This one is a long one… go get yourself a cup of tea.
I met up with some former work colleagues today. It’s great to reconnect and hear how things are going for them. On my way home, I came across a heavily bearded gentlemen sporting a hiking style backpack.
Ron, a 40-year-old California native, says he has been in DC for almost 3 months. He had hitchhiked his way from Phoenix to DC and hopes to continue on to Massachusetts after brunt of winter passes.
After a long period of not finding work he found himself on the streets two years ago. Ron says he is a good skilled laborer and has experience operating various types of equipment.
We stood talking in the sub-zero temperatures for nearly 40 minutes. Ron is easy to talk to and opens up to me very quickly. He said it’s harder to get work as he gets older. I told him that 40 wasn’t that old. He shifted his weight from one side to the other and paused a little before speaking. “I always want to know, how old do you really want to be? I don’t think I really want to be past 60. A lot of people say they do, I just don’t.” This was so sad to hear. I found myself wishing I had some background in psychology and started to ask him some questions about his upbringing.
At the age of three, Ron’s natural parents, whose names he does not know, gave him up. He bounced around five different foster homes throughout his younger years. He does not have a solid relationship with his last foster family. He even says that he doesn’t truly have a legal last name that he knows of. He uses the last name of his last foster family; however, he was never legally adopted by them.
There is a lot of pain deep inside him some place. I decide to change the subject.
In DC he supports himself by performing day labor and panhandling. He usually goes to the Home Depot off Rhode Island Ave. and hopes to get picked up by work crews. On days he panhandles he brings in about $30 per day. “DC is tough,” he tells me as he mentions cities where one can receive a lot more money panhandling. Salt Lake City and Las Vegas are much better according to Ron. He says that a $100 day is not uncommon in Las Vegas, although he explains that panhandling on the strip is prohibited.
Although Ron is living on the streets, he is a part owner of a house in California. He and some of his foster brothers went in together on a house years ago, however, right now given the housing market lull, he doesn’t believe he will see any of that money for some years. Although he doesn’t have a roof over his head, Ron is not bitter about his situation. He points out that he often sleeps very comfortably in a little covered area just off of Dupont Circle. As he describes the place, I realize he is describing the place where I found Ayalew. I start to describe him to Ron and he immediately confirms that it is my friend from Day 20.
So what is Ron going to do with my $10? “I’ll probably get a little bit of food and maybe do some laundry,” he replies. Then he changes his mind as he recalls that it is supposed to snow later in the evening. He avoids laundry before snow/rain storms that end up getting him wet and dirty. He then says, he might spend part of it on some alcohol.
Despite Ron being extremely lucid, there was the distinct scent of alcohol on his breath. He admits that he has an alcohol addiction and says that he was drinking earlier in the day. In fact, he goes on to share that his drinking that afternoon resulted in him receiving a citation for having an open container of alcohol in public. He unfolds the citation and shares it with me. Would you believe how much the fine was for? $10! I said, “Hey, now you have money to pay the fine.” He smiles and says that he fully intends on paying the fine because if he fails to do so and gets a subsequent ticket he potentially could be arrested.
His entire encounter with the police department was quite interesting. They asked him for ID and he showed them his DC ID card. He showed me as well. On the ID is a clean-shaven version of Ron. His address is listed at 309 E Street. “Is that where you live?” I asked. He explained it was a Day Center where he sometimes goes. “What should I put on the card?” he fired back. “Bench next to Fountain, Dupont Circle, Washington, DC?” He went on to explain that the confrontation with the police department went on for more than an hour. Two additional units were called in for back-up since they could not find his name in the system. He offered to leave the area many times, but they insisted on giving him a ticket. He felt that this was unfair based on the fact that on New Year’s Eve he said there were some youths that were setting off illegal fireworks at Dupont Circle and the police came and didn’t even write them a citation. “I wasn’t doing anyone any harm, those fireworks could have actually hurt someone.”
Ron had been very generous with his time and I felt that I should let him get on his way. I had one last question for him. “What would you like the general public to know about people who are in your situation?” He thought for a while and said that he hoped that people would understand that many people get to be homeless. Many more, he goes on to say, are 1-2 pay checks away from being homeless. As I was getting ready to leave he reminded me of the Day Center at 309 E Street where he says I will see first hand some of the struggles people are having. “Take a body-guard though, it’s pretty rough there.” Hmmm, I will have to think about that. He also mentions that he goes to Miriam’s Kitchen, an organization that offers homemade meals and high-quality support services to more than 4,000 homeless men and women each year. I checked them out and they seem to be a good operation. I asked him if he had ever received meals from S.O.M.E.? He said he had in the past. I brought it up because I have volunteered there and also started a corporate social responsibility program for a former employer that involved donating our time at S.O.M.E.
I put my notebook away and asked if I could take a picture of Ron. He said sure, and I got a picture of him holing his $10 police citation! I couldn’t hold back my grin from the serendipitous timing of me giving him $10.