Nine Years at Street Sense: Lessons I’ve Learned

Photo Courtesy of Elvert Barnes
Photo Courtesy of Elvert Barnes

When I first found Street Sense, it was like finding a life preserver in the middle of the ocean! After living in Prince George’s County, MD, my whole life, I found myself homeless in D.C.’s Franklin shelter (the old Franklin school on 13th and K St. N.W.), with no job, no car and no street survival skills.

When it was time to leave the shelter in the morning, I’d follow the crowd to breakfast, and then try to figure out where my next destination should be, which often left me sitting in the park with feelings of hopelessness.

Then one day nine years ago, God threw me a life preserver. He sent my now good friend Phillip Howard my way. Wearing a yellow vest with two front pockets and carrying a handful of papers he’d stroll through Franklin park seemingly without a care in the world, even though he too was living at the Franklin shelter. I wondered why this guy in basically my same situation seemed so carefree. A couple of days later I asked about it. He gave me the Street Sense rundown and said I should come try it out.

Upon showing up to training I met the first lady of Street Sense, co-founder Laura Thompson (before she was married and took on the last name Osuri). Laura was a pretty, fun-loving young lady with an almost undetectable hint of tomboyishness about her. Laura was so passionate about Street Sense that I used to call it her baby before she had any babies of her own. This passion she displayed was contagious and soon I had this same infectious spirit.

Two or three weeks later, I met Street Sense co-founder Ted Henson who became my dear lifelong friend. Ted was a soft spoken, very sincere individual who devoted himself toward helping the homeless overcome their situation. On Sundays, Ted and I would play chess and discuss all aspects of life.

During my tenure with Street Sense I’ve done more than sell the paper. I’ve trained other vendors and served in the board. I even did a stint as interim vendor manager. Over the years, I’ve also done interviews with the Washington Post, the BBC, and AP, and appeared in documentary films and news programs. I have talked about homelessness to students from all around the country.

Times have changed and there’s a new breed of management. Maybe they’re good at what they do but it all seems so impersonal. This new team in our office seem to lack some of the fire and passion that the originals had. If I could have one wish granted for Street Sense’s sake, I’d put the old family back together.

It’s been a good nine years with Street Sense, but my time here is coming to an end soon. Within the next two months I’ll be leaving the District for Atlanta, GA to work for a trucking company there. I’ve had some of my customers at Farragut North tell me they’re going to miss my Street Sense song. Maybe you’ve heard me sing…it goes:

“I got the brand new issue of Street Sense, I got the brand new issue of Street Sense, hot off the press.”

The one fundamental aspect of Street Sense that hasn’t changed is that it still helps plenty of home or impoverished people support themselves. So remember, when you see a vendor, he or she is trying to make a difference for their self, just like you and me. I hope Street Sense will always be there to help.

To Farragut North: you’ve been the greatest group of customers. I love you all and thank you very much.

P.S. if anyone would like to help me make my new transition, you can come see me at Farragut North, or send help to Martin Walker via Street Sense, 1317 G St. N.W.

Vendor Martin Walker selling papers at Farragut North
Photo courtesy of Elvert Barnes/Flickr

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