In February, I spoke with Al Szekely, who was featured in Sunday’s op-ed piece, “Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?” by Barbara Ehrenreich in The New York Times. When I talked to him, he had just been robbed. Someone had stolen the motor to his once-motorized wheelchair. Ehrenreich wrote of another set of predicaments Al has recently faced:
A grizzled 62-year-old, he inhabits a wheelchair and is often found on G Street in Washington — the city that is ultimately responsible for the bullet he took in the spine in Fu Bai, Vietnam, in 1972. He had been enjoying the luxury of an indoor bed until last December, when the police swept through the shelter in the middle of the night looking for men with outstanding warrants.
It turned out that Mr. Szekely, who is an ordained minister and does not drink, do drugs or curse in front of ladies, did indeed have a warrant — for not appearing in court to face a charge of “criminal trespassing” (for sleeping on a sidewalk in a Washington suburb). So he was dragged out of the shelter and put in jail. “Can you imagine?” asked Eric Sheptock, the homeless advocate (himself a shelter resident) who introduced me to Mr. Szekely. “They arrested a homeless man in a shelter for being homeless.”
For Al Szekely, the arrest for trespassing meant a further descent down the circles of hell. While in jail, he lost his slot in the shelter and now sleeps outside the Verizon Center sports arena, where the big problem, in addition to the security guards, is mosquitoes. His stick-thin arms are covered with pink crusty sores, which he treats with a regimen of frantic scratching.
The following pictures of Al were taken by me during the filming of “Ink So Hot It’s Running Down Every Page: Street Sense, D.C.’s Paper for the Homeless and Poor.”