On my way down the street in one of Washington DC’s hippest neighborhoods, I look at all the houses and the people, in search of what I can say about this place at this point in history. I ride the metro here and there, out to the lovely suburbs, and I wonder if this region represents the United States in a small scale. Some friends and I walk into a local liquor store to buy a bottle of wine, and we have a brief exchange with various homeless people out front, and step over the passed out man on the floor of the shop before paying the cashier through a bullet proof glass window. Yet we walk down the street and see beautiful homes, people walk their dogs and say hi to you sometimes. Behind the cast-iron bars on the windows and doors, there are families, college kids, artists, and people of all walks of life.
Does DC teach us something about what the United States is all about? Or is it an anomaly of a city that doesn’t even have a state?
One thing deserving of more attention, in this city and beyond, is the amount of people living on the streets. The Los Angeles Homeless Coalition says that 3.5 million Americans will be homeless in a given year. 3.5 million. On the streets. In a shelter only in the rarest of cases. They also say 1 in every 5 suffer from a severe mental illness, no where is that more apparent then in our nations capital. Much like the shelters that are nonexistent or inadequate, so too are the public mental health institutions, places where people can go to get treatment and off the streets. People in DC tell me about them. They have names for them “stabby dancer” for the guy who would dance around and occasionally stab people with a pen knife. “Blanket guy” for the man wrapped in a blanket who you see on your way down the street each morning. They notice them, yet in many ways, these people are not at all noticed. Ignored and deemed invisible by their community and by their government… both of which seem to hope they’ll simply disappear.