Person First Project “seeking to give those currently or formerly experiencing homelessness the chance to share their stories” Vol. 2: David

Person First Project_popville

Person First Project is a photo blog that seeks to give those currently or formerly experiencing homelessness in D.C. the chance to share their stories. In doing this, we hope to reduce the barriers that separate people in D.C. and spark a dialogue. The Person First Project aims to connect us – and to make us all feel a bit more human.

“By the time I got to D.C., I had been homeless for nearly a year and I was a lot sicker than I was when I first became homeless. I was really becoming what you think of when you think of a stereotypical homeless person – dirty clothes, scraggly beard, greasy hair, smell vaguely of urine, sitting on a park bench talking to invisible people. We see people like that all the time, especially in big cities, and we’ll think to ourselves, “That’s a darn shame, somebody should do something about that!” but that somebody is never us. I think we really have a tendency to write those people off. Nobody deserves to be written off. Every single one of those people is just like me. They just need some help and haven’t gotten it yet.

And I didn’t get it – I spent over a year just sitting on a park bench on Pennsylvania Avenue day and night, basically waiting to die. And I think a lot of people in that situation, chronically homeless people, have given up. Folks think they’re lazy. It’s not that they’re lazy, they’re lost. They’ve tried to get off the streets over and over again and they’ve failed over and over again and everyone’s given up on them so they just give up on themselves.

I’d probably still be out there or I’d be dead if it wasn’t for the fact that I got lucky and got arrested. It doesn’t sound very lucky, and it isn’t usually for homeless people. Homeless people usually get arrested for these little quality of life crimes – you might get fined or locked up, and then when you get out you’re back to being homeless again, but now you have a record so it’s even harder to get a job, or services, or housing. But for me it was lucky because they were out of public defenders so they gave me a private attorney that knew the judge and the prosecutor. He said “This guy’s not a criminal, he just needs some help.” So they released me with some conditions: One was I had to go to a shelter. The other stipulation was that I had to see someone about my mental illness. I ended up at  Green Door – Independence for People with Mental Illness, which is a private provider here in D.C., but you can use the money the district would be spending on you at the department of mental health. That was in November of 2006, and I’ve been with them ever since.

My biggest fear is that I get as sick as I used to be, because that’s not just losing your home, that’s losing yourself. All of the work I do at Green Door, with all of the therapy and the medications, I always say that my biggest goal is just to stay out of the hospital. My biggest goal is just to not become that person again. Because I know that that person is just waiting to take over again.

– David”

14 Comment

  • Thanks for sharing David.

  • Great post!

    I really like the series too – please keep this!

  • Thank you for posting these stories! they are a good reminder to not look away and that we can all help.

  • would love to hear from Dave (and others) as to what he thinks people can do to help.

    • If you follow their Facebook page, there are multiple posts for a single individual. For example, there are three separate posts for David. In one of those, he states, ‘When people ask about how to help someone, I tell them “You should be asking them!” ‘

      These stories are a great addition to Popville! However, I would recommend that everyone follow the Facebook page as well.

      • Sorry, but asking a mentally ill/ schizophrenic individual in crisis enough to put them on the street what they “need” is not effective. Please look at – and contribute to – organizations like Miriam’s Kitchen or Green Door.

        It is great to read individual’s stories and empathize with people, but really it comes down to supporting organizations that are working toward permanent supported housing and ongoing services.

  • Reading the stories on the Person First Facebook page is quite moving.
    And, quoting David:
    The easiest thing we can do to help homeless people is to stop treating them like homeless people and just treat them like people.
    When people ask about how to help someone, I tell them “You should be asking them!”

  • I really like this series. Thank you, David, for sharing.

  • David -I am glad you got the help you need and I am glad you are at a better place.

  • This is fantastic. Thanks for posting!

  • Incredible post. Thanks so much for sharing your story, David. Good luck to you as you continue on your journey.

  • Thank you, David, for sharing your story.
    This is such a wonderful series. Thank you for adding it to the site, Dan.

  • Great series. Nice to see this on PoPville.

  • I love this series, and also want to second the kudos for Green Door. I work with individuals with serious and persistent mental illness, and Green Door has made such a difference in their lives – not just with housing and connection to city services, but also by being a constant for people whose illnesses can be cyclical and lives unstable. Many mentally ill homeless individuals can tell you what they need, but in my experience, those needs are either too big for one person to meet or relatively short-term. I heartily agree with the poster who recommends donating to Green Door and similar organizations, as they handle very high caseloads and could use the support.

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