of a joke. Not all homeless people are crazy.

        • Not “all.” But (as I said) many people on the street have issues that make reasonable decision-making impossible. While things like the inability to sequence and low IQ due to conditions like fetal alcohol syndrome (common in aboriginal populations) aren’t as “serious” as say schizophrenia, they do effect people who make poor choices — like living on the street when they are regularly beaten.

    • photodork

      I see you have a bit of the wander lust in you!

      All jokes aide you seam to be making some naive assumptions about Michael.

    • He could be a US Citizen (citizen father), but I guess your points still apply. He has a home, but chooses to live as a homeless person. Should he be entitled to receive assistance even if that is an apple or orange from a passerby? Surely there is someone in greater need who doesn’t have already have a home.

    • My guess is he’s either mentally ill or was fleeing from an unsafe home but doesn’t want to talk about that situation for understandable reasons. Possibly both. Regardless, he doesn’t seem to be taking much. Think of all the havoc we wreck on the environment with our “normal” lives– these problems require lots of tax dollars to fix.

    • check out daniel quinn’s ‘beyond civilization’… i can understand and respect michael’s hopes and dreams in this context.

    • @photodork: he should be asking you similar questions considering this was his country first.

  • This is great insight from Michael

  • this story illustrates maybe the biggest difficultly in reducing homelessness… this guy wants to and chooses to be homeless.

  • I really hesitate to judge since I don’t know his whole story, but it almost sounds like he chooses not to provide for himself because he has never known that kind of life.

  • In Vermont (I think, could be Maine, I can’t remember) there was someone who was trying to take a piece of forested land and make it a homeless haven, so to speak. People could live in the park, and sleep there, and not be bothered by cops. Maybe this guy would be more “at home” in a space like that.

  • I have a hard time believing his story of a home in Canada. It seems more likely that he has convinced himself that he chose to be homeless as a coping mechanism to his current situation. Who would prefer a life sleeping on the street for years, regularly beaten by drug dealers over cabin fever?

  • Have any of you stepped foot on, or have seen an Indian Reservation (in Canada)? Try it, or if anything, watch a tv special about them. You may understand just a bit of how terrible life can be. Michael isn’t here sucking the “system” dry, he doesn’t seem to ask for much.

    Like @James said, we don’t know Michael’s whole story.

  • Did he at least build himself a phat igloo during the blizzards last winter?

  • I’ve passed him every day for 2 years on my way to work and on errands up and down 14th St. I’ve always wondered what the story was, and got really excited when I saw the picture. Thankssomuch for printing this story!!

  • Buffalo? Teepee?

    Maybe moose and wikuwam.

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