Happy Worldwide Day of Giving!!!
Posts Tagged ‘Dupont Circle’
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.
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!”
Day 364…just one more day after today’s blog post to come full circle with my year-long commitment. But this movement will continue on. This weekend an important new chapter will begin for the Year of Giving. Our first Kindness Investor will start blogging about her giving experience. I can’t wait for you to meet Melinda and the amazing people she meets each day when she gives away $10.
I found today’s recipient as I left the Starbucks at Dupont Circle. Roman was getting ready to get on his bicycle when I approached him and asked him to accept my $10.
Roman, originally from Kiev, Ukraine, is a night club promoter here in DC. He’s also a student at Strayer University where he studies business administration.
It was one of the coldest days of the year. I kept our conversation brief as I could feel the blood flowing through my veins turning to ice. Ok not really, but you get the idea. Anyway, the 24-year-old said he was going to use the money to buy some coffee during the week.
Before saying goodbye, I invited him to the Year of Giving Anniversary Celebration the following evening. He rode off on his bike and I hurried home.
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.”
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.
If you are in DC this morning, get off your computer and run down to the mall and check out the Help the Homeless Walkathon sponsored by Fannie Mae. If you can’t get out there and still want to help, you can donate by clicking here and selecting your favorite local organization. I didn’t see Street Sense on the list, which many of you know I support. They are a small organization that uses their funds wisely and are in need of support…click here to directly donate to DC’s only homeless newspaper.
Today’s recipient I found at Dupont Circle around 8pm on a Sunday night. Sandra is from La Puente, California. La Puente is just east of Los Angeles and north of Anaheim. After attending mass at St. Matthews, her sister Aida went searching for a Whole Foods while Sandra waited for her on a picturesque park bench in earshot of the soothing fountain at Dupont Circle. “She’s a health nut,” Sandra said referring to Aida. Then they were planning to go watch Trick or Treaters. Yeah, I know what you are thinking, “Reed is really behind on posting his blogs.” You would be correct. This is from October 31st!
I asked Sandra what brought her to DC. “I’m in town because she is attending a conference here, the NCURA or something like that!” It turns out she remembered correctly, it’s the National Council of University Research Administrators.
Our Metro system here in DC is pretty good – when it is working! They had arrived the day before and took the Metro from Reagan National Airport to Dupont. Well, it turned into an awful ride because they arrived while the hundreds of thousands of rally-goers were trying to get downtown to see Jon Stewart at the Rally to Restore Sanity. “People were mean,” she said. “It was a big mistake.”
Our attention was occasionally side tracked by someone walking by in costume. There were a lot of people dressed up as bananas? What the hell is that all about?
Anyway, Sandra is one of the 14.8 million people who are unemployed in the United States. After her mother passed away in May of 2009, she found herself a little lost and unsure what she wanted to do. She ended up quitting her job last February to go and live with her father. “He’s much better now,” she told me.
“I was doing procurement work and I am not sure that is what I want to do now although I have a lot of experience doing that. I’m kind of reevaluating my life right now I guess.” I encouraged her to make the leap and try something she is passionate about. “I just don’t know what that is though right now,” she said. I think that is pretty common. I am very fortunate right now to have two jobs that are mentally and emotionally rewarding. It’s not worth it in the long run just to go in to work every day just to get a paycheck, although sometimes we find ourselves having to do that to keep the electricity on or to feed our family.
She told me she was going to use the money to help someone else out. I’m hoping she will update us here on what happened to it.
Sometimes when I approach people at night, especially women, they are intimidated. You have to be careful. She made me laugh when I asked her if she was intimidated when I approached her. “No, not really.” Hmm…it’s a good thing I didn’t choose bank robbing or something like that for a profession.
The temperature was dropping and I was sure Sandra was chilly being from Southern California. She was well dressed though; she had on a dark coat and gloves. Aida arrived and we chatted briefly before I excused myself. Sandra didn’t want her picture to be taken…so no photo for you today.
As I walked through Dupont Circle the other day I saw Amanda sitting on a bench eating her lunch. “I normally go to the Greek deli on 19th and M but today I went to Moby Dick’s and got the gyro platter,” she told me. The spot where she was sitting was ideally located in a shady part of the circle. It was one of those beautiful fall days that are warm enough that you don’t need a coat during the day.
“I’m half Jewish half Mexican,” she tells me. “And I grew up in an all black neighborhood in Chicago. She and her husband moved here from the Windy City for her husband’s job in government. She now works for a non-profit that focuses on assisting Hispanics pursue higher education. Although she likes DC her dream is to live in New York City. “And own a doggie day-care!” she said adding that they had a rescue Boxer-Pit Bull mix.
I was really touched by something she shared. Amanda said that her mother was disowned by her family when she married her father, a then illegal immigrant from Mexico. Now separated from her father, her family still has not accepted her mother even after 25 years! That just seems crazy to me. Family is family and you should be able to count on them unless you’re killing people or something like that.
Would you believe that I am not sure what happened to her $10! I know, I’m slipping. Almost three weeks have passed since I met Amanda so my recollection is fuzzy. I know she said she was thinking about buying flowers for her office…but I don’t know if that is what she settled on, so hopefully she will fill us in!
Help me out Amanda!
Thanks for all the warm wishes about what would have been my mother’s 67th birthday yesterday. Your emails and comments here and on Facebook meant a lot to me. Thanks!
The Starbucks to people ratio in DC is off the charts. I got to walk nearly eight blocks to get to a grocery store, and not even a very good one, but coffee, no problem, they’re everywhere! Too bad I don’t drink much coffee because there are six Starbucks within a five block radius of my house. Donville works at one of them.
I ran into him while he was on his break. Originally from Long Island, New York, Donville has recently started there as a barista. “I love it,” he told me. “The best thing is connecting with people and building a relationship with the community.”
His father is Dominican so Donville grew up speaking some Spanish. “It’s helpful when you can speak to someone who is not comfortable speaking in English,” he said.
Donville came to DC to study at Howard University, but after a year and a half he decided to put things on hold for a while. Although he doesn’t have any family here he seems to like DC quite a bit. Speaking of family, he told me that he was going to put my $10 toward a trip home to New York to see his family during the holidays. “I’d actually like to go home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said. Hopefully my $10 will help. The bus ticket can be pretty cheap – just ask Davie from Day 5 who after receiving my $10 went straight to catch a $24 bus to NYC.
One of eight brothers and sisters, Donville shared something very personal about his family with me. Unfortunately his parents were not financially able to support the entire family and were forced to give one of his siblings up for adoption when he was young. His little brother who was named Elyshawaun should be 14 years old now. He and his family do not have contact with him any more. Donville would like your help to locate either his brother or his biological father, William Gafney (or Gaffney), who also should know the whereabouts of his brother. He didn’t know what Elyshawaun’s last name was, but they were both last known to be in Brooklyn. If you remember Victor from day 139 you might recall that he shared with me that he had never met his mother. I was pleasantly amazed when a blog follower, Linnie, used her genealogy skills and tracked his mother down! Wow…that was amazing! Hopefully we can find young Elyshawaun!
My ten dollar gift to Donville went toward a $7 pack of Newports. I am always a little disappointed when the money gets spent on cigarettes. But it is his choice. I told him that my mother died of heart disease and was a long time smoker. He said that he had only been smoking for about a year and planned on quitting some time. “But just not now,’ he said. He didn’t know where the other $3 would get spent…who knows, maybe he will read this and give us an update! Maybe he has quit smoking by now. You can do it Donville!
Check back tomorrow for my first blog post from my recent trip to Chicago!