While many of the District's homeless live in emergency or transitional shelters such as the one on Lincoln Road in Eckington, others sleep on the city's streets or flock there when the shelters' doors are closed. Men gather in downtown parks and sometimes beg for money at busy corners. Though some of the street people have mental illnesses that would make it difficult for them to hold steady jobs, others eagerly seek employment or have worked to retirement age.
Sitting on the southwest corner of 15th and K streets NW, Chris Jones says, "I have many skills," and goes on to list his abilities in carpentry, drywall, welding and asphalt. Next to him is a hand-lettered sign: "homeless broke need work anything helps." Jones, 33, has a large flame tattooed on his lower left arm and stretched-out ear lobes, the right one holding a round cork plug. He says he came to the District by train from Martinsburg, W.Va., hoping to find work in a large metropolitan area.
Begging for money is hard work, Jones said.
"People treat you badly," he said. "You get sneers, you get snickers. In this capitalistic society, it's like people think you're beneath them if you don't have money. It's like you're being punished."
Two blocks away, in busy Farragut Square at 17th and K streets NW, James Ryan, 65, rested in the shade of tall trees. He said he's a retired water treatment plant operator from Harrisburg, Pa., and has been homeless "pretty much since 2000."
He wears a red cap, has a scraggly gray beard and keeps his knapsack nearby. Social Security pays him $1,500 monthly, "but housing," he said, "is pretty expensive."