Charles Crews found his political calling in an unusual place: the city’s shelter for homeless families.
Now he is running as a write-in candidate for the at-large D.C. City Council seat in the special election that will take place April 23.
Crews, who has been homeless since 2010, has a campaign manager who he met at the shelter. His grassroots campaign is built upon his life experiences and the needs he sees around him.
Crews, 52, is a “native Washingtonian” who first fell on hard times when he lost his job as a concierge manager at The Bozzuto Group during the recession. Shortly after, he found himself homeless.
“I had about two years worth of money saved up, and it was gone in six months,” he said. “I’ve made whole lot of money, and I’ve lost a whole lot of money.”
Crews first went to the 801 East men’s shelter but left after the first night, instead choosing to live out of his car for two months until he began living with his sister in her two-bedroom apartment. Crews left again two months later due to lack of space and ended up living in a Days Inn hotel for eight months. Then, he began living at D.C. General homeless shelter.
“I got into being an advocate because of what I saw in the shelters,” he said. “All I smelled was urine, feces.”
While at D.C. General, Crews met Nkechi Feaster. She was in the room right next door to Crews, his fiancé and their two children.
“From the first conversation we had, we got along immediately,” Feaster said. “We adopted each other as brother and sister right off the bat.”
It wasn’t until he became friends with Feaster and spent time at D.C. General that Crews considered running for office.
“I’ve never wanted to be a politician, but when people started asking me at D.C. General, I thought why not give it a shot,” he said. “It’s a special election.”
Crews asked Feaster to be his campaign manager and the two began campaigning, talking with people in the shelters and on the streets about what they wanted to see change.
“I go out and talk for 14, 15 hours a day, asking people what kind of programs and services they want,” he said. “I’m going to be as transparent as possible.”
Crews says his party platform centers on the issues most important to his constituency, including affordable housing, rent control, and improving conditions in shelters.
“People need a place to live,” he said. “We need to lower the rates of affordable housing so it’s easier for people to stay in their homes.”
Crews also hopes to allocate more money to educational services.
“I believe that all kids should have a head start in life, especially the ones that really don’t have anything else,” he said.
Although Crews has little political experience, Feaster thinks that not having a political background might work in his favor.
“I think without the politics, it makes him even better for the position because that’s not standing in our way,” she said. “We’re first worried about the people.”
Crews agrees, stating that his main focus, if he were to be elected, would be the homeless population.
“These are my people, these are my votes,” he said. “I’ve been where these people been. I feel what they feel.”
Along the campaign trail, Crews has received job offers from various advocacy groups in DC and even California. However, he says that has dedicated himself to this race and advocating for change for the homeless.
“I’m a very loyal person,” he said. “This race isn’t about me, it’s about all of us.”
Crews says he is relying heavily on the homeless population for votes. Because he failed to get the 3,000 signatures required on the nominating petition, Crews will be serving as a write-in candidate, meaning his name will not appear on the ballot.
“We need to get the homeless population to get out and vote so we can have our voice heard,” he said. “It doesn’t take money to elect someone, it takes people.”
Although Crews recently moved into his own apartment in Southeast D.C., Crews says he can still very much relate to the issues facing his constituency.
“I haven’t found a job yet, I’m still one of these people,” he said.
Feaster believes that Crews’ experience being homeless is what makes him the best candidate for the job.
“He’s someone that has been in these people’s situation,” she said. “To have someone like that in a decision-making position would be huge.”
Crews hopes that his campaign, no matter the outcome, will bring issues of homelessness to the forefront of the District’s politics.
“I hope that even if we don’t win, our voice is heard,” he said. “We need to organize the homeless to send a strong message to the D.C. Council.”