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.
Joyce and Sylvia are friends who hang out together in the DC NoMa area. The two middle-aged women, having lost their jobs, have been homeless for the last three years. It was evident that they sought mutual support in each other. Home for Joyce and Sylvia was a small area beneath the neighborhood overpass. Passing residents would greet and chat with them. They were clearly a welcome presence and part of the neighborhood community. As much as they could, the pair decorated their ‘home’ area; the columns beneath the underpass were adorned and lit with candles. They were a charming pair but sadly, they declined to be photographed, explaining that they did not want to be identified by friends or relatives. Pictured here is their ‘home’ space. Joyce had her stereo locked to her chair and slept by the bushes. She complained about the bugs and pointed out that the streets were dangerous at night. She described her uncertain feelings about the new real estate developments changing the neighborhood.
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.