In trying to avoid our friendly neighborhood bullys (a.k.a. Police) recently, I found myself stepping through the looking glass. I simply walked around to the back of one building that I have passed many times. But behind there, it was a whole different city, so it seemed.
Two or three blocks form the Capitol, and the building was the Department of Agriculture. The front is prime tourism grounds. Big buildings with a view of the skyline. A Starbucks on every corner, and a policeman at every crosswalk.
Behing the Ag, it all just stops. The buildings become non-descript. Streets are replaced by commuter highways and on/off ramps.
This isn’t an area you see if you can help it. Tourists would politely run for their lives and brag about it to their neighbors. District residents would never be there in the first place. And with no businesses or important officials in residence, the police could care less.
The only people there are sitting on the stoop of the Homeless Center, the only public building visable in the area. Three men in the dirty brown overcoats and boots with no laces. Three men homeless.
Not the homeless you see on the street normally, who push around a shopping cart while screaming at God, nor the panhandlers who work the corners and Metro stops after work. And certianly not the addicts and conmen (they’re always men) who sometimes give performances so good you pay them just for the quality of their work.
These were men without a home. They do want better, but have no way to get it. No way to get out of the condition they’re in. The jobs they can find hardly pay enough to eat and drink. If you don’t have enough money to improve your own condition, how do you convince someone to hire you for a better job? And likewise in reverse. Without a lot of luck or a lot of help, these men are going to be sitting on that stoop for a long time.
The won’t be lonely. Estimates for true homeless people in the District range from the hundreds to the thousands.
I don’t care how hardened you are. It will get to you when a young woman sits in a doorway to Wendy’s crying. She doesn’t want your money or your pity. She just wants someone to buy her something to eat.
I stood watching the anti-war protestors setting up in Freedom Plaza a few weeks ago. It was wonderfully active. Everyone was making sure they were heard, from the protestors, to the conspirists, to the communists. But off in the corner, on al but empty benches, slept a man. On a frigid windy day, he lay there in his spring jacket and sandles, trying to sleep. Makes it hard to take seriously war protestors seeking justice for every factory worker in Malaysia.
God bless America. This is our Capitol.