Joseph sits on a collapsed cardboard box with his belongings scattered around him. He is seated in what I’ve always considered a rather uncomfortable position. When I ask him his name, he tells me his first, middle, and last and I can smell alcohol on his breath. Joseph has been living on the street for over 40 years. His one commentary on what it’s been like for the past four decades: “Don’t. Be. Homeless.”
Before Joseph started living on the streets, he was driving a scaffolding truck for a living. He doesn’t seem to remember why it was that he stopped working, but he notes that he wasn’t laid off, he quit. He lived with his mother and father, and when his father passed away, he quit his job and moved out of his mother’s house.
As the oldest of nine children growing up in the District, Joseph was not afforded many luxuries. “School life was, oh my God,” he looks up at me while his head is positioned downward and lowers his voice to say, “I didn’t have a lot of food to eat,” as if it were a secret. His father was a construction worker and his mother stayed at home to take care of the children. His siblings are still living in DC, and he is in contact with them from time to time. However, he says, “I hate ‘em because they cry cry cry cry.”
He frequently pauses to consider how he should answer my questions and tells me, “if you were homeless, if you were out here and homeless, it would be bad. You gonna be out here. And the worst thing about it is when you are homeless, the rain starts comin’ down.” I ask Joseph to explain his daily life, and he says, “oh, darling, it is bad. It is real real bad,” he pauses for several seconds and looks around, “I feed the birds, I sit here and feed the birds.” I ask him if that makes him happy, “yes ma’am it sure does, it sure does.” As we thank him and walk away, he raises his hand to say coyly, “you’re pretty.”