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.
“A whole eleven years I’ve been [homeless]. I’ve just been grinding. I’ve slept on the streets, in the back of trucks – been in and out of shelters. I did what I had to do.
You don’t get proper rest. Your kids don’t see you. You’re not raising ‘em. You’re harassed by police. A business doesn’t want a homeless person in front of their establishment because that draws customers away. I can understand that. But they don’t understand what it’s like to be homeless.”
What’s the hardest part about living on the streets?
“Yourself. Being angry with yourself. You’re mad at the world. You look back and look at your mistakes. You try to correct them. Mad at the system. It’s a process; you just have to overcome. And you gotta start with you. How can I change this problem? Every day you wake up, you just try to start a new day.
The hardest moment was filling out resumes, and knowing that you’re qualified for the job, and you don’t get any phone calls. And you have to wake up, and dust off the shoulders, take a shower, wash yesterday off, get back up and try it again. It gets to a point where you just can’t take it anymore. You keep trying and you keep getting knocked down. You get to a point where you just get tired.
Just starting over is the hard part. Just reaching out to someone [to say] ‘I need help.’”
“I’m trying to get on my feet. Some people they come here and they just want to use drugs. That’s not me. I have a resume. I just need my license to get on my feet.
I was a heavy equipment operator. I’ve been in construction since 1988. I ran motor graders, dozers, excavators, loaders. I did construction in New Jersey and Atlanta. That was my love. That was my stress reliever. My license was expired, so I had to take the written test over. I had to take everything over again. So I gotta pay for the permit, I gotta pay for the license itself. That’s where I’m at.
My dream was being an aircraft mechanic. I got out of high school, I got a job and never did it. Whatever you dream, don’t settle for today and sacrifice tomorrow.
Now the challenge is just getting on my feet. It’s not about the business. It’s not about a $100,000 pay job. It’s not about the biggest car. It’s not about the jet planes. It’s about me putting the key into something that I paid for and saying it’s mine. That’s the biggest challenge. How big the house is or how small the house is… once I get in it, I got room to breathe – I’ll have peace. That’s my biggest challenge, getting to that point.”
“In 2003, I had a wife and she was pregnant. I was working in Lake Wood, and she kept having problems every week. So I had to leave work to tend to her.
It was high blood pressure. Before I met her she had a pregnancy in her tubes, and that messed her up later in life. So now when she had this pregnancy, they had to do a C-section, and my daughter was born premature. The doctor said, ‘Either you’re gonna lose both of them or you’re gonna lose one of them, but we have to do it now.’ So I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ I had to pray and ask the Lord to keep ‘em both. And he did.”
Author’s Note: Tariq was interviewed at the Father McKenna Center, a social service agency serving homeless men and very low income families, located at North Capitol and K Street NW. He is currently seeking permanent housing.