Washington, DC

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.

stefan 1

“My name is Stephan. I’m a drug addict and an alcoholic. I’ve been clean and sober for 39 years. I’ll be 66 in 2 months.

I got into the “alcohol counseling” world quite a few years ago because I want to make a difference. Who else can express more about the pain, the agony, and the bad choices of drugs and alcohol than an alcoholic or a drug addict? I understand how to get clean and I know how to stay clean. It’s a matter of choice.

See, we think that alcoholics are another species from another world, but there’s more to it. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t give you the right to give up. So where do we get our strength? It’s through choice, through understanding what we are doing; what we are choosing is not healthy for us. It affects society, the community, the town, the state we live in. It’s a domino effect. You can’t cure it. It has to be a relief from within.”

– Stephan

Author’s Note: Stephan is currently on living on a bench but hopes to go back to Santa Cruz.

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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.

person first popville

“There were days when I first became homeless, like on a Sunday, when there was literally nothing to do. I had an abscess in my tooth, couldn’t go to the dentist. It was November; it was cold. I went and slept on a park bench ‘cause I needed to sleep. I woke up and I’m like, ‘It’s not hurting as bad, I’m okay, I can yank it. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”

What’s your biggest challenge?

“Me, and my mind. One of my biggest hurdles is not giving up. Because it’s like, ‘What’s the use? Why breathe?’ and then you’re right at the door, and then you can’t give up. I’m thinking about all the people who have been displaced through wars. I’m like, ‘You got it good. You’re still walking.’”

“I was diagnosed with mania associated with bipolar once. I have bouts of depression. When I have a bout of bipolar, I become very lethargic, I’m like, ‘I don’t wanna do anything.’ I didn’t know I was bipolar at the time, and it took me like a year and a half just to get over Paula.”

How did you find out?

“I needed some cash. PIW, which is the Psychiatric Institute of Washington, was doing a drug study. I didn’t have any medical benefits. I said, ‘Well dude, let me go find out how my health is.’ I went in, and I got diagnosed, and I was like, ‘Now that makes a lot of sense. Wow, why I’ll be pumped and then I can become depressed, and then the depression will stay with me. And that depression can become anger.’”

– Jerry

Author’s Note: The Person First Project interviewed Jerry at the Father McKenna Center, located at North Capitol and K Street NW.

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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.

monk 1

“The first time I was in a shelter was in 1991 in New Jersey, and they asked me a series of questions about what caused my homelessness. The categories were drug abuse, alcohol abuse, etc… the very last question they asked me shook me to my core; they asked me if I’d ever been sexually assaulted. I said, ‘Yes, but it was a long time ago.’ They explained to me that I was having post-traumatic stress flashbacks.

I was not even 19 and it was my first night in college. My parents took me to K-Mart, bought me a bunch of stuff, got me set up in my room… He was in my orientation share group and he invited a bunch of people to a bar. I remember very clearly – as I was going from the table where a bunch of us were at to the bar, out of the corner of my eye I saw him drop something in my drink. I didn’t realize what it was at the time. When I came back, he handed me my drink, and the next day I remember waking up… and… anyway…. I remember enough of it to know that it was horrible.

It’s taken me a long time to face that. Every time I’ve tried to face that it’s had devastating effects on me.”

– Monk

Author’s Note: We met Monk at 2nd and I St NW and he is staying at Central Union Mission

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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.

Troy

“I am an alcoholic and I know it. I don’t even know the last time I had a drink. I don’t feel like that. If you get drunk, it affects your mind, and a lot of times you don’t do what you’re supposed to do. And, right now I need a place to stay.

I walk a lot. From here, I walk up to 14th street. Sit around there and talk to some friends. Then I go to the library and then the bus comes by and picks me up. You get off and sign in, they give you a bed. Everybody can’t shower. There are around 300-400 people and there aren’t that many showers. You need to wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning to shower.

If the police stopped me they wouldn’t know who I am. They would lock me up because I have no identification. I live in a shelter, right? I went one day and got a Social Security card. Went to bed and woke up in the morning and it was gone. The identification I have now? I don’t have none.

I went in there last night. When I went there, I had a towel, soap and a face cloth. But, I hung the towel on the bed. It’s got legs and walked. Anything you set, it gets legs and it walks.

I don’t live like I want to live, I live the way I have to live. The only way that’s gonna change is if I do it. No one else will do it for me.”

-Troy

Author’s note: Troy is currently experiencing homelessness and bouncing from shelter to shelter. We met him at the Father McKenna Center.

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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.

nick

“My father raised me my whole life. He was a very smart man and very responsible, he just had a bad drinking problem. It’s what got him sick and broke down his immune system. He had sepsis. It’s an inner infection – it starts in your bloodstream and starts killing your nerve endings in your limbs, it starts deteriorating your inner organs… the first time, he was in a coma for about three months. When he woke up he could only lift one finger.

My father passed away when I was twenty-nine. He was fifty-three. We were best friends. It was pretty hard to make the decision I did, giving the doctor permission to take the respirator out of his mouth. That kinda hurt.

————-

I like cooking, man. My ex fiancé, she would see commercials for Applebee’s or something and want to go out to eat. I’d say, ‘Tell me what you like, anything you see, I can cook it.’

I kept going into deep depressions after my father’s death and she wasn’t supportive. My drinking went from a couple beers with dinner to getting a fifth every other day. She gave me a choice. She said, ‘Either it’s the bottle or it’s me.’ It didn’t help when I asked her, ‘Don’t the bills get paid? I’m functional.’ But I guess she got tired of it. I think it was the drinking, but that’s just my guess. I just lost my mental stability after my father died and then I lost her. She changed her Facebook, her e-mail address. It messed me up. We were together for eight and a half years before we got engaged.

My depression and anxiety’s been bad lately. I’ve been up all night walking, just walking, walking, walking. My anxiety attacks will sometimes have me stuck. It’ll be like a hole in the top of my head and I’ll look around all lost, and sometimes it’s a lot of racing thoughts. It’s crazy.

[Right now], I’m staying at Central Union Mission. I need counseling. I dwell on the past too much– it holds me back.”

– Nick

Author’s Note: We met Nick on North Capitol Street, Northeast. He is currently experiencing homelessness.

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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.

stanley

“What brought me here? What happened to meet as far as being homeless— I had to be out here because me and my nephew went through a housing thing. The house boom that went flat 2007, we lost the house. We lost the house because we dealt with the wrong type of housing people.

The market went flat because of several millionaires and the banks didn’t deal with people with these loans for housing. They ended up putting people in the streets. So, it was a lot of people.

I had my company attached to the house. I had a cleaning company. I had to stop it. My nephew is fighting for the house. I am one of the witnesses. The lawyers are not telling him anything right now. He’s going through the legal services. We are still fighting through the courts.”

-Stanley

Author’s Note: Stanley is staying in shelters and primarily at 7th and D. We met him at the Father McKenna Center on North Capitol and K.

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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.

ivy 3 edits

“I’m originally from Georgia. I played for the New York Harlem Queens – the female version of the Harlem Globetrotters. We toured with them. We were clowns basically. We used to come on first and the Harlem Globetrotters would come on second. When I finished with them I thought, ‘I want to go see the nation’s capital!’ I was 22 years old.

I came to D.C. and I’d been here a week when I saw someone writing tickets. I thought, ‘I want to do that!’ They didn’t ask me anything about the job. I was in a room with six guys and we talked about basketball the whole time I was in there. They called me the next morning to tell me I’d been hired.

I put boots on cars for the government for 23 years. It’s called an immobilization technician, but everybody just called us ‘booters’. You change partners every three months, but they say me and Debbie worked like one person. We broke records and stuff. I got Booter Of The Year four times in a row. I got every award that you can give someone in my profession.

I worked until I got hurt. I fell down a flight of steps and I broke my right leg in six places. They put rods in and told me I wasn’t supposed to be walking. I was in intensive care for six weeks with this thing. They didn’t discharge me; I just left. They call me an AMA specialist – against medical advice. I went to stay with my friend and I wanted to go into the store when she was sleeping. I put on my jacket, got right up to the car, and I hit some black ice. I heard it crack before I hit the ground. The same leg; I broke it again in two more places. Teaching me about bones – it was the tibula and fibula.

I had a condo at Waterfront. My friend lived there with me. She was like me – no brothers or sisters or kids. That’s why my initials are I.T. – ‘cause I’m it. She passed…. She died at 43 years old. I was shocked. All that talent. She was a very talented young lady.

Since I was older, hurt, and I wasn’t working I tried to move back home to Georgia. It didn’t work. D.C. is just in my blood now.”

– Ivy

Author’s Note: Ivy lives at Open Arms Housing. The Mission of Open Arms Housing, Inc. is to provide permanent homes with a welcoming and supportive environment to women who are homeless with a variety of mental health issues. Their goal is to create safe, comfortable housing tailored to meet individual needs and to promote housing stability, using a Housing First approach.–

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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.

person first

“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.’” Read More

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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.

anthony 2 2

“I was homeless for thirty-something years. My pop died and I couldn’t afford to pay my rent. I lost my job working at Fort McNair as a dishwasher… they cut back on jobs, and I found myself on the street.

The first night I was on the street I slept behind the Library of Congress on a concrete bench. It was the summertime. It wasn’t too bad. In the winter you can’t find enough blankets or clothes to put on to keep yourself warm in the winter. Nobody wants you on their porch or under their restaurants. Everyone wants to kick you back onto the streets.

Men, women, children – it’s not good to see people on the street of any color or any race. There could be a lot of affordable housing but there’s really not. The more they put up condos, the more people that will be on the street, and that’s not a pretty picture. Homelessness carries a very ugly stigma.

….

Reed Sandridge is a very good friend of mine. He’s on the board of Street Sense and he’s been there with me through thick and thin of my homelessness – he was there when I first signed my lease.

I met Mr. Reed during the Year of Giving. I was standing on the corner of 19th and M Street and he came up and talked to me. He said, “Can I ask you something about yourself? I’ll give you $10. You don’t have to talk to me if you don’t want to.” I told him my whole story and we became good friends after that.

He put me on the website when I said I needed a pair of boots, and some friends of his bought me some boots… socks, underwear, shirts, pants, gloves. I told him exactly what I needed and he put it on the website. People bought it and sent it to him and he brought it to me. A young lady sent me a handmade quilt from Texas. I still have it. I’d never get rid of that. I’ve sent her thank you cards, pictures of me and Reed together… everyone that sent me something, I sent thank you cards through Mr. Reed.

So I got together with Mr. Reed and Stephanie – she works for Pathways to Housing DC . We had meeting after meeting. She finally told me, ‘I got you a place!’ It’s through Catholic Charities USA. I signed my lease on July 15th of 2013, so I’m coming up on two years. On my one-year anniversary we celebrated and all my friends came.”

– Anthony

*Read more about Anthony and Reed’s friendship and the long-term impact of peer mentorship at http://anthonyandme.com/. To find out more about Reed’s project, the “Year of Giving”, please visit http://yearofgiving.org.

 

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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.

baby

“This is Baby. She’s 15-years-old. She was born in Kentucky; she’s been all the way to Chicago; then we lived in Omaha, almost all our life; and they we come back all the way from Florida. She’s been in 14 different states.

They won’t let [Baby] in the shelter. I’m stubborn. I’ve had this dog a long time, and I’m not gonna give the dog up. The shelter ain’t worth that much to me. I can survive without the shelter. I’m a country boy. I can skin a rabbit. I don’t need their shelter. I can go out in the woods and build me a fire and camp out like Daniel Boone. I’m from the Mountains. We was raised hard. Our everyday life growing up wasn’t much better than this.”

Joseph

Author’s note: He stays around McPherson Square park. He doesn’t stay at a shelter because they won’t allow pets.

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