Every day, Wesley Thomas wakes up at 4 a.m., grabs his belongings and makes his way through the rush-hour throng around the Foggy Bottom Metro to his final destination: a sidewalk on the corner of 22 and I streets.
Thomas, 48, is homeless. He has lived on the streets of D.C. since 1988 and has called Foggy Bottom home for almost two decades. He regularly sits on a plastic crate between the Munson and JBKO residence halls, surrounded by his possessions: a shopping cart covered by a tarp and a sign that reads “Homeless, please help.”
“If you’ve been through what I’ve been through, you would either deal with it or not,” he said.
Thomas grew up in D.C., graduated from McKinley Technology High School and got a job working at gem and jewelry trade shows in Rockville, Md. Unlike those who become homeless because of drug or alcohol addictions, Thomas says his homelessness is a decision.
“Most people say, ‘You’re intelligent, you can do this, you can do that.’ I just don’t want to go back,” he said. “I have a kind heart and it was abused.”
Thomas relies on his relationships with students and businessmen for companionship as well as financial support.
“I got maybe 50 or 60 kids that talk to me and a lot of faculty and people in the hospital. I know the lawyers. I just know a lot of people because I’m easy to talk to,” he said. “I’ve got a couple people who come back when they are in the area and come see me and go ‘Wes, do you need anything?'”
Thomas prefers living in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood because of the attitudes within the local homeless community.
“I kind of like this area better than any part of the city because people are what you call, like, ‘homeless friendly,'” Thomas said. “I may go to the Southeast or far Northwest and people are a little bit more rowdy and ignorant. They get high, they drink a lot and they don’t have any moral conduct to themselves.”
But living close to GW poses its own problems. Every night, Thomas leaves the Foggy Bottom Campus to avoid the risk of incarceration.
“I don’t sleep on campus because they would lock me up,” he said. “All the GW police are not that way, but a few ones are real strict. Most of them talk to me, they give me money, stuff like that. But there’s always one [strict one] in the bunch so I’d just rather avoid [any problems] than go to jail.”
Feeding himself on handouts, Thomas said he relies on the money people give him and food provided by local soup kitchens like Miriam’s Kitchen and St. Luke’s Shelter. But Thomas prefers living on the streets to staying under the roofs provided by homeless shelters.
“We call ourselves ‘trailblazers,'” Thomas said, referring to homeless people who reject living in shelters. “We stay out here all through the weather. Most homeless people are going into shelters now but I don’t like shelters because they are dangerous. You don’t know who you are sleeping next to.”
Ariel Kersky contributed to this report.