When we approach Robert, he is eager to speak with us. His friend, who is sitting beside him on a folding chair, politely excuses himself, and tells me that I can take his seat. When I sit down, Robert says, “You can ask me anything.” He is soft-spoken and eloquent, cutting to the meat of the story with ease. Robert, who has been homeless in DC off and on for 20 years, lost his job as a landscaper and turned up the dial on his recreational drug use to address his growing depression. “One thing led to another, and I was on the streets,” he tells me, making direct eye contact. “When drugs are so easy to get, you just get stuck and it’s hard to get out. So I am just kind of stuck.”
Over the course of his childhood, Robert was bounced from one foster home to another in and around Warsaw, VA. Eventually, he was able to move back with his birth parents. When he first became homeless, Robert stayed in shelters, which he describes as “pure hell, living with all the dirt, bugs, and trifling: you just can’t handle it.” Robert now sleeps on the streets, taking up semi-permanent residence in the park we are sitting in, located in the McPherson Square area of the city.
To stay alive, Robert relies on panhandling, which he says gets him whatever he needs: food, drugs, etc. “You do well when the clubs close,” he mentions. He gets at least one of his meals a day at a food kitchen or from one of the local food relief trucks. “You see people going to work, and it seems like you are living in a different world,” which has been a contributing factor to Robert’s depression and continued drug use. At the time that we interviewed Robert, he was getting ready to begin a two-year drug rehabilitation program at the Salvation Army, which he learned about from a friend. “I see a good future, I just need to get off these drugs.”