Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘homeless’

My Year of Giving was a life-changing event. I could have never in a million years imagined before I gave away my first ten-dollar bill on Dec. 15, 2009 how the journey would change my life. One of the amazing 365 people I met during that year was Anthony. Our lives crossed paths on Day 67.

ReedAnthony.jpg

Anthony & Me on our first day of our project. (Photo: Reed Sandridge)

In two weeks it will be three years since I started the project. A lot has changed. I am now employed, I can’t walk around my neighborhood without seeing somebody I gave $10 to and I have an entirely new perspective on giving. Life is pretty good.

Many of you have encouraged me to put this story into a book. I’ve started that – well, I am trying to do this at least. It’s harder than it sounds to dedicate time to writing – especially when you are often tired from your day job. But I am committed to finishing the book. But I thought I would enlist some help. That’s when I turned to my friend.

Anthony has been homeless for nearly 10 years in our nation’s capital. One of the first Street Sense vendors, vendor number 5 to be exact, Anthony doesn’t let the fact that he can not afford housing get him down. He works Monday through Friday at the corner of 19th and M selling the paper. But his dream is to have his own apartment and I have wanted to help him achieve that goal for some time.

Anthony offered to help me stay on track with my writing. You know, sometimes you just need someone to be accountable to. In return I am trying to help him get housing. If this sounds simple – keep in mind that I don’t know anything about helping someone get off the streets and Anthony hasn’t a clue about what it takes to get a book published. But that hasn’t stopped us.

We are working to achieve our goal by the end of 2013 – and with a lot of hard work, collaboration between Anthony and me, and possibly your help too – we just might make it! If you would like to follow our journey – drop by and say hello at AthonyAndMe.com.

Read Full Post »

Happy Worldwide Day of Giving!!!

I spent the day at Nonprofit 2.0 unconference conference sharing ideas and strategies for nonprofits in a social networking world. On my way home I cut through Dupont Circle – one of my old haunts when I did my year-long commitment to giving ten dollars a day away in 2010.
I made a lap around the circle looking for my recipient and spotted Dave K. rooting through a garbage can. Although he never said it, I believe the 45-year-old former science teacher from New York is homeless right now. His faded pants and worn sneakers were putting in overtime. His missing teeth didn’t stop him from being really generous with his smile that was tucked away under a thick cotton-white beard.
“Nothing in particular…just looking,” he said when I asked him what he was looking for. I had seen him open up some food containers from the lunch-goers from nearby offices that pepper the grassy respite in Northwest DC. “I think I’ll get me some coffee from Starbucks,” he told me looking down at the $10 in his hand. “I’m gonna get a venti dark roast!”

IMG_4198.jpg

The sunlight shifted back and forth on his face as the leaves above waved in the wind. I asked him why he was no longer working and he placed his index finger over his pursed lips. “There are some things that I prefer not to talk about,” he said.
We chatted a bit more…from quantum physics to garbage. “I once found a hundred-dollar bill,” Dave said causing his eyebrows to come out from beneath the white Virgin Atlantic sunglasses he was sporting. “Yep, it was sitting right on top of a public garbage can in New York City.”
I could sense that he was satisfied with our talk and was ready to move on. I asked a guy walking by to snap our picture, invited him to small happy hour celebration for the Worldwide Day of Giving tonight at L’Enfant Cafe and Bar. He smiled again and we shook hands goodbye. He wandered over to another garbage can and leaned in to sift through the refuse.
It felt great to give away the $10. I still do it from time to time but I don’t write about it…so this was kind of special as I enjoy sharing the stories of the amazing people I meet.
Click here to check out other stories of people participating in the Worldwide Day of Giving.

Read Full Post »

-Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, D.C.

Merry Christmas everyone! It seemed rather appropriate to make a post today – on a day that many of us associate with the spirit of giving. So now that your family room looks like a tornado went through it and destroyed an entire city built of wrapping paper, take a moment to enjoy a little update some holiday kindness investing.

At the end of December 2010 I stopped my year-long journey of giving away $10 a day. Well, sorta. I’ve found myself on many occasions giving a ten-spot away this year, I just chose not to write up the stories every day like I did last year. But this last week I did a little extra kindness investing.

I went out to meet up with a former colleague of mine, Jess, for lunch. I laugh because she say’s that I am one of two “famous” people she knows – the other is her brother who is an elementary school principal who is also a local legend singer/song-writer in Rochester, MN. Anyway, on my way over to meet her I decided to go run a few errands and I bumped into Kenneth B. from Day 30.

Normally I find him pacing back and forth hawking the Street Sense paper but this day he sat deep in a folding chair barking his familiar cadence, “Street Sense! … Street Sense!” I was in a bit of a hurry and didn’t want to be late to my lunch meeting but I did want to stop and wish Kenneth a happy holiday and give him a few dollars. As I left, I placed a twenty in his hand – $10 from a Year of Giving supporter in Havertown, PA which I matched with a ten of my own.

I then hopped on the Metro and headed downtown. On the train I started thinking that maybe it would be fun to do a little extra giving and I decided that I would give $10 to each person I passed that day who was asking for money. How much money would that add up to? I mean there are days that I feel like I am surrounded by panhandlers in this town.

As I reached the top of the escalators at Metro Center I saw a man with a plastic cup extended toward those exiting the station. I reached into my wallet, found a ten-dollar bill and handed it to him. “Thank you very much!” he said quickly as he tucked it into his cup.

Photo: Reed

After lunch I headed over to Macy’s to look for a gift I still needed to get. I was sure that I would give $10 to the Salvation Army bell-ringer – but to my surprise there was no bell-ringer in sight. But I did pass plenty of other people and before the day had ended I had passed nine more. One of those was Tommy B. – a Street Sense vendor who ended up being my $10 recipient on Day 155. He was doing well and was planning to head down to South Carolina the next day to spend Christmas with his sister. Like Kenneth, I gave him $20. This time I paid forward a $10 donation I had received from Marcio from New Zealand matched with $10 of my own. He was thankful and gave me a warm hug when I said goodbye.

It was a bit nostalgic giving away ten-spots for the day. Somehow it felt right given the holiday season – but as I have said before, it’s not just the holidays that people need help. They need it even on sunny days in June. So as we approach a new year I hope you will take a moment to think about how you might be able to help others and make a plan, even if it is just in your head, about what you will do. Nobody else needs to know, but it will help you stick with it. Drop me a note if you need some help.

Read Full Post »

-Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, D.C.

David on Day 258 in 2010 (photo: Reed Sandridge)

I want to update you on David G. who was one of my $10 recipients last year. I met David on the corner of Connecticut and Q in D.C. while he was selling the Street Sense newspaper. Homeless in DC for ten years, David hails from Kenya.

When I asked David if he needed anything that I could include in the Lend a Hand program he thought for a minute and then said that he would like to find his cousin and find out more about his father. So with the power of the Internet, I posted their names on the Year of Giving and asked that if anyone knew them to contact me.

Six months later…it happened! By an almost impossible series of events I was on the phone with David’s cousin Ben who was now living in Poland. Check out the update here to find out the latest news in this beautiful story.

You will read in the update that we need to raise a little bit of money to help David…so please consider clicking on the DONATE button on the upper right area of this page and contribute $10 to help reunite David with his family back in Kenya!

These kind of experiences are what it is all about!

To read the original blog post when I met David click here.

Read Full Post »

Blog post by Reed S. from Washington, DC.

Last year I introduced you to Carlton, a 45-year-old homeless man who took up painting a few years ago and discovered an untapped talent.

Carlton.jpg

Carlton working on a new painting on Wednesday. (photo: Reed)

Yesterday I was walking around the west side of the traffic circle at Dupont Circle where I found Carlton in the exact same location I found him last summer.  Sweat beading down his forehead, he greeted me with an upbeat hello.  “Everything is cheap.  Really cheap,” he told me.  I reminded him who I was and he claimed to remember meeting me although I am not sure.

He reminded me why he chose this location to do his paintings.  “I used to panhandle right here and now I want all those people who knew me then to see what I am doing now!”

Having not seen him much lately I asked if he had started painting someplace else.  He explained that he had been down in Norfolk,VA helping with his mother who is struggling with diabetes.

Sitting on the concrete sidewalk, just feet away from some leftover puddles from a mid-afternoon shower, Carlton started to work on a clean canvas.  “I painted a parrot today!” he blurted out.  “I’ve never painted animals before.”  I prefer his landscapes.

Carlton, who battles HIV, stays healthy by walking and biking throughout the city.  “I’m staying over near Gallaudet University now and ride my bike all the way over here.”  That’s about 30 blocks and in this heat it’s easier said than done.

He seems to turn into Bob Ross and starts painting happy bushes and trees.  “I ran out of black paint,” he told me as he used a piece of sponge to smear a terracotta colored horizon.

Always working the crowd, Carlton is keenly aware of when the eyes of passersby focus on his work.  “I’m Carlton, the homeless artist,” he says in his raspy voice.  “They’re all very inexpensive.”  She’s silent and he goes back to putting in some trees on his newest work.  “Talk to me,” he says grinning and hoping she will make an offer on one of the half-dozen paintings that surround him.

I shove a few dollars in his cup and shake his slippery hand.  “Now you tell your wife (I’m not married by the way) that you didn’t fall in the mud, you tell her you shook Carlton the homeless painter’s hand!”

You can see video of Carlton from my first visit by clicking here.

Read Full Post »

Michelle - Day 277

Blog post by Reed, a Kindness Investor from Washington, DC

On Day 227 of last year I introduced you to my 277th recipient, Michelle B.  With an infectious smile and a “let’s get it done” attitude, Michelle keeps the dining room at So Others Might Eat (SOME) in order.  The guests are warmed by her love and laughter but also know not to step out of line.  She’s in charge.  One of the things I most look forward to when I am going to volunteer at SOME is the opportunity to see and talk with Michelle – she’s awesome.

On a recent Tuesday morning after meeting up with Anthony from Day 67 for breakfast, I made my way over to Truxton Circle, a small triangular neighborhood that has lost its identity somewhat since the traffic circle for which it’s named was removed in the late 40s.  Somewhere between then and now it seems the area’s identity has also been lost, often being referred to incorrectly as Eckington or Shaw.  I frankly had never even heard the name Truxton Circle used very much until I started researching things for this post, but then again, I don’t frequent the neighborhood that often and neither do the majority of other middle/upper class Washingtonians.  In fact, the only reason that I go to Truxton Circle is to visit SOME and hopefully see my new friend Michelle.

SOME-2.jpgUnfortunately on this Tuesday Michelle wasn’t there, but that’s alright.  I got to speak with Dirk, the volunteer coordinator, who I have “known” via email but not in person until then.  After a career overseas working in foreign policy, Dirk came back to Washington looking to make a difference.

“I haven’t ‘worked’ a day since I’ve been here,” he remarks about his 15 months on the job.

Inside the dining room I get to work resetting tables for the 250 guests that filed through the doors that afternoon to get a sausage sandwich, beans, mixed vegetables and an apple.  It was not too hectic as we had a decent number of volunteers; even some young students from a high school in North Carolina were on hand to help.  Everything just sort of works.  The regular volunteers guide the new volunteers in a very proactive way.

“Want to help me wipe down these tables,” I overhear a veteran volunteer ask one of the students.

Back with Dirk, he explains that it would be impossible to provide the quality of services that they do without the help of volunteers.

“We need all types,” he says.  “Serving breakfast during the week is something that we can always use help with, but we have other needs too that you might not realize.  We need volunteers with skills in web design, landscaping and tutoring.”

When asked about the challenges associated with maintaining regular volunteers Dirk’s eyes widen. “If you feel the impact – a smile or a hug – then you show up the next day.”  I couldn’t agree with him more.

SOME-3.jpg

I wanted to get my picture taken with Dirk.

Before leaving, I take several boxes of clothes that I collected at my birthday party back in January over to their clothing center.  Over one hundred items were given to me to be donated, many of which had sales tags still on them.

I left with my heart glowing; feeling that high that you get when you make somebody’s day.  SOME is doing terrific work not only with their dining facility, but also in the other services that they provide which they break down into three categories: emergency, rebuilding and stability.

Anthony told me that morning that “SOME is possibly the best” when it comes to providing comprehensive services to the homeless.   I totally agree and will continue to support them.

If you would like to volunteer with SOME, please visit their Volunteer Page.

If you would like to donate to SOME, click here.

Read Full Post »

Blog post by Sibyl W, a Kindness Investor from Brentwood, Tenn.

I noticed Brian several months ago, standing on a corner selling newspapers; I even bought a paper from him once.  The paper, The Contributor, contains stories and poetry written by homeless or formerly homeless citizens.  I thought he would be a great recipient of the day’s $10.  I stopped and asked Brian what led him to sell the paper.

“I just started doing this in December.  I’d been doing ironwork, but the trade has been dwindling down and the guy I worked for was a small outfit so he was about ready to lose everything.  See that roof over there on that bank; I did that building about 20 years ago.  I’ve been an ironworker for 25 years and I hope I get called back.

“But that’s why I started selling this paper.  It got to where I’m behind, but I’m not going to lose what I’ve got.  But it’s hard; I get out 5-6 days a week, if weather permits.  I’ve got family to take care of.”

I asked Brian if he had a place to live.

“Yeah, I pay rent every week, if I don’t have it one week; I catch him (landlord) up the next week.  He’s really good like that. There’s good people out there and before I started doing this with The Contributor I also gave to everybody.  Even though I’m doing this, if I see other contributors, I give them a dollar or whatever I can spare.  We’re all in the same boat.  There’s like 400 of us.   I drive down here from Nashville because there’s so many people in downtown you can’t get a good spot.

“But doing this I have also received a lot.  One month a guy gave me $200 dollars and the next month he gave me $200 more.  I bought four brand new tires with it; I put it to good use.  He took me to lunch the other day, bought lunch, but I left the tip. I said look I know you want to do this, but I have to do something too. “

Brian waved to someone.  “There goes my mailman.  See, I got regulars out here. “While he’s sitting at the red light, the mailman hollers, “Hey there’s no telling what he’ll tell you.”  But then he laughs and says, “Just kidding, it’s all good.”  I wonder what other drivers were thinking, seeing us standing on a street corner laughing, waving, and having a good time.

Brian explained that, “There’s people like me standing out here trying to make a dollar.  Like when you leave here, I’ll walk up and down this sidewalk as much as I can.  You know if you sit at home you’re not going to make any money. And in reality, it keeps me up and keeps me healthy because once you start sitting idle you can hang it up.

“Basically I’m out here trying to make a living.  And I do love being a pioneer because you ain’t gotta answer to anybody; you just have to think about what the Lord’s got you doing.  I ain’t got anything but a desire to work and help people.”

I saw the truth in that. He made my day.

As for the ten dollars, Brian said, “I’ll either get me a meal or some cigarettes.”

Read Full Post »

Before I share with you my amazing volunteer experience at Miriam’s Kitchen here in Washington, DC, I want to introduce you to a very important person at the Year of Giving.  His name is Kyle.

A photo of Kyle when I met him back in October of 2010.

Some of you might remember him from Day 311 last year when I gave him my $10 for the day after seeing him do a stand-up routine at a local open mic night.  He recently graduated from the University of New Hampshire and completed an internship here in Washington, DC at a talk news radio station.

The Year of Giving has grown and around the beginning of this year I realized I needed some help.  Kyle volunteered to be the Web Editor and help keep the daily blog posts coming.  In addition to volunteering with the Year of Giving, he’s currently looking for magazine or internet related journalism work in New Hampshire, Washington, DC or potentially other areas of the country.  Please reach out and let him know if you have any connections or ideas for him.  Although he has worked in news, I know that he is also very interested in music and film journalism.

DSC_0038.jpgSo back to today’s volunteer experience.  I was so impressed when I walked into Miriam’s Kitchen.  It was warm, not because of the ovens but because of the love.  I was almost immediately met by Ashley, the Development and Volunteer Manager.  She gave me, and the other 8-10 volunteers for the day, an overview of the 28-year-old organization.  “We like to bring people in through our healthy great tasting food,” she said going on to add that their guests usually stay and utilize the many other services available to their guests.  There was a station full of donated personal hygiene products, a security guard who also gives a hell of a sharp-looking haircut, case managers, legal assistance, access to healthcare, etc.  “A lot of our guests don’t have a physical address so we allow them to have mail sent here too,” she added.

I strapped on a blue or purple apron (I’m color-blind, so who knows which one it was) and was sent to help out Chef Tom.  He had me preparing some home-made chicken and duck stock.  After that I helped wash some of the items used earlier that morning and get them put away.  After the kitchen was in good shape it was time to go out and work the front side of the house.

The inviting dining room had about 25 tables, all with fresh flowers on them, some of them even had cards and games on them.  The walls were covered with art work from the guests.  “It’s a fun environment,” Ashley said as smiling staff members and volunteers started to greet guests making their way in out of the cold.  I was assigned to the personal hygiene station and got to interact with several of the guests who needed essential items such as multi vitamins, deodorant, toothpaste, shaving supplies, condoms, etc.  Everything of course is free for the guests; however, they are limited to receiving a reasonable amount of the items.

DSC_0033.jpg

Just one of the delicious items being prepared at Miriam's Kitchen.

Ashley then asked if I would help refill juice cups to those who were seated eating their lunch.  This got me circulating a bit more and I was able to spot some familiar faces: Jim M., Lionel and Bill C. I spent some time speaking with each of them and will update you in the coming weeks on how these 2010 YOGIs are doing.

Lunch came to an end and the dining area transformed into an art center with several of the guests busy working on projects.  Bill was working on a new painting.  “I’m not sure what it is going to be yet,” he told me as he applied some broad strokes to the canvas.  He showed me several of his pieces which were going to be highlighted in an art show being held the following day at Miriam’s.

DSC_0022.jpgMy shift ended and I cleaned up and said my goodbyes.  I walked out into the brisk afternoon, the sun warming my face as I headed north along 24th Street.  I was impressed by how well the staff seemed to know the guests.  “Yesterday we had 212 guests for breakfast,” Ashley told me earlier, “and our case managers knew all but three of them by name.”  Everyone there seemed happy.  It was almost family-like.

DSC_0036.jpg

Reed finishing up in the kitchen.

This appears to be a really well run operation.  That being said, they rely on support from volunteers and donations.  If you live in the DC area you can check their list of volunteer needs.  In addition to your time they need lots of items for their guests such as: gloves, socks, long johns, sleeping bags, jackets, yarn, crazy glue, Crayola markers.  If you would like to donate any of these items, reach out to me and I can see that they get there.  If you would prefer, you can also make a financial contribution.

Thanks to Ashley and everyone at Miriam’s!  You guys are awesome.

Read Full Post »

Being a Kindness Investor is a very interesting study in human nature. Especially my own. Especially when I allow myself to follow my gut and not my mind’s predetermined plan. For instance, my intention to give away my fifth $10 was specific: I was on my way to Ray’s, a well-known Seattle restaurant with a breath-taking view of the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. On my way, I kept catching glimpses of an exceptionally clear, majestic day which was hosting glistening water and a horizon boasting one long dance of snow-capped peaks.

 

John holding his newspapers in front of his truck.

As I descended off a main road, preparing to make a left turn under a bridge to get to Ray’s, there stood John at the corner, several cars ahead of me. In that instant, my plans completely changed. I had to talk to him.

 

I made a U-turn, and then pulled around and under the bridge to park. John was clearly a bit confused as to why I was getting out of my car and approaching him. I’m sure I’d seen him before at this well-traveled intersection, but until that day, I never saw him.

John is one of hundreds of Seattle’s homeless people who sell Real Change, a weekly newspaper dedicated to advancing not only the facts (instead of assumptions) about those who are living on the streets, but also providing a safe and legitimate way for them to make money (as opposed to holding a sign or otherwise asking passers-by for spare change). When I meet a person who is offering this newspaper and asking that I purchase it for $1, I also see a badge which indicates that s/he is a bona fide participant in the Real Change extended family.

On the day I met John, the wind seemed to gather even more momentum as it whipped around the cement columns and twist through the underpass where we spoke. John’s pickup was parked near the corner where he stood patiently, albeit freezing, hoping that those who were sitting snugly in their cars would not ignore him at the stop light and perhaps buy his newspaper.

John was more than happy to accept my $10. He pointed to his truck. “I’ll probably buy some gas for my truck or propane because I live in the back-in the camper. There are a few of us who park over there in an empty parking lot at night and we use the propane to keep warm. No, I don’t light the propane in my camper,” he continued as my brow knitted in obvious concern.

“I’ve been homeless for about 12 years. I’m 43 and it all began after a very bad divorce. I lost everything, including my daughter.” John had lived a warm and productive life in Tennessee where he had a business – a store which sold everything from carpet to hardware supplies.

“We lived on a 12 and a half-acre farm. My ex-wife and her family are rich. But they wanted me gone and to keep me down. So here I am.”

I was struck by John’s optimism and confidence. Throughout our conversation he quoted several verses from the Bible which punctuated a point he was trying to make. His breath left a wake of steam as he spoke.

“I really need a job. I have a lot of experience doing many things. So if you or anyone you know needs help with building or painting or any of that kind of thing, please think of me.” John ran back to his truck and returned with a one page resume which was clean and professional. “They help us with our resumes at the office (of Real Change).”

When I asked him about staying at homeless shelters, he didn’t actually diss them but offered his own observation. “In a shelter they label you.  You’re a drug addict, or an alcoholic, or just plain crazy. Hey, I’m just out of work. Besides, I like living and sleeping in my own place – as humble as it is.” He gestured to his truck again.

Throughout the years, John had been to Texas where he worked off-shore on a boat fishing, but that didn’t stick as two of the guys were drunks. He had part-time job at the post office and then decided to move to California.  There, he had a sleeping bag, a tarp, and a man who helped him out by hiring him for some construction jobs.

He was quick to give the staff of Real Change a lot of credit. “This newspaper and the organization – what they do – has helped me in so many ways. I’ve been able to buy clothes and food because of it. They give me four papers free and I buy the rest for $.35 a paper. I sell it for $1, so I make $.65 off each one.”

While John’s day was just beginning, my ear lobes were bright red and my nose was running from the biting cold. And I grew up in Minnesota where this day’s weather was SOP!

I asked if he could use a blanket. “Always,” he replied with a smile. I ran back to my car and pulled a small blanket out of my emergency car kit and handed it to him. Then I remembered that I needed to buy the paper. I offered John $5 for a copy of his Real Change, he said no-I’d already given him $10!

“That was a Kindness Investor gift. This is for the paper. And since I don’t have change, please take the $5.” He did.

A hug and “good luck” was the only appropriate way to say good-bye to John. He smiled and waved as I climbed back into my car and hit the fan which blew warm air over my face and hands.

Driving home I was once again overwhelmed with gratitude and happiness. Not because I was returning to my own warm home with (some) food in the fridge and an inviting bed. I was grateful that I met John and had an opportunity to learn about him, his life, and ambitions. He really does have a striking resume. I hope I will someday be in a position to hire him. That would make me even more happy.

-Petra from Seattle, WA

 

Read Full Post »

Today I went to donate blood and was on my way home when I saw a man named “Happy Pappy” standing on the side of the street when I was at a stoplight. I detoured around and parked at a nearby McDonald’s and headed across a few streets then under a bridge to speak with him. I explained the project to him he accepted the $10 and said “Proverbs 28:27 He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses”. The next words he spoke almost left me speechless. Pappy said, “would you like to know what I think about those on unemployment, I think they have got too used to the check coming to them without having to do anything that they just don’t want to work. There is work out there, I’ve mowed lawns, painted houses”.

Pappy decided it was time for him to head to McDonald’s to warm up. I walked back across the way with him and sat in a nearby McDonald’s and we sat and talked for an hour until he said he needed to go.

The conversation with Pappy was very broad. He is 61 and a Vietnam War Veteran and showed the scars on his legs from where he was hit with shrapnel. He has been married twice and has children. Currently he was renting a room nearby but has been on and off the streets for 12 years. He spoke of coming home from Vietnam and working as a Publisher at the local Veteran’s Hospital and then having to return to the Veteran’s Hospital for nearly 2 years of rehabilitation therapy after being in a car accident and didn’t know if he was going to ever walk again.

He’s attempted suicide twice, and showed me the scar across his neck from his most recent attempt in 2001. Pappy attends church 7 days a week and spoke of the 3 different churches he attends service at. He shared how he has been on many prescription drugs due to illnesses, one of those being Hepatitis however he decided to heal himself through God and garlic herbs rather than healing himself through pharmaceutical companies.

He spoke of getting caught panhandling without a permit which has a fine of $154, he went to court and his punishment was making him wait 1 year to get a panhandling permit so he is still on the streets with no permit. He says he has figured out the best place to stand where he can see in all directions and if he sees the police he folds his sign up and walks away, so far this tactic has worked for him.

Pappy said he was going to use the ten dollars for food.

Unfortunately the picture I took of Pappy wasn’t clear. I’ve tried going back to his spot but was unsuccessful in finding him.

-Melinda T. from Xenia, OH

Read Full Post »

Melinda met Nick while he panhandled at an exit ramp. (photo: Melinda T.)

Today I met a man named Nick.  Nick was standing near the exit ramp.  I felt drawn to give the $10 to him so I parked nearby and walked across the way.

Nick has been on and off the streets for a year now.  Nick was extremely skeptical to speak with me at first because he thought I was with the police and quickly pulled out his panhandlers permit to show it to me.  Perhaps I was just as skeptical as this was the first time I had ever approached a person standing on the streets panhandling.  I assured him I wasn’t with the police and he accepted that and then shared his life with me.

At the beginning of the video you see a quick shot of an ID.  This is Nicks ID showing that he is homeless, I never knew there was such an ID available.  He shared with me the views of inside the homeless shelter where he has spent a few nights and said the conditions there are awful and not a place for anyone to be but it keeps him out of the elements.  He invited me to take a visit with him to the homeless shelter however I declined that offer.

Nick said today was his first day out on the streets and he was there trying to collect money so he could purchase Christmas gifts for his children.  He was addicted to pain pills at one point and his life had went downhill since then.  He’s currently not addicted to anything and is trying to get his life back on track by getting a job so he can pay for a place to live and not have to sleep at the homeless shelter or jump from home to home sleeping on people’s couches.

I would have liked to speak with Nick a bit longer but the temperatures today were extremely cold and the wind we were encountering didn’t help.

-Melinda T. from Xenia, OH

Read Full Post »

There was a lot of talk earlier this week of a white Christmas here in Pennsylvania, but so far no snow.  I had a wonderful holiday with my father, brother and sister-in-law.  I got some great presents and had fun making cookies and playing bridge.  I am stuffed though.  No more food for me until Spring.

It's hard to see here but this is a photograph that I took of James sleeping. He leans slightly against the wall and his upper body slowly bends toward the earth.

Today’s recipient is going to touch your heart.  He’s 58-year-old James who has been homeless in DC for “six or seven years.”  I found him at the Chinatown Metro stop late at night while he slept standing up.  I observed him for about five minutes and then he began to fall over and woke up again.  I walked over to see if he was ok.

“Oh I’m fine, thank you,” James said forcing the words through the frozen air.  “I sleep standing up ‘cause I get cramps lying down.”  He later added, “The last time I slept in a bed was 1995.”  I can’t imagine that.  I was still in college at that time.

Through speaking with James it appears that he has some chronic health problems, but he refuses to go to the hospital.  “I don’t trust them,” he says softly.  

Everything that James owns sat in front of him in a cold metallic shopping cart which he keeps chained to him to ensure that nobody steals it while he sleeps.  “I have my clothes, soap, cleaning stuff, shoes, underwear, socks, a step-ladder,” he says continuing on to name some other items.  I notice that tucked on top of the cart was a Webster’s Dictionary that was probably 25 years old.  “Oh, that’s my dictionary,” he said rallying a bit of energy, “I like to read the dictionary.” 

James says that he doesn’t have any living relatives that he knows of.  His mother died in 1968 and his grandmother looked after him until she later passed away.  

James eyes rarely opened wider than this.

He seemed interested in US presidents.  He enthusiastically spoke about President Obama.  He seemed fond of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter too.  “Clinton was alright, he came out to a trailer park one time to meet the folks,” he started to say, “and Jimmy Carter was a good man too, he had nigger lips, did ya ever notice that?”  His comment paralyzed me slightly and I couldn’t even really come up with a response.  I’ve never liked that word and don’t use it myself.  It so often comes loaded with so much hate when it is uttered, but James said it with endearing admiration for the 86-year-old former president.

James tries to stay warm next to his belongings.

“I’m probably gonna get me a burger and a $0.65 senior coffee at McDonald’s,” he said motioning toward the ten dollars that was folded between his fingers.  Sometimes he hangs out there to stay warm, watch some television and treat himself to the occasional ice cream.

The air was so cold my face was hurting.  I said goodbye and shook his bare hand.  It was cold and stiff and I asked if he had gloves.  If he didn’t, I was going to leave mine with him.  “I’ve got some, they’re in my pocket, I’m just not wearing them right now.”  The temperature was plummeting and I urged him to go to a shelter, but he insisted that he would be fine.  I hope that he was right.  Street Sense’s Ellen Gilmer reported last week that 37 homeless individuals died this last year in the DC area.  Sadly many of them probably died alone.

Read Full Post »

Jim has been homeless for more than three years.

So many of the 365 people that I have met have touched my soul.  They have made me think about things that I would have never had the perspective to ponder prior to taking this walk.  Jim, a 52-year-old homeless resident of Washington, DC, invited me into his world for a while.  Will you join me?

It was an abnormally warm November 30th.  Puddles filled the streets and sidewalks as water droplets still fell from rain covered tree branches from the late afternoon showers.  Tucked under a small awning in front of what used to be the Riggs Bank in DC – now PNC – was Jim.  His head didn’t move much at first when I called out to him, rather his eyes abandoned the crossword on his lap and found their way to mine.  He sat up a little bit, plucked the earphones away from his ears and offered me a dry piece of real estate next to him.

Mostly homeless since 2007 he credits not being able to find work as the cause of his current lack of regular indoor housing.  The biggest challenge he faces being homeless is not the cold or the danger, but finding a place to store his personal items.  “I lost all of my belongings…twice!”  He once tried to hide his things in Rock Creek Park only to find them gone when he came back.  “There needs to be some type of lockers downtown where to store things in,” he says, “I’d be happy to pay a reasonable fee for such a service.”

It’s a different paradigm living on the streets.  You become more in tune with some things.  “The saddest people out here are the schizophrenics,” Jim says.  “They don’t access all the resources that are available for them and they can’t keep schedules.”  We touched on a variety of levels of mental illness and I jotted down one of the things he said that caught my attention: “There is a certain charm that mildly psychotic people have.”

He told me about an “ex street boyfriend” he had.  “He once stole some ugly sunglasses and some eye cream; only a gay homeless guy steals eye cream!” he said appreciating the humor.

The air occasionally brought a chill with it and Jim slipped a blue knit hat over his head.  With the Express newspaper still in his lap he says, “If a crossword is too hard it gets to be like work and if it’s work, I expect to get paid!”  We laughed together.  Speaking of work, Jim did recently get a job at a Cosi for about a week.  “It was just not for me,” he said shaking his head slowly and watching some young people walk by probably on their way to a nearby coffee shop or bar.  “I felt like I had hundreds of managers telling me what to do.”

We must have sat there for about 90 minutes.  I shot some video that I have included here of Jim talking about where he is from, about being homeless, suffering from depression and finally he took me on a short field trip over to the Marvelous Market to do some dumpster diving.  His compassion and charisma impacted me a great deal. Check it out.

Jim plans to use my $10 to get some coffee and maybe a snack in the morning at Books-A-Million.  “I’ve been wanting to read God of Small Things,” he says about Arundhati Roy’s Booker Prize winning novel.  “It appears to be a rich fictional piece that I might just end up getting lost in.”

I asked someone walking by to take our photo.

Through my conversation with Jim I learned that he knows Bill C. and Tommy N. who I gave $10 to earlier in the year.  As a final note, I have stopped by and left some food for Jim when I have seen him sleeping at his spot.  He also joined me at the Year-End Celebration which meant a lot to me!  Do check out the Lend a Hand initiative to see a couple of very simple things that you could get to help Jim out.

Read Full Post »

Still no major sponsor for the Year of Giving Anniversary event.  Have spoken to a few law firms, they have passed.  Had two corporate companies analyzing it too, one passed the other one now has completely gone silent.  Although I try not to be bitter, the sad reality is that these companies spend this on business travel without batting an eye.

Lorrie at 13th & H Streets in DC

On a positive note, today’s recipient will make you smile.  Her name is Lorrie and she is a Street Sense vendor who I met at 13th and H Streets in downtown Washington.  

Lorrie has been selling the Street Sense newspaper since May and says that she loves it.  Her wide smile and contagious laughter is still vivid in my memory.  “I try to make everyone’s day,” she told me.  Well she made mine!

Check out this short video of Lorrie and see her warm smile for yourself!

After meeting Lorrie, we have spoken a few times on the phone.  She explained that even with her paper sales she is falling short of the income that she needs.  If you would like to help Lorrie by making a donation, you can go to the online donation portal of Street Sense and make a donation.  In the comments section just put what percentage of your donation you would like to go directly to Lorrie H.

Read Full Post »

I found Lisa wrapped in a sleeping bag nestled in an alcove in front of a Chinatown building near the intersection of 9th and E Streets.  I walked about 20 feet past her and decided to go back and give her my $10.

It was about 10:00pm and sun drenched streets had long been replaced by the black and blue shadows.  At first I wasn’t sure if she was a man or a woman, but as I got closer and my eyes adjusted I could see clearly that she was a woman.  The 50-year-old’s dirty blond hair was mostly covered by a wool hat.  Her eyes were like perfectly cut Brazilian aquamarines.  They were so stunning that it was hard to look elsewhere. 

She said that she has been homeless for 10 years.  I handed her my card.  She studied it for a while – rocking it back and forth between her uncovered fingers to catch the dim light that cast over her from the empty street.  She took the $10 and told me that she would get some breakfast in the morning.  “Maybe get me some pancakes,” she said still suspicious of the altruistic gift. 

I tried to make small talk and ask her about her experience on the streets.  “The toughest part is finding enough water,” she said as I pushed my hands deep into my pockets to keep them warm.  It was chilly, maybe 40 degrees yet she cited drinking water as the biggest challenge.   

Things got very awkward when I asked if I could take a photograph of her.  She got noticeably upset, “No.  I don’t want my picture taken.”  She extended her hand toward me offering the folded up ten dollar bill.  “You can have your money back.  I don’t want it.”  I explained that if she wasn’t comfortable being photographed that that was fine and the money was hers to keep.  We were both silent for a moment.  I looked away from her and saw a Styrofoam food container – the kind you get from a Chinese take-out restaurant – and a half full bottle of water.  Her hand and the ten dollars disappeared again under the many layers garments.

“Well, thanks for speaking with me,” I told her as I picked up my trusty backpack – I’ve been carrying that bag around for 342 days now!  “Good luck and stay safe…and warm!” I added as I went on my way.

Every time I leave a homeless person I have more questions than answers.  It always weighs heavy on my mind for the rest of the day.  As I pull the covers up over me at night and close my eyes I wonder if Lisa is withstanding the cold.  I wonder when the last time she slept in a bedroom with lots of pillows and a thick warm comforter.  I wonder what she dreams about?

Read Full Post »

Of the 12,000 homeless in Washington, DC, Bill stands out.  Maybe it’s his charismatic demeanor the empathic tone of his voice.  Whatever it may be, I will remember my encounter with Bill.

Bill getting ready for bed on K Street.

I was walking north on 21st Street late at night.  I stopped and waited for the green walk sign to illuminate and crossed K Street.  It was void of all of the lobbyists and corporate types that fill the sidewalks during the day.  Despite the “Don’t Walk” sign I crossed the empty street.  As I approached the other side I saw a man on the northwest corner bundled in a sleeping bag in front of the glass doors of a bank.  The area was well-lit and I walked over to him.

Homeless on the streets of our nation’s capital for over five years, Bill ended up on the streets after the death of his father and subsequent loss of employment.  

Chills sprung up around my neck as he told me that he was born in Harrisburg Hospital in Pennsylvania.  Not only is it very close to where I grew up but it is the very same hospital where my mother died four years ago. 

We talked a little bit about the Central Pennsylvania area.  He went to York Catholic High School.  I went to Mechanicsburg High School.  And although we were separated by about 20 years I felt some kind of connection with Bill.

He lucidly spoke to me about being homeless.  “You have to be,” he began to say as he tugged at his dark hooded sweatshirt, “somewhat detached from reality to be homeless.”  He describes the mental state that one gets into as a sort of shock.  It paralyzes some individuals and they simply are unable to break out of the cycle.  “You could write a good book about being homeless though,” he perked up and said.  “You could call it Squirrels on Food Stamps.  I mean we sit in parks all day like the squirrels.”  

Despite the obvious dark side of being alone and homeless in America, Bill tells me of a side many people don’t know about.  “It’s dangerous out here for those of us who are homeless.  Sometimes you end up being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  Bill was referring to an incident a few years earlier where at that very spot where he was sitting he was attacked by someone while he was sleeping.  He woke up to bone crushing blows to his skull.  “Thankfully I am just a few hundred yards from GW Hospital.  The doctor there told me I was 15 minutes away from dying.”  He is still noticeably bothered about the incident.  His voice silenced and we both just looked at each another.  “You can still see some of the blood stains over there,” he said pointing to a grape jam colored spot just feet away from where he was going to rest his head that night.

I found out we have something else in common other than being from Central Pennsylvania.  Bill used to live around the corner from my apartment in DC.  “That area has changed a lot since I lived there.”  He lived there from 1984-1995 and said that his rent started at $350 and ended at $450 per month.  Well, I can tell you that it has skyrocketed since those days.  “I lived across from Nora’s,” he said referring to a high-end restaurant noted for being the first certified organic restaurant in the United States.  Some of you might remember that I took my father there for dinner on his 70th birthday on Day 306.  

“In fact I used to steal fresh herbs from their garden,” Bill said chuckling a little.

He was going to use my $10 to buy himself breakfast the next morning.  “I usually go over to Miriam’s Kitchen, but I get so tired of that.  I’m going to go to the cafeteria at GW and get some sausage and biscuits.”

Before I left I told him about the Lend a Hand project.  “You know what I would love,” Bill started to say enthusiastically, “an electric blanket.”  Now you might wonder how a homeless guy is going to use an electric blanket, but Bill is pretty smart.  He sleeps right next to an electrical outlet.  So if you want to make a 55-year-old man’s day, send me an electric blanket and I will deliver it to Bill.

UPDATE: 11/28/2010

This is a first!  Less than 12 hours from when I posted this someone already sent me a brand new electric blanket for Bill.   Thank you Michelle!!!  When I receive it I will take it to him and try to post a picture or video, although he was not comfortable with me taking his picture when I met him….so we will have to see.  Thanks again!  You have been such a great supporter of the Year of Giving!

UPDATE: 12/5/2010

 

I delivered the electric blanket that Michelle from NC sent for Bill.  He was so thankful and it is really cold tonight so I am sure it will get good use.  Can you believe that he said he wanted to write a little note to the bank to ask permission to use their electricity?  Unbelievable.   He said that he could also use some size 8.5 shoes or boots with winter coming.

 



Read Full Post »

Today’s post is from Election Day.  I thought it would be appropriate to give my ten dollars to someone who was exercising their civic duty by voting.

I walked over to my polling location and voted.  As an aside, what is wrong with our voting system?  They only have one electronic voting booth.  The rest is done by paper ballots.  I used to live in Brazil where they had fully electronic voting.  The electronic machines were introduced there in 1996 and fully implemented in 2000.  Ten years later, we have one machine in my voting district!  Parabens Brasil!

I approached several people who came out of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, my local polling location.  I first approached a white woman in her 50s with short dark hair who sat on a bench by herself.  She wasn’t very friendly toward me and asked me to give it to someone else.  Then I saw another woman leaving the voting center.  Amina refused as well, however, she said she liked the Year of Giving concept very much.  “I ran a soup kitchen in Johannesburg, South Africa for four years,” she shared.  “But for me to take your money and then give it to someone else just seems wrong.  I can use my own money to do that.”  We chatted for a little while longer before she went on her way.

Silvia and Salvador choose not to sleep in DC's shelters.

I then found a couple sleeping upright on a bench as they soaked in the sun’s warm rays to balance out the cool November air.   They were on the west side of the church.  I had seen them earlier, but didn’t want to wake them.  I noticed Salvador wasn’t able to sleep so I walked toward him.  As I got close to him, he nudged Silvia with his right elbow to wake up.

Silvia is 41 and is originally from El Salvador.  Salvador is 29 and is from Mexico.  She’s been here since 1984, him since 2002.  They are both homeless and sleep near a church at 16th and O Streets in DC.  “We even made it through the big snow storms last winter,” Silvia told me in Spanish.  “In fact, Salvador made us a really good shelter by the church with all the snow.”  

Salvador works at a restaurant somewhere near Thomas Circle I believe.  She works downtown cleaning offices I believe.  “I’ve got to work,” Silvia said.  “I have to pay $130 every month in child support.”  She has three children between the ages of 16-18.  She told me that she became homeless after a “situation of domestic violence.”

Salvador was rather quiet.  Maybe he was skeptical of my kindness.  He did say that he became homeless three years ago.  

Both of them said they would buy food with their portion of the ten dollars.  “I’m going to get me something from Chipotle,” Silvia said with an electric smile.  

They used the $10 for food.

It was five o’clock.  Salvador headed over to the church to start preparing their shelter for the evening and I walked with Silvia to the Dupont Metro where she needed to catch the train to get to work.  I gave her a hug and wished her luck.

This couple needs some basic items for the winter…please check out the Lend a Hand section if you are able to help them out.

Read Full Post »

The Old Post Office Pavilion (photo: Reed)

How the Old Post Office Pavilion looked in 1911. Free tours of the 315 ft. tower are available daily.

I was strolling along Pennsylvania Avenue taking photographs when I was struck by the beautiful flowing flags in front of the majestic Old Post Office Pavilion.  Built in 1899, it houses a little known gem: the view from the clock tower.  Take a free tour of the tower and get an unparalleled 360 degree view. 

After snapping a few photographs, I continued on Pennsylvania Avenue where I found Dave enjoying an afternoon cigar break from his job in IT at the EPA.  He’s a ten-year veteran of the agency and walks the talk of technology.  “That’s an Archos,” he told me pointing at a handheld device he was browsing.  I hadn’t heard about them, but here is a picture of one of the models.

I offered Dave the ten bucks and he refused and suggested that I give it to someone more deserving.  “I’ve actually read about you I think in the Washington Post,” Dave said.  “Or somebody doing the same thing here in DC.”  I am pretty sure it’s just me doing it every day in DC.  If there is someone else out there…drop me a note!  We should meet up and exchange $10!

Dave enjoying a cigar on a beautiful autumn day. (photo: Reed)

I sat down next to Dave and let my back have a break from the weight I was carrying around in my backpack.  It was a gorgeous day and I was thrilled to take a minute and just soak in the serenity from Dave’s shaded vantage point along Pennsylvania Avenue.  

I talked to him a little more and convinced him to take the $10.  I’m getting better at this!  He said that he wouldn’t keep the money though; he preferred to give it someone else.

This is the handheld device Dave was using.

I found out that he’s married and a father to two boys.  One is in high school and the other is away at college.  “He claims it is going fine,” he says about the college freshman.

About this time a beggar walked up and asked for some money.  We were both silent and I was wondering if Dave would give him the $10.  Would I reach into my pocket and give him a few dollars.  But we both somewhat automatically shook our heads no and said that we were unable to help and he walked away.  Actually we were both able to help, but we didn’t.  This has happened before and I think it is interesting from a psychological point of view.  It’s a challenge to analyze this issue fairly in a city like Washington where you get asked probably two or three times a day minimum for money.

Dave could give George A. from Day 201 a run for the money in a Santa Claus beard competition. (photo: Reed)

After he left Dave explained that he was going to give his $10 to a homeless man that was usually at the corner of Constitution and 12

th.  “He always has a friendly hello,” Dave said.  “Every time I walk by him for almost two years; and he only ever asked for money once.  He just says hello.” 

I knew Dave needed to get back to work so I headed on my way.  Later that evening I went for a run and visited with John, the man who holds the signs in front of the Vatican’s embassy here in Washington.  He was doing well.  He has a new banner that he is holding and somebody hacked his website too he told me.  It was good to see him.  All in all, a great day.

UPDATE: 10/28/2010

Check out the comment below from Dave sharing what happened to the $10.  I got a very nice email from him as well today where he said something that I want to share: “I’ve said it to many people on many occasions but I don’t think I’ve ever meant it quite as much: keep up the good work.”  That means a lot to me.  Thanks Dave!

Read Full Post »

After 21 years with US Steel, drugs and alcohol have left Michael homeless. (photo: Reed)

In the early hours of October 5th I had just given my money to Alexander and Phaze.  I was talking to Alexander and getting my things together to leave because it was about 1:00am and I had to be at work in a few hours. Right then a guy pulled up on a Trek bicycle.  My initial thought was that the bike might have been stolen since it was missing the seat.  In a soft voice he approached me and said, “You want the real story?” He claimed that Alexander’s story was not representative of those facing real hardships on the streets.  “I don’t choose to be out here,” he said.  Although he was critical of Alexander’s choice to sell

StreetWise magazines, I support it.  I have seen how Street Sense here in DC has changed the lives of many individuals here in DC.  Michael was telling me that he was deserving of the $10 because of the hardships of his life.

So to give you an idea how this went down, I was filming Alexander and just let the camera running when Michael rolled up and started talking to me. Here is the raw unedited (with the exception of one part where we were interrupted) video from that conversation.

Michael said he goes daily to the labor lines in search of day work. “I get work probably once a week,” he told me.

Michael showed me the scars from where he was shot in Seattle. (photo: Reed)

He also told me that he survived a shooting in Seattle. Michael explained that it resulted from an incident where some other man pulled up the skirt of the woman he was with. He stood up for her and ended up getting shot six times. Michael pulled up his shirt to show me the wounds.

Michael's seatless bicycle (photo: Reed)

Before leaving Michael offered to give me the money back. I don’t really know why and I told him to keep it and he did. He said he was going to use it to buy food that week.
Right as I was packing up my stuff, another guy named Tim came by and also asked for money.  What is going on here?  Did someone tweet that a crazy guy was handing out money at Michigan and Randolph? Anyway, I politely told Tim no and headed home.

On my way home a filmed the following video debrief.

Tomorrow, it’s back to DC.

Read Full Post »

So you may have noticed that I have been slow posting blogs lately.  Well, I have been swamped.  But now something has complicated my blogging even more!  I have a FLIP Mino HD camera that I use to shoot my video.  It’s pretty awesome for the price range (about $200).  HOWEVER, there is one thing that drives me crazy and has now twice brought my blogging to a crawl.  Their current software versions only output the files in MP4 format.  Previous versions of the software made an automatic conversion to Windows Media Video (WMV).  The issue here is that the movie editor that comes with Windows and YouTube both don’t work with MP4 files, but do work with WMV.  So now I can not edit or upload my videos. 

I have spoken to their support team and they even rolled my software version back, but it has now automatically updated itself again.  Aghhh!!!  This cost me several hours last time it happened and will require several hours again.  Maybe I should get a new camera…any suggestions? 

So the bottom line is that I am skipping Days 295 and 296 for now.  Sorry…have had to jump to 297 since this entry has no video.

On Day 297 I tried to give my $10 to an older gentleman in front of the Verizon Center.  He refused and I walked a few blocks away to the corner of 9th and G Streets where I found Boyo.  That’s actually not his real name but he was not comfortable with me using that.  In fact he didn’t really want to share any details about himself.  He didn’t want pictures taken either. 

Boyo was selling the Street Sense newspaper in front of the Gallery Place Metro entrance.  Born in London, he moved to his parent’s birth country of Nigeria at the age of five.  At some point I guess he moved here, but he wouldn’t go into details about that.  Boyo, who I managed to learn was 45, talked about putting his life story together in the form of a book and said that once he did that we could read it and learn all that we wanted to about him.  But until then, he preferred to stay anonymous and advised me to speak with him through his “editor” which coincidentally is a person that I know.  Small world.

Anyway, I did get Boyo to tell me what he would use the money for.  He said he would get something to eat.

I gave him an extra dollar and bought one of his newspapers and caught the 42 bus home.

Read Full Post »

I gave my $10 away on Michigan Ave between Randolph and Lake (photo: Reed)

So today I broke a 293 day streak.  It was Monday, October 4th, 2010 and I failed to give away my $10.  Well, sort of.  I gave it away a few minutes after midnight.

As you might remember I got to Chicago on Day 293.  On Day 294 I was in meetings all day and then went to a work related dinner.  By the time dinner was over and I said goodbye to my colleague, it was almost midnight.  I had just a few minutes to find someone.  I headed east on Washington Street toward Millenium Park.  I was about five blocks away so I hustled down there.  On the way I saw a woman walking by herself. I tried to give my $10 her but she refused.  It’s particularly difficult to give to women by themselves during the middle of the night.  

I got to Michigan Avenue and decided to walk north.  The cold wind off the lake made it feel like it was in the 30s.  I later saw that the low that night was 45, so I probably wasn’t far off.  I was glad I had brought a light jacket along on my trip.  I checked my watch and saw that it was now about 12:15am.  Dammit, I failed to give it away before midnight.  I slowed down now and took my time.  The streets were a far contrast to the bustling foot and car traffic that filled them during the work day.  Taxi cab headlights lit up the shadowy office complexes that surrounded me. 

Alexander captures one of Phaze's pieces (photo: Reed)

Between Randolph and Lake I saw two guys sitting on empty milk crates playing chess.  I slowly approached them.  They ignored me…talking trash trying to distract the other’s next move.

Alexander finally noticed me and I said hello.  I wasn’t sure what to think.  All of a sudden I started realizing that it was probably not a good idea to just be venturing out in a city that I am not familiar with after midnight.  Although I go to plenty of unsafe areas of DC, I usually know where I am, have someone with me, and know exactly what I am going to do if I get into trouble.  Here I found myself not really knowing where I was and not knowing what to expect with these two guys.

Behind them were several cans of 16 ounce Steel Reserve 211 beer, some plastic grocery bags and a bicycle with a hooded sweatshirt draped over it.

Alexander told me that he was released from prison on August 18th.  “I’ve been in and out of prisons and correctional facilities since I was 13,” the 55-year-old told me.  Although he seemed harmless, there was something a little unnerving about reaching into my pocket and taking out my wallet in front of a life long criminal…but I did it anyway.  I gave each guy $5.00.

I started to take some notes and they both got very suspicious.  I mentioned I wanted to take some photographs too and they became even more skeptical.  “You are a cop, man.” Phaze told me.  He was convinced that I was with the police.  I showed them my DC driver’s license, but that didn’t help, now they thought I was with a federal agency.  You’ll love this though.  Alexander chimed in, “No, no, no.  He ain’t no cop.  You know what he looks like.  He’s a sorry ass public defender, that’s what he is.  And I should know, I’ve known a few of them.”  I loved that.

They stopped talking with me and redirected their attention to the match at hand.  

Alexander showing me his picture and poetry in StreetWise. (photo: Reed)

“You ought to buy one of his magazines,” Phaze, the 29-year-old chess challenger said to me breaking the silence.  Alexander reached over into one of the plastic bags and pulled out a copy of StreetWise, a street magazine similar to the Street Sense newspaper we have in DC.  These papers/magazines are designed to give employment opportunities to the homeless and poverty-stricken as well as provide valuable insight into the challenges they and others in their situation face today.  I am a big fan of Street Sense so when I saw that he was a vendor for StreetWise, I had to buy a magazine.  “They’re two dollars,” Alexander said. 

While I was searching for a few bucks Phaze shouted over for me to look at the last page.  “Check out whose picture is in there next to their poetry,” he told me.  It turned out to be a photograph of Alexander next to three poems that he had written.  When I get caught up with my blog posts you will meet a Street Sense vendor named David on Day 304 who is a former convicted felon who also took up writing and poetry while in prison.

Phaze before he started to spit. (photo: Reed)

In my wallet I had two $5 bills and a ten.  I gave him five knowing that there would be no change.  He tucked the money away and went back to the game.  Phaze knew his moves were numbered.  “He is really good,” Phaze said about Alexander’s chess ability.  “He usually beats me.” 

I am not really sure what Phaze does.  His passion is spitting or spoken word poetry.  It’s a cocktail of poetry, hip-hop and rap all mixed together.  After being defeated at chess, he asks me to buy one of his CDs.  He keeps trying to get me to buy the CD for $5.  In an effort to convince me to buy it, he gives me a sample of it.  On this video you can see Phaze, whose full name according to him is Phaze Da King, spitting.  At the end he gets a little bothered by my videotaping and hits the camera out of my hand.  It’s all on video.  Check it out!

I was ok and so was my camera.  After getting him to settle down some, I gave him $5 for his CD.  It doesn’t play in my CD player so I need to take it to a computer that has a CD tray so that I can listen to it.  

Spitting was not Phaze's only means of expression. (photo: Reed)

So what do you think these two guys told me that they were going to do with their respective five dollars?  Well, Alexander told me that he was probably going to use it to buy some more magazines to sell.  “Or I might use it to buy me some food before that…or a toupee!” he said letting out a deep laugh.  I looked over at Phaze and asked the same question.  “I’m gonna hold on to it and give it to my son who is supposed to be born on January 1, 2011,” he said.

It was now about 1:00am.  I was tired and had to get up early in the morning for more meetings.  But my night was not nearly over.  As I was leaving I met another guy named Michael who met Alexander while they were in prison.  As it was now after midnight, I decided to make him the recipient of Day 295 and will share his incredible story with you tomorrow!

Here is a short video of Alexander.

Read Full Post »

Nora's holds the distinction of being the first certified organic restaurant in the US.

Sorry for the delay in posting this week.  I appreciate all of your emails checking to see if I was ok!  I have been swamped at work, so I got behind.

Day 306 was was my father’s 70th birthday.  We took him to a restaurant near my house called Nora’s which has the distinction of being the first certified organic restaurant in the United States.

After our delicious dinner my father went with me to search the neighborhood for a $10 recipient.  Just a few blocks away along Connecticut Avenue we spotted a man inching his way down the street.  We would later find out that his slow gait was due to broken ankles and broken knees.

I stopped him and asked if he would accept the $10.  From beneath his black hooded rain poncho he spoke softly saying that he would accept my gift.  I proceeded to ask him a few questions but he said he was not comfortable answering any personal questions and did not want any photographs taken of him.  He offered to give them money back and I explained that the money was his to keep.

He was an African-American man who I suspected was in his 60s.  despite his slow walk he appeared in good health.  He had a stark white beard that seemed to block the words from getting out.  “I also have a dislocated organ,” he told us pointing to the left side of his abdomen.  Neither of us asked him to explain further.

He clenched the $10 in his worn hands.  I could see the dirt that had settled underneath his long fingernails. 

My dad and me at Nora's celebrating his 70th birthday! (photo: Ryan Sandridge)

“You can call me John I guess,” he told me in a way that I knew that wasn’t his real name.  John said I looked familiar and I thought for a moment that I might have already given my $10 to him earlier in the year, but after I spoke with him for a few minutes I was sure that I had not met him before. 

I told him that it was Dad’s 70th birthday.  “He’s got good skin,” he said in response.  He also said something about my father’s eyes.  I think he said that they were still well aligned, but Dad thinks he said that they were “alive.”  In either case, he made some nice comments about my dad. 

John says that he tries to write every day.  “Well, when it’s warm I come right here and write on these benches but when it gets cold I find a place indoors.”  I asked what he liked to write about and he explained that he had a book about verbs and he practiced making sentences where he put the verbs together with various statements.

He was carrying two plastic bags that contained some personal items.  He showed us bottles of multi-vitamins and Ensure.  “I take 3 multi-vitamins a day; I usually try to take them six hours apart however yesterday I took all three at the same time.”  He went on to say that every other day he drank a small bottle of Ensure.  “When I have a little extra money I usually spend it on vitamins or maybe a book.”

Since the conversation had circled back to money I decided to ask him what he planned on using the $10 for.  “To survive,” he said.  “I’m just going to use it to survive.”

The 42 bus rolled up and he said he was getting on.  He gave us both a fist bump and started inching his way toward the bus.  It took him a few minutes, but sure enough he got on and the bus pulled away disappearing into the traffic at Dupont Circle.

Read Full Post »

This Sunday is the 10th of October.  Inspired by the Year of Giving, a guy named Howard Wu created an event, Give a Stranger 10 Bucks Day.  Howard thought that the perfect day to do this would be October 10th since it is 10/10/10.  Why not join me and Howard and give $10 away this Sunday.  Click here to go to Howard’s event page.  Like the Worldwide Day of Giving, I encourage you to leave comments here or on the Facebook page about your experience.  Good luck!

Ernest has been out of work for nearly five years. (photo: Reed)

On Day 280 I saw Ernest holding a sign on the side of a very busy intersection in Virginia.  Born in Alexandria, VA, this 51-year-old used to work for the Alexandria School Board, but he has been unemployed for the past five years.  He now lives in motels.

“I started panhandling about a month and a half ago,” Ernest tells me.  “I was working on and off for a moving truck company.”  Now he stands on the corner of Lee Highway and Fairfax Road holding a sign that says, “I am homeless.  Does it hurt to give to someone in need.  Please help me if you can?  God bless.”

He says that on a good day he brings in about $90.

Now divorced, Ernest has a 30 year-old-son, two grandkids and three stepchildren.  “I try not to be a burden to any of my kids.”  He says that some people he knows don’t know that he is homeless, but admits that “the truth will set you free.”

“I’m not learning too much out here,” he confesses as a pick-up truck whizzes by him pushing him up against the guard rail.  “You get all kinds of people out here.”  A lot of people show him compassion and offer him some help, but others taunt him.  “You know some guys say stuff like, ‘Hey man you look healthy…get a job!’  I’m like, at least give me a smile or a wave or something.”

He says that it is really hard for him right now.  “I would much rather have a job.”  He would like to find work as a handyman, custodian or maintenance man.   

Although he says he is not learning much, I did find one thing he has learned.  He figured out where the best corner to stand was.  “I used to stand across the street and a few other places, but this has the most traffic,” he explains.  I was shocked that he chose the spot he did because there was only about 18 inches between him and the passing cars.  I jumped over on the other side of the guard rail while I spoke with him because I didn’t feel safe standing where he was.  

Ernest put the $10 I gave him toward the cost of his room that night.

Ernest used the $10 to pay for a motel room that night. (photo: Reed)

Before leaving, we swapped telephone numbers in case someone reading this would like to contact Ernest about a job.  I learned that in Arlington County if you fall below a certain economic indicator the county supplies you with a cell phone and a basic minutes plan.  This gives homeless individuals like Ernest a way for family, friends and potential employers to locate them.  Awesome!

Read Full Post »

Volunteers enabled SOME to prepare almost 400,000 thousand meals last year. (Photo: Thom Wolf)

Volunteering is an integral part of society.  It helps ensure that essential public services are provided, builds social capital and fosters cohesive communities all while benefiting the volunteer as well by giving them opportunities to acquire new skills, have sense of purpose and integrate them into their community.  I encourage everyone to find some volunteer activity to do at least once a month.  It doesn’t need to be formal either.  It could be as simple as raking your elderly neighbors leaves, helping someone learn to read, or offering to provide a professional service or trade that you are skilled in at no cost.  Former President Clinton said in his book Giving, “Almost everyone – regardless of income, available time, age, and skills – can do something useful for others and, in the process, strengthen the fabric of our shared humanity.” How true he was.

On Day 277 I was volunteering at So Others Might Eat (SOME), an organization that has impressed me tremendously.  For 40 years they have been feeding and clothing DC’s homeless and poor, treating the ill in their medical, dental and mental health programs, training individuals for jobs and housing those in need. 

It was a Friday morning and I was volunteering in their dining room.  They serve breakfast and lunch to a couple hundred people in a short span of time so things need to be done quickly and efficiently. 

Michelle will celebrate eight years of sobriety on October 16th! (photo: Reed)

This is where today’s recipient comes in.  In addition to being the Assistant Volunteer Coordinator, Michelle also is the Dining Room Manager.  In other words, while I am working in the dining room, she is my boss.  And let me tell you, she makes the place run.  She knows when not to take crap from someone but also knows when someone just needs a hug.  I even saw her take a minute to dance a little to the music that was playing and she’s got some moves!

Born in DC General Hospital, Michelle grew up in PG County.  She went to Largo High School and went on to study cosmetology.  But then things changed.  “I got into drugs and alcohol and let them override my education,” she explained.  “I was in and out of treatment, in and out of jail.  It was not a good situation.”  She became sober on October 16th, 2002 – same sobriety anniversary as Bob!  She worked a few jobs but really wanted to work at SOME.  “I applied and then was calling, calling, calling you know and I finally got the job!”

Michelle has three grown children and a grandchild.  She now lives on Capitol Hill, owns a vehicle and has a steady job that she enjoys.  “I am grateful for so many things.”

Michelle (right) with co-worker Brittany. (photo: Reed)

Michelle, who turns 48 in less than two weeks, says that it’s the little things that make her day.  “You know, sometimes people will come up to me and say ‘thank you, you helped me so much’ and that means a lot to me.”   She gets to know some of their guests very well.  “I’ve been to funeral services for some of them…in fact I’m going to one today.” 

She’s a people person.  “I think I’m funny,” she says with a smile.  She is and has a great smile, but she can be tough too.  “We don’t tolerate disrespect or disruptive behavior here.”  Just then a guest walks by and asks her a question.  She greeted them by saying, “Hello friend, what can I do for you?”  She calls everyone “friend.”  Michelle is one of those people that define the organization’s culture.  Weak organizations, especially service related organizations, lack people like Michelle.

SOME is located at 71 O Street in NW Washington DC. (photo: Reed)

The ten dollars I gave her would be spent on something small for herself.  “I’m going to be good to myself!”  She said she might get a sub from Subway.

If you are in the DC area and need a good place to volunteer, check out SOME.  Why not get a bunch of your friends or coworkers together and set up a day for you all to go and volunteer together.  More details on how you can help can be found here.

So Others Might Eat (SOME)
71 ‘O’ Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
Phone: 202.797.8806
www.some.org

Read Full Post »

Ismail sleeping in the foreground as a cyclist pedals by on Rock Creek Parkway. (photo: Reed)

I made my way back from Pennsylvania to DC on Tuesday.  It was such a beautiful drive home that I thought I should get outside and go for a bike ride.  I got my Moleskine notebook, my camera, $10 and my audio recorder together and packed my Swiss Army backpack and headed out on my bike toward the Potomac River.  

It was a perfect day.  The sun was shining and people were out running and biking.  As I got close to the river I saw lots of people practicing crew and

Ismail still trying to wake up. (photo: Reed)

others just leisurely enjoying the calm waters.  About 100 yards from the manicured grounds of the Kennedy Center I found a man taking a nap on a shaded patch of grass on the northern bank of the Potomac. 

I cautiously approached him, trying to make a little bit of noise so that I didn’t startle him, and called out, “Excuse me.  I’m sorry to bother you, but do you have a minute.”  Ismail slowly roused from a groggy state.  He rubbed his eyes and wet his lips as he studied me and we slipped into an hour-long conversation about his life, politics, religion, economy and one Don Vito Corleone.

“I came here from Sudan 26 years ago to meet Marlon Brando,” Ismail says fighting off a cough.  He shares that he has seen all of Brando’s movies.  He is especially fond of Sayanora (1957) and the classic The Godfather (1972).  To Ismail, Brando was not just an actor, but much more.  “His movies had meaning and Brando himself stood for things.  His movies didn’t have any garbage.”  Still fighting off the sleep, he admits that he unfortunately never got to meet his idol.

I dug around in my backpack for my Moleskine notebook where I take notes about the people I meet.  It also has a handy folder where I keep my ten dollars and cards that I give people.  I realized I had left the book on my kitchen counter.  Shoot.  I checked my wallet, all I had was two twenties and four singles.  Hmmm. What to do?  Well, I will just offer him $20.

A crew team glides by behind Ismail. (photo: Reed)

“Oh!  I’ve read about you.  I remember you.  There was a story about you in the Washington Post several months ago,” he says taking off his black modern looking glasses.  “But you normally give $10, right, let me give you $10 change,” he offered.  I told him to keep the extra ten; it would make for an interesting deviation in my giving.

“Did you think that I would ever find you,” I asked.  

“If I tell you, you’re not going to believe me, but I was thinking about you two days ago,” he says.  He had read an article somewhere about a guy who gave some money to a homeless guy in Rosslyn and he thought that perhaps it was me.  I don’t think it was, but you never know.  I have given to some people in Rosslyn which is just across the Potomac river.

Ismail originally came to the US from Sudan, the largest country in Africa and the Arab world.  It’s a unique country in that it has nine neighbors with a variety of different cultures, religions and languages.

His move to the US was related to his work with the League of Arab States.  18 years ago, he left the organization and began driving a cab in DC.  He recently was forced to stop driving his cab after racking up thousands of dollars of unpaid fines.  He got his license revoked and had to give up his taxi cab.  That was six months ago.  “I sent my wife and son home to Sudan and moved out of our apartment to save money,” the father of three said.  He tried the shelters but said that the conditions are so poor in most shelters that he prefers to sleep on the streets of DC.  “I am saving money to pay the fines, so I don’t need to have extra things to pay such as rent right now.”  He talks of a nice facility on Wisconsin Avenue where they allow eight individuals per day to shower there.  “I go there and sometimes even receive mail there.” 

Ismail has been homeless for six months. (photo: Reed)

He said he owed almost $5,600 in fines.  I never fully understood how he accumulated these fines or what they were for.  “I offered to pay them $150 per day every day at eight o’clock, but they said I had to pay everything at once, which I can not do.”  He says he has saved up a couple thousand dollars through working as a dish washing but still needs approximately $2,075.  Although he didn’t ask, I said maybe some of the readers of the Year of Giving would be able to help him.  He at first declined this offer saying that he was healthy and could work so he didn’t need to receive any assistance from others, but then said, “Well, I would accept the help with one condition.  If they would send me their name and address as well so that I can pay them back once I get my cab back.”  I believe he was sincere with this promise.

“I’m going to put your twenty dollars toward the money I owe,” he told me.  

Ismail laughs easily. (photo: Reed)

We chatted about the challenges of being homeless.  Ismail paused as a plane on final approach to Reagan National Airport passed overhead before saying, “Even if someone is homeless or crazy, he still has dignity.  He still needs to be listened to.”  He said that if you take a person’s dignity away they don’t have anything left.  I agree.  It reminds me of Anthony from Day 6, a homeless man who I met sitting in the snow near Dupont Circle Metro who was sending Christmas cards to his family members.  “I still have my pride,” Anthony told me last December.  

I enjoyed my time with Ismail and I know I will see him again.  If anyone wants to help him, let me know, I have his cell phone number.

Read Full Post »

Today’s blog marks the countdown of the final 100 days of my Year of Giving.  Hard to believe that I have given away $2,650, met 265 incredible people and written 265 blog posts about the amazing journey that I embarked on December 15th of last year.   I wanted to take a moment and just thank every one that has been a part of my year.  From the recipients to the readers to my family and friends to the journalists to those who have sent items for the Lend a Hand project, you all have helped shape the journey.  Thank you.

The Kipona Festival in Harrisburg dates back to 1916. (photo: Reed)

Day 265 takes place on Sunday September 5th in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  My father and I drove over to the Kipona Festival along the sparkling shores of the Susquehanna River.  The festival features a variety of food, children’s theatres, educational activities, arts and crafts, boat races, concerts and fireworks.

Some come to Kipona just for the food. (photo: Reed)

We strolled by hundreds of tents full of arts and crafts, food vendors and families enjoying the festivities.  There were several people who I thought about giving my $10 to.  There was Scott Matyjaszek, a 3-dimensional photographic artist who hand cuts all the photographs and then layers them to create what he calls “photo-reliefs.”  His work was really impressive.  You can check it out at www.artephax.com, however, I doubt you can fully appreciate his work since it is in fact the 3-D element that makes it so unique.  There was also a young guy from Tennessee grilling some chicken that he marinated in oil, lemons and other spices.  And I also thought about giving the money to Patty Hankin from Bethesda, MD who was there displaying some of her beautiful photographs of flowers.

James with the Walnut St. Bridge in the background. (photo: Reed)

But sometimes I feel like I don’t really choose.  The recipients choose me.  This is what happened when 42-year-old James asked me for money as I was shooting some photographs of the Walnut Street Bridge that connects City Island to Harrisburg.

James said he has been homeless for the past three and a half months and sleeps along the bank of the Susquehanna River.  A graduate from Shippensburg University, he told me that he had fallen on tough times after being arrested for various charges including theft and DUI.  On top of that, his girlfriend died unexpectedly.  All of this caused him to lose his job as a funding/benefits coordinator.

“People sometimes don’t believe that a white college educated guy like me could be homeless, but I am,” James told me.  He says that he lives off of panhandling and $150 a month that his brother, a television news producer in Washington, DC, sends him.

James said that he slept on the river bank near where this photo was taken. (photo: Reed)

James seemed nervous and said that needed to go.  “I’m not going to lie to you, I am going to get me a sandwich at Sandwich Man and probably buy a cheap pack of menthol cigarettes.”  He hurried off.

Just then my father, who had walked a few yards away to get out of the sun, introduced me to a gentleman sitting on a stone wall a few steps from where I met James.  He gave me his business card and introduced himself as the chief of police from a neighboring community.  He saw James approaching several individuals.  “I tried to get your attention when he came up to you.  I didn’t want you to get scammed.”  The off duty chief said that he positioned himself right next to me in case anything happened.  That was really nice of him to keep an eye out for me.

People often ask me if I believe everything that people tell me.  Of course not, but I try to give people the benefit of the doubt.  Although I have faith in humanity, there was something about James and his story that didn’t sit well with me.  He seemed so anxious to get going once he got the $10.  Perhaps he was really hungry.  Or maybe he has some addiction issues and went off to get his fix.  Or maybe he just noticed the police chief paying attention to him and felt uneasy.  Who knows?  It really doesn’t matter for the most part.  I am practicing unconditional giving, so the recipients can do anything they want with the money.  I would like to hope that people are usually honest with me though.

Read Full Post »

Just after midnight on Sunday morning I was on my way home when I was approached by two men as I walked through Dupont Circle.  Tyrone approached me and said that his friend wanted to talk to me.  His friend, Josh, approached me and they invited me to join them in threesome!  Oh my God.

I got a bit nervous and kept walking to a more lit area.  The two men followed me there and I tried to change the subject and told them about my project and offered them the $10.  They weren’t interested in the ten spot. I said goodbye and headed home.  Never a dull moment living in Dupont.

Dupont Farmer's Market (photo by Reed)

The next morning I got up early and headed over to the Dupont Farmers Market.  I weaved in and out of the various vendor stalls and looked for someone that caught my eye.  I didn’t find the right person though.  And it was really hot and I was getting impatient.

I left the market and just as I crossed the street I saw David selling the Street Sense newspaper on the corner of Q Street and Connecticut Avenue.

David started working for Street Sense on June 13th (photo by Reed)

Originally from Western Kenya near Lake Victoria, David came to the United States in 1997.  He was working in banking at the time and thought that Delaware would be a good place to live to learn about corporations since most companies are incorporated in the “First State.”  He later moved to DC in 2000.

At first he stayed with a professor friend here in DC while he studied at Strayer University.  He hoped to eventually become a doctor.  “I like medicine a lot.  I even used to volunteer at George Washington Hospital,” David said with a pronounced British accent.  He went on to talk about genetics.  “They are the key to living longer, eliminating disease and improving intelligence.”  In five years he hopes to be a medical researcher.

Like many Street Sense vendors, David is homeless.  However, unlike many of the other homeless that I have met, he chooses to sleep in shelters.  He currently stays at the Mitch Snyder shelter at 2nd and D Streets.  Mitch Snyder was a homeless advocate who was the subject of a 1986 made-for-television movie starring Martin Sheen.  After nine years of homelessness David says that shelters in DC are improving.  “There’s been a lot of changes that started in 2004, like installation of air conditioning, spraying for bugs and improved services.”

It’s been 13 years since he left Kenya.  He said that he misses the food.  “A typical meal back home is broiled or roasted corn.  We put lemon pepper on the corn and eat it with coffee or tea.”

One of six children and the only son, David has lost touch with most of his family.  “The last time I saw my dad was 1985, my mom raised us.”  He said he would like to know what happened to his father: Tom Nyamongo.  “I know that he went to Harvard in the 1980s, but he had some type of government job and his life was quite secretive.”  He hasn’t spoken to his mother in several years.  Although he hasn’t been able to confirm this, a sister of his told him in 2001 that she had passed away.

David has been homeless since 2001. (photo by Reed)

In addition to learning more about his parents, David would like to find a cousin of his that was like a big brother to him.  His name is Ben Bella Jaoko and he is in his mid forties today according to David.  “He moved to Poland in the 1980s to study.  With the internet today maybe somebody can find him,” he said with hope in his voice.

Before saying goodbye, David told me that he was going to use the $10 to buy him a nice meal consisting of some Italian sausages and some bread, a beer and put the rest toward a pack of cigarettes.

Although I met David at Connecticut and Q, he says that he is usually at 17th and K if you would like to stop by and say hello.

UPDATE 10/04/2011: Since my initial encounter with David, the most incredible thing has happened. Someone who was going to a job interview at a company in Poland Googled the hiring manager for the job to learn a little more about him – something we all do today, right? The hiring manager’s name was Ben Bella Jaoko!

Well, would you believe he found my post about his cousin David and at the end of the interview asked Ben if he knew that he had a cousin in the U.S. who was looking for him. Completely shocked, Ben wasted no time contacting me and we connected by phone and I put him and David in contact.

From that moment on Ben worked tirelessly to make arrangements for David to get back to Kenya to be reunited with his family.

This morning as I sat working away at my kitchen table, I got a phone call from Ben. I didn’t immediately recognize the voice but when I heard David’s name mentioned I connected the dots. “I’ve managed to raise enough money to purchase the airfare for David to come back to Kenya,” he told me. He explained to me the rest of the details and asked for my help to take him to the airport and help pay for luggage fees, etc. I am sure there will be some other incidentals that will come up too as he prepares to return to Nairobi. If you would like to help us reunite David with his family you can donate $10 by clicking HERE or the yellow DONATE button on the top right side of this page.

We hope to have everything completed for David to depart by the end of the month. With your help, we can make that happen!

I hung up the phone and sat for a moment in silence in my apartment. All because of a simple blog post that I made back a little over a year ago David has is about to leave the streets of Washington to be reunited with his family. This is what it is all about!

UPDATE 11/15/2011: David will be flying home to Kenya on Tuesday, November 22nd. He has been away for nearly 15 years. Thanks to so many of you who have offered to help support these efforts. I have organized a going away party for David on Monday evening at One Lounge (1606 20th Street, NW – Dupont) in DC from 5:30-8:00pm. Please stop by and meet David before he embarks on this exciting new stage of his life. We will also be accepting donations if you would like to contribute to covering some of the costs associated with getting David back home. I hope to see you next Monday!!

 

Read Full Post »

I invited Bob to a coffee at a nearby coffee shop so Bob could sit down and rest his back. (photo: Reed)

I originally walked right by Bob who was holding himself up by leaning against a pole and supporting the rest of his weight with a walker at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and R Street.  I crossed the street but couldn’t stop thinking about what his story was.  I turned around and went back and placed ten dollars in his hand.

“I’ve got a bad lower back which is inoperable,” Bob shared.  “I fell down a flight of stairs in 1977…each year it gets worse.”  There was something special about Bob, I don’t know if I knew exactly what it was immediately but I did perceive something really unique.  I have to admit that when I first walked by him I assumed that he was panhandling to get some money to buy booze.  But I would soon find out that he has been sober for nearly 25 years.

Part of me doesn’t want to write anymore and just tell you to watch the video I shot of him.  It’s one of the most moving videos I have shot of any of the people that I have met.  Bob opens up to me about being adopted, an upbringing void of love, 30 years of addiction to alcohol and a slew of drugs, family hardships and 20 nervous breakdowns.  His vulnerability and genuine candor will touch you.  I have watched this video probably a dozen times and forced my dad to watch it this weekend.  He too was in awe.

Bob tells me that he has good days and bad days.  Sometimes he spends weeks at a time in a depressed state.  I definitely caught Bob on a good day.  No less than six people stopped by, I kid you not, and said hello to Bob while we chatted.  Two or three of them made a specific comment about how happy he looked.  I’d like to think I was a part of that, but he might just have been having a good day.  If you were curious how many people stopped to say hello to the guy who gives away $10 every day…that number would be zero!

Ruth is Bob's birth mother. Ann was the mother who raised him. Bob would like to know what happened to his birth mother Ruth Lucas (photo: Reed)

He goes into a lot of detail about drug induced binges he embarked on in the 60s and 70s.  “I just wanted to drink, shoot dope and have a little sex occasionally,” he told one psychologist in the early days of his recovery attempts.  After dozens of failed attempts at sobriety he finally succeeded with the help of others and will be celebrating 24 years of sobriety on October 16th of this year.  I asked him if I could see him on that day and he said that that would probably be OK.  “So what’s the secret to finally beating the addiction,” I asked.  Bob looked down for a second and then looked up and said, “Well, you just have to do two simple things: stop drinking and change your whole fucking life!”  He managed a smile and laughed softly despite him realizing the bitter and all too familiar truth of what he had just said.
At one point a stunningly beautiful young woman stopped by and said hello to Bob.  “Are you going to play piano tonight?” she asked referring to an open mic session at an outreach ministry based coffee-house.  She had hoped that maybe he would play some music that she was going to bring but Bob said he didn’t feel comfortable doing that.  “I just know a few notes,” he humbly offered.  “I was hoping to play a song tonight that I wrote.  It’s a love song I wrote to my daughter.  I love her so much.”  He went on to tell me more about his daughter and it was so clear how much he loves and cares for her.  He lives in the basement of her house but their relationship is clearly strained.  He says that she has an alcohol addiction.  “There is always hope, look at me.  It took me 30 years though.”

I spent almost two hours with Bob.  I learned so much and every topic we spoke about he had something interesting to contribute.  I am so impressed with his overall attitude toward life.  “Desire nothing and you will have everything,” he says referencing the teachings of St. John of the Cross.  “Buddha said something similar, ‘Human desires are the cause of all human sufferings.’”

I caught a rare smile. Bob will use my $10 to help pay his rent. (photo: Reed)

I hope that you took the time to watch the video above.  It’s worth it and if you know anyone who is struggling with an addiction or even well into recovery I think they will find it very insightful.  One thing he says about recovery at the end of the video clip that I think is priceless is, “It takes time and a lot of alcoholics don’t want to wait.  It takes time, it’s a process, recovery is a process.  They want what they want when they want it.  They want it right now. They want 15 years of recovery in a month.  It doesn’t work that way.  You got to be patient.”

As we said goodbye he left me with a single thought.  “Tell someone today that you love them.”  Invaluable advice.

Read Full Post »

Harvey, 42, suffers from mental illness and has been homeless for about a year. (photo: Reed)

On any given night some 671,000 people in the United States, of which 5,320 are located in DC, are homeless according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.  Harvey is one of them.

I saw him sitting on the ground next to the entrance to McDonald’s on M Street between 19th and 20th Streets in Northwest.  On his lap was a sign that read, “A man in need is a man without greed.  Please help.”  Next to him was a styrofoam container of food and a bag of personal items.

I met Harvey while he was eating lunch. (photo: Reed)

“I’ve been homeless here in DC for about a year now,” Harvey tells me as he eats some ribs that he purchased for his lunch.  Originally from Lancaster, PA, Harvey said he came down to DC with the hope of a job but his plans were shot after being robbed at Union Station upon arriving here.  “I lost everything I had – some $2,600 in cash.” 

He says that he feels lucky in the sense that people often help him.  “I usually get about $30 a day out here.”  Harvey says that gets support from people from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds and races with one exception: Asians.  “I don’t know why but Orientals never help me out.”  He goes on to tell me that people who appear to be lower glass give more often than those who appear to be middle and upper class.

As we talked two people stopped to help Harvey out.  One was a young attractive professional who dropped some coins in his cup as she walked by.  The other was a British woman who stopped and asked if she could get him some food.  A few minutes later Jane returned from the McDonald’s with a bag that contained a Big-Mac, fries and a chocolate milkshake.  She even gave him the change from whatever amount she had used to pay for the food.  I asked her why she helped and she said that she felt very fortunate and that the least she could do is help someone else out.  “He’s down on his luck and I am able to help him out, that’s it.”

Harvey says that he has noticed that people’s response varies on the sign that he uses.  “One time I had a sign that said, ‘Please spare help for a worthless piece of shit.’  I made $60 that day.”  Although he was happy for the money he made that day, he stopped using the sign.  “I’m not a worthless piece of shit though; it’s hard to sit here behind that sign when you know that isn’t the truth.”

photo: Reed

He says that being on the streets has taught him survival skills.  “You have to take care of yourself, especially in the winter.  You learn how to use things like cardboard to help you stay warm.”  He also told me that he often has to shower in public fountains.  “I just bought some soap today, I try to stay clean.”

Harvey, who says he has five sisters and three brothers, isn’t in regular contact with most of his family.  “They don’t care about others.”  He also doesn’t seem to have any friends in DC.  “I don’t associate with too many people.”

He goes on to say that some of his challenges are a result of his mental illness.  “Most homeless suffer from sort of mental problem or physical problem.  I’m bipolar.”  Harvey says that he has often thought about committing suicide.  He doesn’t take any medication to help with his mental illness either.

He told me that he was going to use the ten dollars to get him some food over the next couple days and also buy a couple of beers for the evening.  “I don’t do any drugs or hard liquor.  The hard stuff makes me suicidal,” Harvey confessed. 

I shook his hand and wished him luck.  He mentioned some items that he needs and I have added them to the Lend a Hand page.

If you would like to help the homeless in Washington, DC, I encourage you to support your local Street Sense vendor or make a donation through their website.

Read Full Post »

Those who have followed my blog for a while know that I give to all kinds of people.  Well, today’s post is proof of that.  It was an evening full of interesting characters.

I saw tall lanky African American man wearing a hat, sweatshirt, jacket and suit trousers who was randomly walking up to people and saying things to them and then walking away.  His unpredictable behavior and use of a sweatshirt and jacket in near 90+ degree temperatures peaked my interest.  As I walked up to him I was greeted by him saying, “Did the good old boys send you from Texas or Tennessee?”  I tried to make sense of his question but couldn’t and responded, “My name is Reed and I was wondering if you would like to be part of my project…”  He put his hand on my shoulder, something he most have done twenty or thirty times throughout our conversation, and said, “I bet you don’t know where to find you some Japanese ninjas do you?”  Before I could tell him that he was right about that he continued, “I trust the Japanese more than I trust my own people, and that’s the end of that now.”

A homeless man rests his head on a briefcase on the streets of DC (photo: Reed)

This was the beginning of a 30 minute bizarre conversation that was impossible to follow.  It was like taking a Quentin Tarantino flick, translating into another language and then watching it backwards.  I don’t have any pictures or video of Frederick because he was completely paranoid about his image being captured.  I did however manage to rather stealthily turn on my audio recorder that was in my backpack at one point and captured some of the tirades.  If anyone knows a simple way to upload an audio file on WordPress, let me know, I tried and it only seems to accept video.  I know there are some conversion products, but I have not had good luck with some of them.

Few pieces of Frederick’s discourse were coherent.  He rarely answered my questions, preferring to jump to a completely different subject.  Here are a sample of items that I did manage to comprehend.  He claims to:

- be a direct descendent of our 14th president, Franklin Pierce

- have served in the 18th Military Police Criminal Investigation Division for six years

- have worked for the US Postal Service

- be protected by ninjas

- know about secret German laboratories located through a system of tunnels under NYC

- be homeless and live near the Russian embassy (for security reasons)

Surprisingly I did manage to get a clear answer about what he would do with the $10.  “I’m going to buy lottery tickets.  It’s a tax write-off,” he explains.  Hmmm, not sure I agree with him on the tax write-off, but by this time I was not surprised at all by anything he said.

The rest of my time with Frederick was spent tangentially jumping from subject to subject.  It was difficult to make any sense of it, but I did start writing down topics that he spoke about.  Here is a sample of the items (in order as he mentioned them) that he talked about: Manuel Noriega, Marion Barry, Vietnam war, drugs, race, Philippines, Spanish, Obama, Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Christmas cards, South Carolina, Castro, KGB, Charlie Rangel, plagiarism, Mozambique, Florida, Turkestan, Jews and Alexander Pushkin.  On top of all this he fist bumped me at least two dozen times throughout his ramblings.  If you can make a coherent statement weaving all of these items together in that order, please send it to me!

He stopped at one point and I decided this was my time to make an exit.  I thanked him for his time and got my things together.  “So, when are you going to deploy?” he asked.  I assured him that I wasn’t deploying anywhere, shook his hand and went on my way…but my interesting evening wasn’t over yet.  As I said goodbye I heard someone imitating the sound of a cat.  They were meowing really loud.  I spotted a twenty or thirty-something white guy with really unkempt hair slowly making his way along the sidewalk.  He was about 15 feet away from me screaming his lungs out.  People began changing their path just to avoid getting close to him.  If this wasn’t weird enough, another white guy, about sixty years old, ran past both me and the crazy cat man shooting at us with a water gun.  I looked up at the moon, but it wasn’t full.

Nonetheless, it was really late and walking home was probably not a good idea so I found a cab, jumped in the back and breathed a sigh of relief.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 323 other followers