An Interesting Customer

Sometimes my work selling Street Sense hasn’t been easy. Not everyone even wants to stop when they see me in my green vest selling the paper at the Van Ness Metro stop. When you are homeless, a lot of people say “ew! I don’t have time!”

But then there are people who stop and ask what Street Sense is all about. I say we write poetry and essays and we tell stories about poverty and our lives. The whole purpose of the paper is to get the word out about homelessness. That’s what I say with a big smile on my face.

One of the nice people who stopped to ask is named Lee Cannon. She turned out to be a special friend as well as a fellow writer: a reporter for the Forest Hills Connection, a community online newspaper.
She asked, “Can I interview you for a story I am working on for my newspaper about homelessness?”
I gave her my telephone number and she called me. I told her about my life. I came from Chicago back in 1984. I graduated with a degree in human services from Drake University and I got a job working with special needs adults and children. A series of bad decisions derailed my life. I became homeless. Even a college degree and a job are not guarantees. I told her that many different agencies and organizations have helped me rebuild my life, including Oxford House, which helped me with my addiction, and House of Ruth, which helped me cope with my domestic violence problems. I told her about how Street Sense became part of my life.

“Vendors are the ones who are trying to get out and help ourselves,” I told her, and she used that quote in her story.

When Lee’s story “Watching Out for Our Homeless Neighbors” appeared, one of my customers said she had read about me in the Forest Hills Connection. She said the story was really good. I looked online and read it. It made me feel good to think I had helped the reporter tell a larger story about homelessness.

Some homeless people do not want services or they are scared. They are afraid they are going to be abused or things will be stolen if they go to a shelter. Or their mental health issues stop them from wanting help. I am grateful for the option to sell Street Sense newspaper so that I’m able to have an income and that I am not panhandling, shaking a cup. I also think I am helping inform the community. I use the money I earn selling Street Sense to buy the medicine I need and food.

Even though there are office buildings at Van Ness, there is also a community there full of homes and families and office workers. I feel safe there. Some of the people I meet are so kind when I see them. I just want to hug them.

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We believe ending homelessness begins with listening to the stories of those who have experienced it.