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My Year of Giving was a life-changing event. I could have never in a million years imagined before I gave away my first ten-dollar bill on Dec. 15, 2009 how the journey would change my life. One of the amazing 365 people I met during that year was Anthony. Our lives crossed paths on Day 67.

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Anthony & Me on our first day of our project. (Photo: Reed Sandridge)

In two weeks it will be three years since I started the project. A lot has changed. I am now employed, I can’t walk around my neighborhood without seeing somebody I gave $10 to and I have an entirely new perspective on giving. Life is pretty good.

Many of you have encouraged me to put this story into a book. I’ve started that – well, I am trying to do this at least. It’s harder than it sounds to dedicate time to writing – especially when you are often tired from your day job. But I am committed to finishing the book. But I thought I would enlist some help. That’s when I turned to my friend.

Anthony has been homeless for nearly 10 years in our nation’s capital. One of the first Street Sense vendors, vendor number 5 to be exact, Anthony doesn’t let the fact that he can not afford housing get him down. He works Monday through Friday at the corner of 19th and M selling the paper. But his dream is to have his own apartment and I have wanted to help him achieve that goal for some time.

Anthony offered to help me stay on track with my writing. You know, sometimes you just need someone to be accountable to. In return I am trying to help him get housing. If this sounds simple – keep in mind that I don’t know anything about helping someone get off the streets and Anthony hasn’t a clue about what it takes to get a book published. But that hasn’t stopped us.

We are working to achieve our goal by the end of 2013 – and with a lot of hard work, collaboration between Anthony and me, and possibly your help too – we just might make it! If you would like to follow our journey – drop by and say hello at AthonyAndMe.com.

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

Last year I gave my $10 to several people who were victims the gentrification that is taking place in DC.  Ca’ Vonn E. stands out the most.  I met her in the Shaw neighborhood at the controversial plot of land referred to as Parcel 42; land that the local residents say former Mayor Adrian Fenty agreed to make into affordable housing.   When that didn’t happen they took matters into their own hands and created a tent city on the land as a form of protest.  From bringing food and water to securing the URL for their website, I spent several weeks helping the residents of tent city.

Last Monday I got another opportunity to help ensure affordable housing options exist for lower-income families here in our nation’s capital.  Yachad (pronounced yah-hod) is a DC organization whose mission it is to repair and rebuild lower-income neighborhoods by engaging construction and real estate professionals and hundreds of volunteers to repair housing, renovate storefronts, and create safer community spaces.  

Yachad, whose name comes from the Hebrew word for together, has an initiative called We the People where they mobilize volunteers on federal holidays for service projects.  I decided to spend my Memorial Day with them.

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Me handling some power tools...Look out!

I walked from the Fort Totten Metro Station over to the properties that we were going to be working on.  With the temperature clearly on its way to 90+ degrees, drops of sweat had already covered my forehead before I had even lifted a hammer.    

Kendra Rubinfeld was surrounded by a group of eager volunteers when I arrived.  She explained that the occupancy ratio of this apartment complex was falling and as a result has put the property in jeopardy of being lost to developers who would turn it into expensive townhouses.  “Our goal is to refurbish these units as quickly as possible so that they can be rented and start generating money so that doesn’t happen,” she explained to me.

I got to work on an upstairs unit that had been gutted and needed to be sanded and painted.  One of my least favorite tasks is working on ceilings – there’s just no good way it seems to do it without getting your back or neck messed up.  Luckily for me I got pulled onto another project as they needed some people to help install some locks on the doors.  I had just replaced the lock on my father’s front door a few weeks earlier and was emboldened to believe that I was an expert. 

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A volunteer works on bringing the hardwood floor back to life.

I encourage you to check out the photographs I took.  Some of the units were in very poor condition, but we made great progress and soon these will be filled with happy tenants. 

There are several ways that you can help Yachad.  For those of you in the DC area you can volunteer like I did on a federal holiday.  If you don’t live in the area but still want to help them in their mission, I encourage you to make a donation to help pay for contractors and supplies needed to refurbish more houses.  I’ve seen a lot of nonprofits and can tell you this is one worthy of your donation.

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Railroad tracks run through picturesque downtown Manassas (photo: Reed)

I’ve enjoyed taking care of my friends’ dog Sweetie.  She really likes going for walks.

While in Manassas I thought I would go and relax a little at a local coffee shop so I looked online for a good place and found some good reviews for a place called Jess Presso.  It was over off of Liberia Ave. and I looked all over for it but couldn’t find it.  I double checked the address and found that there was another business operating where it used to be.  There was a Starbucks in the same plaza so I thought that I would head over there and maybe do a little writing or see who I would find there to give my $10 to.

Starbucks on Liberia Ave. where I met Joshua (photo: Reed)

As I waited for my dopio espresso, the perky cashier explained to me that the place I was looking for had closed.  “It wasn’t that good actually in my opinion – my friend worked there,” she said.  Well, at least I didn’t miss anything.  I got my espresso, added a packet of Splenda and stirred the murky water while I scanned the shop.  There was a guy sitting in a comfy chair working on his computer who caught my eye. 

Originally from Oklahoma, Joshua moved here two weeks ago after spending the last three years living with his wife at the home of his in-laws in Hawaii. 

Joshua spent nine years in the navy as a submarine sonar technician before leaving the military back in May.  Then he spent two months combing the internet for a job.  Being out of work for an extended time will “make your eyes bleed,” Joshua states shaking his head.  He is thankful for the job opportunity he received despite having to leave his wife in Hawaii for a while.  Pregnant with their first child, they decided that she would stay back in Hawaii with her family until after the arrival of the baby in January. 

Joshua doesn't have internet access at his apartment yet, so he often visits Starbucks to connect. (photo: Reed)

From politics to foreign cultures to immigration laws to the economy; we talked for nearly two hours.  He told me that before joining the navy he worked for a small lending company in Oklahoma.  He used to go in person to do the collections and had so many sad stories of people getting into situations that they were unable to easily get themselves out of.  He says that he felt bad for many of the people that he had to go and pressure to make payments.  He says that they weren’t like the aggressive maniacs you see on TV, but their goal was to recover the borrowed money.  “I definitely learned one thing; never co-sign anything unless you’re prepared to be solely responsible for it.” 

Despite being submerged for up to 45 days at a time sometimes, he said that he really enjoyed his time in the navy.  “A difficult part that a lot of guys don’t know before they enlist is that even when they are at port they have to “stand duty” one out of every four nights.”  That means staying aboard the ship away from family and standing guard.  As he and his wife start their own family they felt that a civilian life would allow them to spend more time together.

Joshua is living in an apartment for the time being but hopes to purchase a house.  On this clip he talks to me a little bit about the importance of home ownership in the US and how cultural backgrounds play a big role in shaping our views of what type of living arrangements we choose.

When I asked him what he was going to do with the $10 he replied that he was going to “get some stuff for the apartment.”  He smiled and said, “Today I bought a microwave, but that is about all I got, well that and an inflatable bed and two camping chairs, but that’s it.”

After almost two hours of talking I realized I completely hijacked his time there and we both packed up and left – I think Starbucks was closing anyway.  As we got to our cars, I thanked him for his service to our country and for the enjoyable conversation that evening and said “Goodbye.”

UPDATE Aug. 23, 2010: I got an email from Joshua today letting me know that the $10 went toward a futon which is already being used by a friend from his Navy training days who is visiting!

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Eric fights to protect the right to affordable housing in the District (photo: Reed)

Recently I met Ca’Vonn, a struggling mother of six in DC’s Shaw neighborhood who is part of the Tent City DC community at the corner of 7th and R Streets in Northwest.  On one of my other visits to the controversial Parcel 42 I met Eric Sheptock.  Eric is a homeless advocate who’s life story is as amazing as it is horrific. 

He tells me a chilling story about a couple who decided they no longer wanted there eight-month-old baby boy and attempted to murder the child by beating the innocent infant until they cracked his head open and left him to die in a New Jersey motel.  Thankfully someone found the bludgeoned baby and rushed him to the hospital.  Unfortunately this isn’t an except from a story by Stephen King or Richard Laymon, it’s Eric’s real life story 

This stomach churning saga has a happy ending though.  Eric survived the ordeal and five years of foster care until he was later adopted by a family in New Jersey: the Sheptocks.  If the name sounds familiar, you might have heard about them before.  They had seven children of their own and adopted 30 others.  That’s quite a family.  They have been in the media several times and there was even a book written about them! 

Eric and his family moved around in New Jersey and finally settled in Florida.  As a young adult he got a job there at a hospital and worked there for a couple of years until he left over a disagreement.  He took his final check and decided to go to New Jersey.  In 1994 his money ran out and Eric became homeless; a situation that he has maintained on and off since that time.  That was not the only tragedy of 1994.  On August 11th of the same year his petite 33-year-old girlfriend, a six-pack a day drinker, died of cirrhosis of the liver.  

In 2005 Eric was back in Florida living in a tent in the woods.  He was fed up with the war that we were waging in Iraq and decided to move to Washington, DC and become an activist.  He set out on July 6th which was President Bush’s birthday coincidentally. 

Eric at Parcel 42 aka Tent City DC at 7th and R in NW (photo: Reed)

He walked and hitchhiked most of the way.  He told me several amazing stories about his journey.  One that I will share with you is that as Eric was walking through Virginia he came into the town of Farmville late one evening.  There were no street lamps there due to some city ordinances or something but he did finally see a light off in the distance.  When he got closer he realized that the light was coming from the porch of a church.  Despite the porch crawling with large spiders, he made it his resting place for the night.  He awoke the next morning, Sunday, to find the spiders replaced by churchgoers.  They invited him in to service, fed him and gave him $84 from a collection they passed around for him.  He went on his way and was offered a ride by a passerby who ended up driving him almost 50 miles out of his way to a bus stop in Charlottesville, VA.  When Eric tried to offer him some money for the gas, the driver refused and actually gave him $20! 

Soon after arriving in DC he started advocating to keep the Franklin Shelter open.  He met with former Mayor Williams, current Mayor Fenty and others and shook their hand as they promised that they would all support keeping the facility open.  Sadly, once in office, Eric says that Fenty closed the shelter. 

Eric continues to advocate for homeless members of our community as well as those who have housing but struggle to keep up with rising rental rates.  He has over 4,000 friends on facebook and 700 followers on twitter.  This is impressive given that he says he didn’t know how to use a computer until four years ago.  

With his feet-on-the-ground approach coupled with his efforts in social media, Eric has become the voice for so many who have been muted due to their social and economic situation.  He hopes to some day find gainful employment that allows him to secure affordable housing for low-income and homeless individuals.  Although he has been successful in doing this for a handful of people, he wants to scale his efforts to a more seismic level.  

Eric says he will put $5 on his Metro card and use the remaining $5 for food. 

I had the opportunity to record some of his passion for affordable housing for DC residents.  The following video is a little long (when I tried to use my free editor, it lowered the quality so bad that I felt it was better to leave in its original uncut format), but very informative.  Take a minute to listen to Eric and learn about the current struggles related to affordable housing in our nation’s capital.

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Tent City DC at Parcel 42 (photo: Reed)

Have you heard of Tent City in DC?  I hadn’t until a week ago Thursday when I went to an event for Bread for the City on 7th Street and then walked a few blocks with Karen, a YoG follower, to see what was going on there. 

Tent City DC was founded on July 10th, 2010 when members from a variety of community groups including ONE DC came together to bring attention to the lack of affordable housing in the District.  Long time residents are finding it nearly impossible to pay their rent much less achieve home ownership.  Here is a news clip that aired on ABC Channel 7 on their first day. 

Some of the community member's tents (photo: Reed)

Tent City DC is located at 7th and R Streets on a piece of land known as Parcel 42.  You can find information about Parcel 42 here.  The short story according to ONE DC’s website is that their organization had a meeting with then Deputy Mayor Neil Albert and reached an agreement that Parcel 42 would be developed into “very affordable housing.”  This has not happened and in fact it is rumored that this land will now be one of the many land areas here that get turned into luxury housing.  As a result of this, Tent City DC was established.  An interesting side note is that I have been there several times now and see almost no involvement from ONE DC anymore.  They apparently pulled most of their volunteers out of Parcel 42 after the fifth day, however, other community members have kept the protest going. 

I went back to Tent City DC the next day to bring some food, water, and supplies to the residents.  While I was there I met Ca’Vonn. 

A Shaw resident for past eleven years, she was born in DC and has grown up all over town.  After 15 years of marriage, she is now in the process of a divorce and trying to raise her six children; the youngest of which turned three on Monday.  I learned that a seventh child sadly died of SIDS.
Ca’Vonn said she had been there since the first day (photo: Reed)

 

She hopes to finish her studies at the University of the District of Columbia where she was studying journalism and music education.  But all of these demands have put a tremendous amount of pressure on the 33-year-old single mom.  And to make matters worse, she finds it increasingly difficult to find suitable housing for her and her kids.  That is why she is voicing her opinion about the need for affordable housing in her community.

As we are talking, two teenagers enter into Tent City DC and start talking to some of the members of the tent community.  All of a sudden, the one boy who was shirtless and had the number 500 tattooed across his stomach snatched a bicycle from a Tent City DC community member and rode off with it.  Can you believe it?!  Ca’Vonn got up and tried to calm the young lady down. 

Ca'Vonn looks for some relief from the scorching sun (photo: Reed)

My time at Tent City DC is somewhat surreal.  Although it’s just a small patch of land in the city, it represents so much more.  Gentrification has become rampant in many parts of DC, the Shaw community included.  This instance is a symbol of the systemic virus that is crippling our community.  Families who have lived in this neighborhood for generations are facing the reality that they will have to abandon their grandparents’ homes and try to start over in a new place.  If you want to help or learn what is going on at Tent City DC, you can check out their blog or check out the Lend a Hand page

So what does a mother of six children do with $10 during one of the hottest summers we have had in a long time?  She says she will treat her kids to an ice cream that evening!

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I updated the Statistics Page yesterday…check that out if you are interested in where the money is going as well as where the people following the blog are from.

A few updates.  I heard back from Jenny from Day 13.  She landed a job doing regional Public Health work!  Congratulations Jenny!  She sounds really happy.  She is still waitressing a few nights a week to help pay off all the bills that stacked up due to her extended unemployment.

Roger selling Street Sense at Conn. and K St., NW in DC (Photo: R. Sandridge)

I also met up with Roger from Day 54.  He said that after we talked the first time he was inspired to try to reach out to his estranged wife.  You can hear directly from him on the Facebook page.  By the way, he still would like very much to have some counselling sessions as well as a used laptop.  If you know of anyone who can help, please let me know.

I ran into to Leonel from Day 56 as I was out one day.  I plan to set up a time to follow up with him in the coming weeks and will post that to the Facebook page.

Speaking of the Facebook page, we have about 200 fans now…growing slowly.  If you haven’t already become a fan, please do so.

So on Day 67 I had met some friends for lunch at Nooshi.  Good place for noodles and sushi.  By the way, Wagamama (the British-based ramen noodle restaurant) is coming to DC in May!  418 7th St. NW.  I was introduced to Wagamama when I was in Dublin.  Check them out!  Back to Anthony’s story. 

So as I left lunch I saw Anthony selling Street Sense on the corner of 19th and M in DC.  I love this guy.  He is one of the original Street Sense vendors…he started in 2005 and has badge number 005. 

We talked about DC Urban Plunge, an event every year where mostly college students come to DC and live on the streets to experience and understand homelessness.  Anthony really likes interacting with the young people when this event happens. You can read one person’s account of doing their own “plunge” in DC here

Anthony says he will use my money to get some food.  I asked him if he needed anything in specific and he said he would really like help getting into some type of apartment.  Also he would really appreciate a size 9 pair of sneakers…even lightly used would be ok.  I hope someone reading this will be able to help Anthony out.  You can find him at the corner of 19th and M most weekdays or you can email me and I have his contact information.

Check out the short video I took of Anthony:

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