Washington, D.C. is an iconic city that has never forgotten its roots. That is why Hotel RL wanted to make it a destination to call home. The number one mission was to not only become a part of the city—but to become an active part of the community. Creating a new home here made the team think of the 7,000 people living in DC who are without a home. Project Wake Up Call: DC Uncovered was launched as a commitment to helping new neighbors in a new hometown.
Founded in the District 30 years ago as Health Care for the Homeless, Unity Health Care, Inc. provides primary, dental, and specialty health services to all District residents, including homeless individuals and families. Their mission is to promote healthier communities through compassion and comprehensive health and human services, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay. Currently, Unity is one of the largest primary care nonprofit organizations in the District of Columbia, serving more than 108,000 District residents annually through a network of twenty-nine health care sites and a staff of more than 900 compassionate and caring professionals.
Project Wake Up Call puts a twist on the ordinary donations process. If you donate $100 or more, you will receive an offer to stay at the Hotel RL location of your choice for one night (terms and conditions apply).
Ian Tong is a New York-based photographer originally from Hong Kong. With over 15 years in the industry, his experience encompasses a wide range of commissioned and personal photographic work. A series of personal projects currently keeps him busy, taking him to memorable locales such as Stockholm and Shanghai.
Tong’s personal work is concerned with environmental and societal issues that has been recognized regularly and featured in various competitions. His work has been selected for the prestigious American Photography annuals 27, 28 and 30. Also of particular note is his inclusion in the Aperture Foundation 2014 summer open exhibition.
Ian has a BA from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada and a MFA degree from Pratt Institute, New York, NY.
To bring Project Wake Up Call to life in DC, urban photographer, Ian Tong, was tasked with creating a photo series that uncovered the living situation of the homeless community in the District of Columbia.
Black and white photo of man studying.
Tent in broad daylight between two main roads.
By Market Park near Eastern Market, this photo captures Clarence in his usual hangout spot. Cheerful and friendly, he was in a good mood as he shared the news that he was just assigned housing.
A number of homeless people shelter underneath the bridges of the NoMa area. Charlie had a distinctive appearance with striped glasses and colorful sneakers. He was busy reading the newspaper when approached and photographed. His birthday was to come the following week.
The library serves as a home base for a surprising number of homeless during the daytime. People bundled their belongings around with them and utilized the restrooms to wash up. Sylvia sat upstairs surrounded by books and her personal belongings. She spoke of a twin that she sometimes gets mistaken for. Beyond the need to eat, the main daytime need for the homeless is to find a safe place to pass the time where they can stay unbothered. The library also allowed them to have access to the internet, either through the library’s computers or their own devices.
Swain, a musician, pictured browsing his laptop. His face bathed in the glow from the screen. He set up his belongings in the courtyard of the surrounding building where he was spending the evening. He has a website dedicated to his music. Being homeless does not necessarily mean that one is cut off from the internet or from social media.
Man shaded from the bright light of summer.
Man standing strong, dressed in an Obama inauguration shirt.
Many of the DC homeless congregated in specific areas of town, in parks, and under bridges. This photograph is of a group who lived under the overpass. They sat in a circle and came and went on bicycles that were scattered across their camp. They were welcoming and explained that people shared belongings, leaving clothes behind so that others may take.
Close-up of encampment under the bridge.
Alexander was a computer programmer, until he was laid off. He is pictured with arms crossed, looking out into the distance.
Near the DC Tax Courts in downtown DC was a lone tent and a group of homeless men grouped on the side of the road. They shared a shaded area to keep cool during the hottest hours of the day. Various homeless people sought shelter around the buildings in this area as the buildings had wide protective overhangs. Maurice, pictured here, became homeless after a back injury. These men seemed to have led ordinary lives before losing their jobs.
Not many panhandlers were encountered in DC. The few exceptions were found at intersections, such as this man holding a sign that read, “Have a nice day” He said to take the picture quickly in case the cops would come. Although this may be true, no police officers were seen removing homeless people from any areas.
Man pictured with his belongings, shaded only by his hat from the strong summer sun.
Graffiti on an abandoned building in DC, surrounded with overgrown weeds.
From behind a fence gate, the graffiti art of a dollar sign boldly contrasts the abandoned building for which it adorns.
“Working to photograph the homeless in DC for PWUC has been an engaging and revealing experience for me. As we go about our daily routines, often we are unaware of how fortunate we are in our own lives. In the past, DC had a reputation for urban blight and rough neighborhoods. On the whole, that is mostly gone, in its place I found a city that was revitalized with many different and vibrant neighborhoods. Yet despite these changes, I saw a large homeless population; people who were either living on the streets or in shelters.
Travelling around DC with my assistant, we talked to many of these individuals and I asked to photograph them. While some declined, many were open to being photographed and willing to talk to us about their experience of living without a home. Life on the streets was a struggle but was easier during the mild and warm months. With numerous parks and outdoor areas in DC, there are plenty of places to hang out and pass the time. As winter approached though, many expressed the coming need to access indoor shelter.
There are a number of shelters and food pantries in DC and they form an important part of the support system for the homeless. As I travelled around the city, we learnt that many of the homeless follow a particular routine. For instance, people we met in the evening, we would meet again the next day as they travelled to the food kitchen or library across town. (image of buildings with graffiti)
We met people who had touching stories and unfortunate situations. Some lost their jobs, some suffered health issues and some were recovering addicts. We saw that many of these individuals stayed in groups for friendship, safety, and support. This experience has made me more aware of the daily struggles the homeless face. It is not an easy struggle but I am hopeful for many of the individuals I met.”
A newfound treasure in the Golden Triangle District, Hotel RL is located just moments away from the iconic sights of Washington, D.C. This urban chic destination boasts 99 apartment-style rooms and a collection of modern art for all to wander in wonder. Associates take pride in being both local experts and active members of the community. Project Wake Up Call is one of many ways the team stays immersed within this culturally and historically rich city.