Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. In September, he launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. Every day, People’s District presents a different Washingtonian sharing his or her insights on everything from Go Go music to homelessness to fashion to politics. You can read his previous columns here.
“I am 101st Airborne and went everywhere from Vietnam to Iraq. I served proudly in the Army and did a lot of things that I can never talk about in service of my country. I learned a lot and the Army made me a better person. The thing is that things don’t always work out in life. After my service, I traveled around a bit and then came to Washington a year and a half ago because my friend had cancer. Shortly after he died, I fell on some tough times and have been living on the street outside of Union Station ever since.
“I realize that this is how things need to be for some people. In this case, some people happens to be me. I am not mad and know that I need to be the best person that I can be despite my situation. That is why you are always going to see me smiling and encouraging the thousands of people who walk by me every day to do the same. I recognize that smiling may seem like a little, irrelevant thing, but everyone has stories when they walk by me. Some are good and some are bad. I try and encourage people to focus on the good. I try and make our few seconds together enjoyable, so that their spirits are raised afterwards. I mean, if I am sleeping out in the rain and snow and can still smile, people going from a home to a job should be able to smile too.
Continues after the jump.
“Seeing people respond to me makes me feel better about myself. It makes me feel like I am accomplishing something. Again, it is a little thing, but smiling can really make someone’s day and make them feel worth something, Sitting out here, I have never asked for a penny. To me, that is a big no-no. I don’t believe in shaking a cup. I believe in giving help when you can and showing respect. If someone decides they want to help, that is great. If not, that is no disrespect to them.
“Living out here, people ask me if I have been helped by strangers or witnessed any miracles. In fact, I have seen a lot of great miracles happen on these streets. This winter, a grandmother and granddaughter from Gary, Indiana were visiting Washington. The little girl, Mary Anne, came over to me with her brown teddy bear and Sponge Bob backpack. I got to talking with the two of them and Mary Anne noticed that I also had a stuffed animal of a dog. Well, she was so excited that her teddy had someone to play with. They played for a few minutes and then left to catch their train. I figured I would never see them again.
“A little bit later, I see them by the entrance of the station without any coats on walking around. It was about 20 degrees and they were shivering. I knew that something wasn’t right, and walked over to ask where their jackets were. They told me that someone stole all of their stuff while the grandmother was helping Mary Anne use the bathroom. They left their things outside of the stall and someone stole their bags, jackets, and purse. They didn’t have anything and were looking for help.
“Fortunately, I normally have stacks of blankets and ran over to give them some. I also regularly get donations from one of the police officers in the area. He drops off things for me to pass out to the other homeless people around here. I started looking through the things that he gave me and you won’t believe what I found. I found a smaller version of the same brown teddy bear that was stolen. I gave it to Mary Anne and she was so happy. She hugged the teddy and had a big smile on her face.
“I helped them to get new train tickets with the aid of one of the local preachers. I gave them the little money that I had to buy some food on their long trip home. The grandmother did not want to accept it because I live on the street. I told her that God put me where I am for a reason and maybe it was to help the two of them. She accepted the money and they head back home. I got a call from them the next day on my cell phone saying that they had arrived safely and she thanked me. Mary Anne grabbed the phone and started telling me about how happy teddy was to be home. They wanted to repay me, but I said no. I didn’t do it with the expectation of anything in return. I just did it because it was the right thing to do. That was a really special moment for me. It really was a miracle.
“In life, you always need to look out for the people around you no matter what your situation is. We should all just help each other for the sake of helping. What other reason do you need?”