Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘homeless’

If you are in Washington, DC, join me today at the Shakespeare Theatre Family Fun Fair from 10:00-2:00 downtown near the Verizon Center.  It should be a fun event for the whole family.

photo: Reed

I was recently dog-sitting in Manassas, VA for my friends Tressa and Tom.  It was nice to have a new community for a few days to share the Year of Giving with.  On my first day there I headed over to Costco to get some items that I needed.  As I was leaving I saw a man sitting with his child.  I asked him to be my 234th recipient but he preferred not to participate.  His name was Jeremy.

I then headed over to the Giant grocery store on Sudley Rd and picked up another couple items to have on hand for my weekend “getaway” in Manassas.  I was still looking for someone else but just didn’t seem to see the right person.  About a block away from the Giant there was a Family Dollar store.  I drove over there and saw a woman coming out of the store.

I parked quickly and ran over to Angela who was now loading her purchases into the car.  She was very friendly and open to talking with me.  We talked for about thirty minutes and I have thought about her and her story every day since.

Angela has overcome many challenges in life (photo: Reed)

Angela is a 35-year-old single mother of five kids!  The oldest is 17 and the youngest is seven.  Unfortunately she doesn’t have custody of the children right now because the father (they are separated) had nearby family that would be able to help raise the children.  Angela’s closest family members are in West Virginia.  She works two full-time jobs right now as a certified nursing assistant in order to be able to support herself and make payments to help with childcare of her children.  “I have been working as a CNA for 14 years now,” She says.  “I like what I do; it’s like taking care of family.”

As we talked more I discovered that just how difficult of a time it was for Angela when she and her husband separated.  It set off a series of events.  She got depressed and ended up losing her job and later her home.  “I slept in my car for a total of six months to get back to living in an apartment,” she told me.

Angela shared this very emotional moment with me in this video clip.  It’s heartbreaking to see and hear her describe such a difficult time in her life.

Angela has her own apartment now and wants to go back to school to get her nursing degree.  She also wants custody of her children.  “It’s really hard,” she admits.  I think it’s important that Angela pursue her nursing degree so that she can have a more stable financial situation, work fewer hours and have a more active role in the lives of her children.  The challenge with that is to be able to juggle nursing school while still working enough to make ends meet.  If you or anyone you know is a career counselor at a school that might be able to speak with Angela and give her some guidance on how to successfully manage all that, please contact me so that I can put you in touch with her.

As I said earlier I think about my conversation with Angela every day.  Meeting her and learning about her story really touched my heart.  It’s people like Angela that I meet that make going out and giving my $10 away every day worth it.

Angela in front of the car that she lived in for six months (photo: Reed)

She was tired and had worked all week.  Angela told me that she was going to run in to the Aldi supermarket and get some groceries with my $10.  I gave her a hug and walked back to my car and just sat there for a while thinking about how difficult it must have been to lose her husband, her children, her job, her house and live in her car.

Her determination and perseverance remind me of a quote by Harriet Beecher Stowe, “When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” 

Angela’s tide is turning.

Read Full Post »

Ishmael sits with his boots that someone gave him during the snow storm this winter. (photo: Reed)

People always say that homeless people are lazy and don’t want to work.  Meet Ishmael.  He’s 49 and was born and raised here in Washington, DC.  Now homeless, he wants more than anything an opportunity to be gainfully employed.

It is kind of a vicious circle though.  We all know that it’s easier to find a job when you already have a job.  Prospective employers often think that you have something to offer simply by the fact that another organization hired you.  I know that when I was working I would get recruiters calling me regularly about other jobs.  When I was out of work for 285 days, my phone didn’t ring near as often.  And if you are homeless, there is a good chance you don’t even have a phone so it’s that much more difficult.  You don’t have a computer or even a safe place to keep your clothes and belongings. 

I found Ishmael as he escaped the sun’s hot rays beneath a tree in the small triangular park that is surrounded by noisy streets of New Hampshire, 21st and M.  I sat down next to him and gave him the $10.  He was very grateful for the act of kindness and said he was going to use it to buy some food this week.  I think he knows that many people probably think that someone in his situation would use it for drugs or alcohol.  He looked me in the eye and assured me that he didn’t have any substance abuse problems.

“I got to this situation because I didn’t get myself together,” Ishmael explains.  “However, when you lose your job or your house for four or five years, you come back and work so much harder for an organization.”  Ishmael also said that he understands that he needs to be patient.  “My time will come.”  He recorded this short message that talks specifically about what kind of job he would like to find and the commitment he will make to that organization. 

Ishmael’s last job was cleaning mail bags at a large building.  Just by talking with him I could tell that he understood what was important in his work: quality, efficiency, attitude and following established procedures. 

He turns 50 this next February 12th and hopes to be in a different situation by then.  Can you help him?  Let me know.  I am going to reach out to Robert from Day 225 and his DC Central Kitchen to see if there might be something he could do there as he said he had experience in the food service industry. 

photo: Reed

By the way, if you don’t have job leads for him, you can also help him out with gift cards to Safeway.  You can send them to me and I will get them to Ishmael.

As we said he goodbye, he said, “You aren’t like most people.  You are progressive and open-minded.  All I need is someone like you who is willing to take a chance on me.”

Read Full Post »

Yab with all of his belongings (photo: Reed)

Today is my brother’s 39th birthday! Happy birthday Ryan. He has helped me in so many ways with my Year of Giving; from suggesting that I start on the anniversary of my mother’s passing to countless hours of computer and camera support to reading every blog post and pointing out mispelled words that I missed. He has been there with me the entire journey. Thanks LB! I love you.

Often times when I speak to someone about the Year of Giving and the conversation turns to the homeless people who I have given to people assume that they use the money for alcohol or drugs.  Of course that has happened.  However, sometimes you would be surprised what a homeless person does when they are offered $10.  I was certainly surprised with Yab’s response.

On this particular day I was walking along 23rd Street near Rock Creek Park in northwest DC.  I saw Yab lying on some cardboard on the side of the road.  He was sleeping.  I took a chance and went over and spoke to him.  He took a second to wake up and I introduced myself.  I explained what I was doing and we started talking.

Yab hasn’t shaved since 1997 (photo: Reed)

Originally from Ethiopia, Yab told me an amazing story about his life.  He patiently invited me back to the year 1943 when he was seven years old living in Ethiopia.  It was July, the cold season, when one morning he volunteered to take some of his family’s cattle up the mountain to graze.  When he got to the top of the mountain, he came across a man standing outside a cave.  “There’s a hyena inside there” the man told young Yab.  He walked cautiously over to the entrance of the cave and peered inside.  Sure enough, there was a massive hyena lying inside.  The man suggested that they build a fire to drive the hyena out.  Yab started to gather sticks and small logs to build the fire and the man came close to Yab and touched his arm and out of nowhere the wood caught fire and the hyena fled the cave.  It wasn’t until 50 years later on President Clinton’s inauguration day on January 20th, 1993 that he realized who that man was.  “I didn’t know it then, but that was God there with me.”  Ever since this realization he has lived a deeply spiritual life.  He shares his message asking everyone to accept Jesus into their life in this short clip.

So how did Yab get to the US from that mountainside in Ethiopia?  Well, in the 1980s Yab was in Somalia working on some oil ventures when he was captured and taken hostage by terrorists who were against the country’s leader Siad Barre, who was later overthrown in 1991.  When the UN and the Red Cross got involved he asked for political asylum to the United States.  Since he had lived in the US briefly in 1958 he was given priority and offered asylum in Minnesota.  He said he didn’t really want to go to Minnesota but they promised him free housing, free education, food, a Pell Grant, etc.  However, when he arrived, he said that the assistance only lasted for about a month and then he was asked to leave the Mayflower Church where he was staying and told that he would have to go. 

He eventually got them to give him $1,600 and a ticket to Washington, DC where he even got to meet with then Mayor Marion Barry before Barry went to prison in 1991.

Later that year Yab became homeless and has been so ever since.

The former electrical engineer now carries signs around with him with messages on them that definitely make you look twice.  I asked him to explain some of the signs; most of which seemed too bizarre to be true.  One said:

Monster Obama must stop cuttin’ human throats at the expense of:

1. Dupont Circle chess players 

2. Oprah Winfrey – Arsenio Hall – Horton – Barry   

3. Odinga PM of Kenya.

One of Yab’s signs (photo: Reed)

Probably the most extreme thing he shared with me was that he believed that President Obama was with the CIA and tried to kill him when he was in the concentration camp in Somalia.  “I know it was him, I saw him.”  I tried to understand his thoughts and messages but it was difficult to follow his logic.  It reminded me a little bit of John from Day 121.  Both men are extremely nice.  Both have turned to signs to spread their message.  And I think both are greatly misunderstood because their choice of messages.

photo: Reed

I finally asked the bearded 74-year-old what he planned to do with the $10.  Would you believe that he gave it back to me and said that he wanted me to have it.  He said that he hasn’t accepted money from anyone since he became homeless in 1991.  “God will take care of me,” he assured me.  I tried to convince him to keep it or give it to someone else, but he said he wanted me to have it.  Faith and dignity are strong stubborn things. 

I’ve walked by that place several times since I met Yab but haven’t seen him again.

Update 12/Oct/2010

I ran into Yab on the streets of DC today.  He was doing well, seemed in good health and good spirits.  He recognized me and remembered our conversation well.  Pushing a cart full of personal items, he was walking south on Columbia Rd. toward Dupont.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Gwin selling the Street Sense (photo: Reed)

Gwin was selling the Street Sense newspaper at the South edge of Dupont Circle in between 19th Street and Connecticut Avenue. I was walking through the circle when I spotted the bright yellow vest that identifies her as a Street Sense vendor.

Gwin has an interesting story. Originally from Salisbury, NC, she told me about the early days of her life when she lived near Elizabeth Dole’s home. I can’t remember now which, but either she or Mrs. Dole lived on Ellis Street, which was named for Governor Ellis who died in office in 1861.

She talks a little bit about her background and what she would like to do professionally on this video clip.

It’s hard to imagine that an educated person who goes to law school and becomes an attorney can end up homeless, but Gwin is proof of that. Although not homeless now, she says that she has been homeless in at least a half-dozen cities across the country. “Homelessness is many things,” she tells me. “There are good parts and bad parts to being homeless.” Among the good parts she lists: meeting people, celebrations with friends, traveling, seeing people help one another, and even special occasions like a holiday party she recalls that was put on for the homeless in Boston where they served steak and lobster. Of course she shares plenty of negatives too: moral despair, being looked down upon, realizing your dreams will not materialize, etc.

Gwin kept her same calm demeanor the entire time and seemed very comfortable talking about a variety of different subjects. We talked about all kinds of things; from the Obama administration to circular migration to the legalization of marijuana. She also mentioned that she was a poet and that I could find her works on the Internet. I have not been able to locate them yet, but when I do I will share them here. She enjoys writing a lot and would even like to write a book on homelessness some day.

Before I left I asked her about the $10 and she said that will be used to buy her some soap and a few other toiletries that she says she needs to get this week.
I asked her what dreams she still has for herself. “It’s too late to think about dreams. Now it’s retire, work part-time and be able to help others.” Maybe that is in fact her dream. I asked her where she wants to retire and she said either Chicago or some place further west. “I would like to find a place to live where I could get a part-time job and eventually collect a pension.”

Gwin (photo: Reed)

Before leaving I asked if I could take a few photos of her selling the paper.  She made me laugh a little because she kept hiding behind the newspapers for most of them.  She had been so comfortable with the camera when I took pictures of her sitting down and also used my video camera, but for some reason she got a little shy when she was working.  I asked her if she could move the papers a little so that I could see her face and she nodded her head yes with a sheepish smile, but didn’t move them too much.  I managed to get a couple of shots though.

For those in the downtown area, keep an eye out for Gwin, especially near the Dupont Circle SOUTH Metro entrance near the Krispy Kreme.

Read Full Post »

I started my new job on Day 210!  It was my 285th day without work.  It felt so good to get up early and go to “my job!”  I know, most of you are vomiting right now hearing me say how happy I am to go to work on a Monday morning, but it was really true.  So far, I have been really impressed with the WWF and the people that are a part of the organization.  

Eric looks a lot like Abe Lincoln. Am I that short? Look at the angle of this photo (photo: Reed)

 

After work that day I headed over to meet an old colleague Derek at 18th and M Street.  From there we headed over to 14K Lounge for our friend Jen’s birthday party.  On our way over there we came face to face with our 16th president of the United States. 

Ok, so it wasn’t really Abraham Lincoln, although he does bear a tremendous resemblance to the tallest American president.  And he is about the same height.  Derek is 6”4” and he looked a smidgen taller than Eric (without his hat). 

Eric is a telecom engineer who has been out of work for a year.  He was staging a personal protest of sorts that afternoon against the powerful K Street lobbyist firms.  He is sickened by the amount of money that changes hands on this street in exchange for favorable consideration on governmental issues.  

As a result of him being out of work for so long he became homeless in May.  Since then he has managed by couch surfing and staying at shelters.  If your firm is looking for an engineer experienced in XML, telephony and Linux, give Eric a chance.     

He chose to save the money. 

Derek and I said goodbye and headed to the birthday party.  We didn’t mention to Eric that Derek technically is a lobbyist, but I hope that he wouldn’t dislike Derek just for that.  Because in fact Derek has a PhD in genetics and works tirelessly to educate our lawmakers in the area of preventative medicine as it relates to obesity, personalized medicine and tobacco. Hey, somebody’s got to protect us from the tobacco lobby! 

By the way, Eric does occasionally do some work as a Lincoln impersonator…I can connect you with him for that as well if you are interested.

Read Full Post »

photo: Reed

At about 9:00 pm on Day 209 I saw Garrett playing his maraca and tambourine on the Southeast corner of Connecticut Avenue and Q Street in Northwest.  I have some items that you guys have sent for him and I crossed the street to talk with him and see if he would be there a while so that I could go home and get the items and come back to deliver them to him.  Just about the time I reached Garrett a man in a wheel chair rolled up and stuffed some folded dollar bills into Garrett’s can and went back to where he had been sitting before.  As I chatted with Garrett I couldn’t help but notice that the other gentleman was missing both legs and was holding a box with the words, “Donate, help needed, disabled” written on it. I was completely distracted.

I walked over to him and introduced myself.  He didn’t tell me his name right away, but I later discovered that it was Clyde.  “I hate to admit it but often times I tell people that my name is Mike, but it’s really Clyde.” 

Garrett said he had to go and I continued to talk to Clyde for more than two hours.  During that time at least a half-dozen people stopped and gave Clyde some money.  One person even gave him an apple.  Another, a clergy member from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, stopped and chatted with us for a while.  He had spoken with Clyde before.  As he left he dropped a five-dollar bill inside Clyde’s box.

Clyde is wearing a faded blue and white hat with Sandals Jamaica written on it and large black sunglasses.  His left leg looks to be amputated above the knee and is fitted with a prosthetic leg accompanied by a shoe.  His right leg appears to be amputated near his pelvic bone.  He has on a checkered pair of pajama-like pants that cover most of his prosthetic and then rest limp on his right side.  At some point during the evening I gathered the courage to ask Clyde what happened to his legs.  “I lost them in accident.  I got a metal plate in my arm as well,” he says pointing to his right arm. 

I asked if I could photograph him but he preferred not to.  I even asked if I could just photograph his box, but he wasn’t comfortable with that either.  I respect that.  You will just have to do with some photos of the area where we passed the hours talking that evening.

Clyde, who tells me that his friends call him “Camel” because of a Ray Steven’s song about a camel named Clyde, is in his late 50s.  He doesn’t live in DC but travels here by bus every month for about a week.  While he is here he sometimes goes down to Capitol Hill to voice his opinion on topics as well as spends a good amount time in the Dupont Circle area.  He sits and greets people kindly as they walk by, “Don’t forget the homeless.”  When the sun sets and the bar-goers start to thin out he wheels himself a short distance away on Q Street and sleeps upright in his chair.  “I’m used to it, it doesn’t bother me,” Clyde assures me.  “It’s safer than trying to stay in a shelter.”

I found Clyde sitting in his wheel chair at this spot (photo: Reed)

It would be impossible to give our two-hour conversation justice in a few paragraphs here.  But I will try to leave you with an accurate summary about what I know about this private man.  He is kind and gentle.  He doesn’t drink or smoke.  He is well-read and knowledgeable about many topics and patiently shares his knowledge with others (or at least me!)  He believes in God.  He helps others when he can, which is evidenced by him donating some of his own money to Garrett.  He served in the US Coast Guard and has traveled all over the world.  He is very critical of our government.  He rivals my father as a conspiracy theorist.  He only watches Fox News and wishes we had more honest journalists “like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.” 

Clyde has a home, but his social security doesn’t make ends meet.  Each month he falls about $250 short so he takes a bus to DC and spends about a week here in order to collect enough money to pay the bills.  “I got so many bills I’ve been thinking about changing my name to Bill!” he says…it falls a little flat but I managed a smile.  He later told me that he would put the $10 I gave him toward paying some of those bills.

In the winter he forgoes his monthly trip to Dupont Circle’s tree-lined diagonal streets, large19th century homes and row houses and endless embassies and takes a bus south every month to the warmer shores of South Beach, Miami where the colorful art deco buildings, palm trees and sandy beaches seem to wash away the winter blues.

Most of our conversation was somehow tied to politics and religion, two of the most delicate pieces of conversation I can think of.  He shared a lot of his views and educated me on many topics. 

It got to be close to 11:30 at night and I needed to head home.  Afterall, I was starting my new job the next day!  He said he would be back here next month.  Same time (about the 8th of the month he arrives in DC and stays to about the 15th), same place (the corner of Connecticut and Q Street.)  I look forward to stopping by and chatting with my new friend on his next visit.

Read Full Post »

The Year of Giving does not focus on any one “type” of person. People often ask me how I select the recipients. Sure, some days I go out with a type of person in mind, however many times it is just a feeling I get when I am sitting next to somebody on the bus or watching a mother play with her child in a park. Having said this, I have given my $10 to a considerable amount of people who are currently or who have in the past experienced homelessness.

The US Government defines homelessness as follows (Source: US Department of Housing and Urban Development)

The term “homeless” or “homeless individual or homeless person” includes-

  1. an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and
  2. an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is –
    1. a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally ill);
    2. an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or
    3. a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.

Photo: Jon Howell

Although I don’t think that the government has came up with the best definition here, it is certainly better than the definition that usually comes to people’s mind when they hear that someone is homeless. The image of someone sleeping on the streets.

The area that I have found particularly interesting to study here is the one that deals with those who lack “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” So many people today fall into this category and they are often not counted in statistics on homeless populations. The Year of Giving has taught me an immense amount about the people who struggle with this every day. I often forget how fortunate I am to have such a comfortable environment to keep my belongings, prepare my meals and sleep at night.

As a result of the writings, photographs and videos that I have done about the homeless I was nominated for the David Pike Excellence in Journalism Award. Although Maria Glod from the Washington Post ended up winning the award, I was extremely honored to have even been nominated for my work.

Photo: Jon Howell

I went to the award ceremony with my father and brother. It was a very nice evening. I took pictures which I can try to post here once I get my computer fixed. I thought I would look for a recipient for my $10 at the event, so I had my small black Moleskine journal with me to take notes. As it turns out, the notebook slid out of my bag and remained underneath my seat when we left the auditorium. I noticed that I was missing it immediately and had an idea that it was probably under the seat so I went back and checked but didn’t find anything. Now I was concerned, because I knew I had it with me. Maybe somebody turned it in, right?

Well, just as I was looking around to ask someone if anyone had turned it in, a young man who I recognized from being the photographer at the event, walked over to me and gave me the book. Well, on my Moleskine notebook it is clearly marked that there is a reward for returning it to me. You guessed it, that reward is $10!

I thanked Jon and happily handed him the $10. He explained that he was an intern working at Street Sense for the summer as a photographer. A photo journalism major at the University of North Texas, Jon is here in DC through a partnership with the George Washington University. Still holding his Canon Rebel XTi in his hands, he mentioned he was on his way to the reception to take more photographs. I didn’t want to hold him up so I tried to be quick.

Baylor rugby player (Photo: Jon Howell)

I found out that Jon recently transferred to the University of North Texas from Angelo State University in San Angelo, TX. He played rugby for two years there and hopes to continue playing at North Texas. “It’s different than football,” he says, “you have to learn how to hit the other guy differently.” He talks about the importance that strategy plays in the game as well. But even strategy doesn’t protect you from getting a little banged up. Jon has broken his nose three times (weird, so have I!) and had his AC separated off the clavicle.

Off the field Jon’s artistic interest is not limited to photography. He also loves music. “I own a record store in Abilene, Texas” he says. “You mean old school vinyl records?” I asked. He nodded his head and confirmed my suspicion. This struck me as odd. CDs were already starting to dominate as the preferred physical medium for music by the time he was born! But this has nothing to do with that. This is more about the relationship someone has with music. There is something almost romantic about vinyl records.

Record player (Photo: Jon Howell)

I was just surprised to discover that someone his age who grew up in an era full of hi-tech gizmos would feel so strongly about this format of music that he would own a record store. Let’s not forget how cool it is that at 19 he owns his own record store!

Jon said he was going to use the $10 to get some food that week. As an unpaid intern he has to be careful with his spending.

We talked about Washington, DC some. “The first time I came here was when I was in the eighth grade. I remember seeing the homeless and it made an impression on me.” He also took lots of photos while he was here. Jon was very excited to to return to Washington and work with an organization like Street Sense which does so much for the city’s homeless citizens.

Narrow DC street (Photo: Jon Howell, Street Sense)

His internship will be up in August and he will return to Texas. With him he will take much more than the thousands of photos he has shot and the college credits that he has earned. He will take with him an experience that I believe will change the course of his life as it has changed mine. The opportunity to learn about and work with this city’s homeless population has opened my eyes and my heart in so many ways.

I said goodbye to Jon and let him get to work.  The Award Ceremony reception had left over food and coffee which I took with me a few blocks away to the park at 20th and Pennsylvania.  There I found several people who were happy to receive some of the leftovers.  As I was walking around the park I found one man laying in the grass with nothing but the clothes on his back.  I was worried that he might not be ok, so I walked over and asked.  The man awoke from his sleep and turned out to beAnthony from Day 6! He and I chatted for a while and he seemed well, although sufficiently inebriated.   It was good to see him.  I chatted with another man for nearly an hour and a half.  It was now midnight and my brother and father were waiting for me across the street (they had went to dinner when I went to deliver the food and coffee).  It was a great night!

Jon (Photo: Reed)

A special thanks to Jon for allowing me to post some of his photographs in this blog. Click here to check out more of Jon’s photography.

UPDATE: 10/27/2010

I got an update from Jon.  Here it is…

Hey man its been awhile. Hope all is well in DC and with your giving. Sorry I never got to give you a photo lesson, it was just so crazy the whole time I was there. I’m working for the newspaper at UNT doing photography and multi-media news videos and playing for the UNT rugby team. I also just got a job working as a field representative for  home improvement place in Lewisville. I go door to door to offer a free estimate on any projects they may have on their homes. My brother also graduated from film school and got signed to an agency here in Dallas. He just got cast in stage production and is about to audition for another. The record store is still in business and doing pretty good. I still haven’t found a location for here in Denton but the one in Abilene is doing well. Hope to hear back from you.

Read Full Post »

I often get asked if I regret giving my $10 to anyone.  The question has always seemed foreign to me.  Sure, some encounters go better than others, but I don’t regret having met any of the people that I have come in contact with on my journey.  I find that even the people who I don’t feel a strong connection with teach me something.  Well, the person that I met last Tuesday comes the closest to being a regrettable experience. 

Lately I have noticed a woman sitting north of Dupont Circle at 1625 Connecticut Avenue during the day.  It’s very close to the Chipotle there.  Anyway, I have walked by this woman a couple of times now and haven’t had time to stop and speak with her.  But Tuesday I decided to introduce myself to Arlen.

The 29-year-old was dressed in an oversized sweatshirt sitting on some blankets with her legs tucked under her.  She looked like she had not showered in some time.  She had a considerable amount of somewhat long facial hair covering her face.  She sat almost motionless, staring out toward the street.  As I got closer she slowly moved her head to the right and up to look at me.  I crouched down in a baseball catcher’s position and introduced myself.  She took the ten dollars and slowly moved her head back center and looked downward and started to smile.

“Do you have a cigarette,” she responded in a slow hypnotic tone.  I explained that I didn’t smoke and she asked if I would go find her a cigarette.  I decided to try to speak to her a little more before I went on a scavenger hunt, but she seemed obsessed with finding a cigarette and managed to pull herself up and stagger over to some people and try to bum a cigarette off of them.  Although she seemed to be talking to them for a few minutes, she continued to another set of people where I imagine she posed the same question.  A few minutes later she returned with a lit cigarette and sat down.

She was so out of it that I thought I better cut to the chase and ask her what she was going to do with the $10.  She said she was going to buy food with it.  “Are you homeless,” I asked.  He head moved again slowly and her glassy eyes met mine “Now you’re being disrespectful!”

I apologized and explained that I was not trying to be disrespectful in any way but that I just wanted to understand her situation better.  “I make $10 a day and you ask shit like that,” she said.  I apologized again and said that I hoped my $10 would be of great help.  “Whatever, you’re a son of a bitch,” she snapped back. 

Although she seemed to obviously be completely drugged out of her mind, I could not control feeling offended by her behavior.  I responded back, “You say that you only make $10 all day long, I just gave you $10.  A thank you might be more in line than calling me a son of a bitch.”  She sighed and mumbled something under her breath.  We both sat there in silence for about 10 seconds until she got up and walked over to the people who had given her the cigarette.  I waited for her to come back for about five minutes but she didn’t even look back over toward me.  I decided to leave.

I try to focus on taking something positive away from this experience.  It’s hard to know what that is though.  She was not a likeable person although I know she was not in her right state of mind either.

So, do I regret giving Arlen my $10?  Not at all.  Do I wish it had went differently?  Absolutely.

Day 163 is the day I arrived in Manizales…so get ready for the Year of Giving to go international!  I give my first $10 away on an airplane too!

Read Full Post »

Good morning!  There is nothing I like more than waking up early on a Monday morning and getting a head start on things I need to get done!  A lot of people complain about Monday’s… I love’em!

So I’m considering putting together somewhat of an advisory board for my Year of Giving.  I believe that there are some interesting ways that the project can develop and hope to get some critical perspectives on it.  If anyone knows someone wickedly smart or creative who they think would be an asset to this thought process, please shoot me an email.

Last week I was meeting with Abby Strunk, the executive director at Street Sense.  As you know, I have enjoyed getting to know their vendors.  As it turns out, she was following the Year of Giving journey and reached out to me a few weeks back.  So we decided to meet up for coffee.  She has been with the paper for six months and seems to be driving the organization in the right direction.  I really believe in this organization and offered to help them out if there was anything I could do.  Coincidentally, as we were chatting, she pointed out a Street Sense vendor who was selling the paper just on the other side of the frosted glass of the Caribou Coffee shop we were at.  After our meeting, I walked over and gave my $10 to Tommy.

Photo: Reed

He is vendor # 003.  That’s right…he is the third vendor hired.  Tommy’s been selling Street Sense for about six years.  He credit’s his friend Jose for encouraging him to sell the paper.  At first Tommy didn’t think he would be good at it, but he proved himself wrong.  Having a job turned out to be one of the key elements in Tommy’s sobriety.  After years of drug and alcohol abuse, the 54-year-old father turned his life around seven years ago by getting sober.  He is currently homeless, but stays in a local shelter and is an active voice in housing issues for the homeless.

I found a link on Street Sense’s website that had a small write-up on Tommy.  I have copied a Q&A section that was part of the write-up that I thought you might find interesting.

What is your favorite kind of music?

Jazz, Korean and Jamaican music

What is your favorite food?

Steak with mashed potatoes and gravy

What is your favorite movie?

I like Batman and Spiderman but also like horror movies.

How did you become homeless?

I got myself into trouble doing stuff I wasn’t supposed to.

Were you ever homeless before?

Yes, about 20 years ago.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Tommy sees himself getting his drug counselors license and giving back to the community that helped him. He would also like to find a permanent residence.

Tommy never graduated from high school so now he is working on getting his GED.  He hopes that once he gets his degree that he can go on to be certified as a drug counselor for recovering addicts.  I think this would be a fantastic role for him.

He plans to use the $10 to pay bills.  Selling the Street Sense is a big part of Tommy’s life, but he still lacks the funds to secure private housing.  As he said in the interview excerpt above, he would really like to have his own place.  I asked Tommy how we could help him and he gave me a list of several things that he needed.

Here’s a short video from my chat with him.  You’re gonna like him!

Tommy can be found weekdays at either 11th/G, 13/G, or 14th/G and on Thursdays, Saturday, and Sunday at 29th/M.
 

Update July 7, 2010: Here is a little video from my first delivery of items for Tommy.  Thanks to all who continue to help Tommy out.  Be sure to check the Lend a Hand section for updated items that he needs.

Update June 26, 2011: Congratulations to Tommy who celebrated 8 years sober on May 27th!

Update December 4, 2012: I learned today hat Tommy died on November 18th. He was 56. He was battling some health issues, but I didn’t realize it had gotten that dire. He was a good man that I admired. I will miss him. I hopefully will get some more details tomorrow.

Read Full Post »

Last Tuesday was an exciting and busy day for the Year of Giving project.  As I went out on my journey looking for someone to give my $10 to, I was accompanied by a local TV news crew that is doing a story on the project.  I will let everyone know when the segment will air.

Another exciting element of Tuesday was that I was able to deliver some much needed clothes and shoes to Anthony from Day 67.  Maureen and Josh from PA sent him some shoes and socks.  Darnell from MD had sent me some items for Gregory from Day 71, but Gregory has disappeared.  I have not seen him for over a month and the local businesses near where he used to panhandle everyday say that they have not seen him either.  One of the items that Darnell sent was a brand new Tommy Hilfiger waterproof jacket.  I thought that it might fit Anthony and it did!  A big thank-you to Maureen, Josh, and Darnell!  Check out this short clip of Anthony receiving the items.

Then it was off to find the recipient of the day.  I headed over to the neighborhood of Georgetown and found Mariana.  She said she didn’t have time to participate and that she really needed more like $1,000 not $10, so I kept on looking.

Davenport, IA

Just a few seconds later I spotted a young woman waiting to cross Wisconsin Avenue.  Her name was Katelyn.  The 21-year-old from Davenport, IA, is a junior at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL, just 50 minutes south of Chicago’s Loop.  She has been in DC this semester as part of the university’s Study Abroad Program.  While here in DC, she has also had the opportunity to intern with Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Katelyn’s home state.

I asked Katelyn where she was headed and she answered that she was walking over to a boutique to pick up her dress for the Naval Academy’s Ring Dance, where her boyfriend attends school.  Let me stop and tell you that Katelyn has a beautiful smile.  When she started talking about her boyfriend and attending the Ring Dance, she was beaming. 

Katelyn (Photo: Reed)

I tried to take copious notes, but I may have gotten this wrong.  The Ring Dance is a special ceremony where the second class midshipmen, third year students, receive their class rings.  Their date wears the ring around their neck and then during the ceremony they dip the ring into water from all seven seas.  This is a pretty big deal for the midshipmen.  There is even a website that has a countdown clock letting you know exactly how long until the Ring Dance 2010 as well as the 2011 event!  If you were wondering, at the time of this post, it was 20 days, 6 hours, and 40 minutes.

Although Katelyn said she felt like she should do something greater with the $10, she said the money would most likely be used for lunch.  Her decision could have been influenced by the fact that it was 2:00 and she hadn’t had lunch and said that she was really hungry.

 I asked her what her thoughts on giving were.  She flashed her beautiful smile again and said, “I think it’s very important.” In fact, she was on her way back from volunteering that morning at Martha’s Table.  She also has volunteered her time at the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center, and other organizations.  

After spending this term in Washington, DC, Katelyn said, “I have learned a lot about myself.  I used to think I wanted to go to law school, now I think I might want to teach English.”

As far as those who want to help Katelyn, she thought of two things that people could help her with.  The first one is that she hopes to go to Japan sometime soon as her boyfriend’s sister is currently living there.  Katelyn would like some tips on how to get good deals for traveling to Japan.  Also, with her recent thoughts on her career, she would love to find an English professor who would serve as a mentor to her so that she can better plan her future in order to realize her goal of becoming an English professor herself.  Please leave a comment here or drop me a note if you have any advice for Katelyn or know of a potential mentor for her.

As I left, I spotted John from Day 40.  He said he was not doing well and had just been diagnosed with Cancer.  Every time I have met John, either someone in his family has died or he has been diagnosed with a new life-threatening issue.  You want to believe people, but this sounds like too much.  For his sake, I hope the stories aren’t true.

Read Full Post »

Last Monday I was on my way to meet up with a friend for dinner when I came across Doug near the corner of 7th and E in Penn Quarter.  He was sitting on top of a hard suitcase, the small kind that you see flight crews carry all the time.  Next to him was a larger suitcase with a bag on top.  Tied to the handle of the large suitcase was a cardboard sign which read, “Travel funds needed.  Extreme Duress.  Borderline Crippled Due to illegal Activity on ME.”

Photo: Reed

I first walked by him and then stopped to check my watch.  I was supposed to meet up for dinner at 7:30, it was now 7:20.  What the heck, I went back and introduced myself and gave him my $10.

I can’t say that I know too much more about Doug after chatting with him for 15 minutes.  Although he talked a lot, he told me very little.  Most of my questions went unanswered and often he just spiraled into long-winded rants about injustices that he has suffered, the details of which he didn’t care to share.

“I am a semi-long term resident of greater Seattle,” he told me.

According to Doug, he came out here a little over a year ago with the intention on staying for just one month so that he could “get done what I came here to do.”  He kept referring to doing everything in his power to legally make things right.  I probed again about what he was trying to do and he shifted into a rant on how some people take advantage of others.

“I bet some people would intentionally trip the blind just to hurt them, you know?”  “If a blind person were to walk by here I bet some people would try to trip’em just to hurt’em, you know what I mean?”  Getting nowhere, I tried to go back and focus on more basic questions like his age.

“Well, how old do I look?”

I tried to dodge that question myself.  I finally answered that I thought he was in his 50s.  He said, “Well that’s not too bad, not after what I have been through.”  

I told him that I was interested in knowing more about that and he replied, “I don’t want to get into details.”

He did tell me that he planned to use the money to buy some food that night and some coffee and breakfast in the morning.  Who knows though, he clearly has some issues and I am not sure I got a single straight answer out of him.  

I knew that he wasn’t going to allow me to photograph or videotape him, but I figured I had nothing to lose right?  He said he didn’t want to be in any photos, but agreed to me taking a picture of his sign.

He continued to rant about things that made very little sense. 

I waited until he paused for a second and then told him I needed to head on my way and extended my hand toward him.  He said he couldn’t shake my hand as his was full of fractured bones.  We left it at that.

Maybe Ivory from Day 49 knows his story.  Ivory sells the Street Sense just a block or two away and he seems to know everyone around there.  I will stop by and check with Ivory one of these days.

Read Full Post »

Technology is just not being my friend these days.  First last week the display on my point and shoot Canon camera died.  Then that little ball that you use like a mouse on the Blackberry decided it didn’t want to roll to the left.  The WiFi switch on my laptop is starting to fail.  It constantly says that it has been switched to off…causing me to lose my connection.  This is really annoying when you have a daily blog!  What’s next?  Maybe I need to go back to low tech.  I could write up my daily adventures by hand, make drawings of the people I meet, get a mimeograph (now that is old school!) and make copies of everything and then mail them out to you via the post office!

Anyway, last Friday I tried to give my $10 away near Dupont Cirlce to a Hispanic woman who was carrying some bags.  She just looked like she could use ten bucks, but she didn’t want to talk to me at all.  She just kept saying, “Sorry, sorry, sorry.”  I tried in Spanish, but she just kept on going.

Later I found Jona (pronounced Yona) pushing a scooter over to a place to lock it up by the Metro entrance.

The 27-year-old hails from Tirana, the capital and largest city in Albania, but has been living in the US since 2000.  She is a Finance Manager so she probably has some interesting opinions on my Year of Giving.

She says that she likes living in the US, but makes a point to visit Albania every year.  In fact she plans to return to live there some day.

We chatted for a while.  I asked her if there was anything we could help her with.  She said that she herself didn’t need anything but would like for everyone to start doing their part to help conserve our environment.  I asked her what specifically and she said, “Just the little things.  I mean just do it.  People know what the right thing to do is.”  She herself was participating in a very interesting conference that day called, Creating Climate Wealth.

The two-day conference convened respected entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, and corporate leaders to provide their insights and expertise on the policies, market frameworks, and programs that will clear the barriers to deliver emission reductions and promote job creation.

She said that Virgin’s Richard Branson was there launching his new venture the Carbon War Room.   I found a statement from Branson on Tonic that said, “Almost 50 percent of emissions can be eliminated without adding any burdens to consumers through improved market structures and enhanced policies.  Climate change solutions represent the largest wealth creating opportunity for our generation. It is also the biggest win for governments with respect to economic development, job creation, increased property values, etc.”

Jona said former Costa Rican President José Maria Figueres was on the panel with Branson and had a great comment.  He was talking about how in business and our personal lives we make a plan b in case things don’t go the way we hope.  “There is no planet B!” he said.  Figueres was able to pass a carbon tax in Costa Rica in the 1990s!  He credits this to Costa Rica having a single term presidency and not being sidetracked by re-election efforts.  Commenting on the importance of carbon taxing, he went on to say, “As long as the price of a tree standing is less than the price of a tree cut for timber, we won’t save the forests.”

I wish I had known about this summit. I would have loved to have participated.

Jona didn't want her picture taken, but said I could take a picture of her scooter! (Photo: Reed)

At the end of our conversation, Jona gave me the money back.  She said, “I am going to give $10 of my own money to the guy who sits in front of the Johnny Rockets on Connecticut Avenue.”  She asked me to use that $10 to help someone else out.  I did not give it away that night.

On Sunday I saw the man she was talking about.  His name is Travis.  I used that extra $10 that I had to buy him dinner: Cheese Steak sandwich platter with everything on it and french fries.  I let him know that Jona would be by to see him one day too.

Read Full Post »

John pushing one of this two carts (Photo: Reed)

Taxes are due today.  Ugh… I have waited to the last minute.  Shame on me.  Maybe the IRS will give me $10!

On Day 115 I was walking home and walked by a man pushing two shopping carts full of stuff south down Connecticut Avenue.  He had a system where he would push one of the carts about a block, leave it there, then go back and push the second cart up to where he had left the first one.  He repeats this for hours sometimes.  I stopped and offered to help push his carts for a while so he didn’t have to keep making double trips.  He wouldn’t accept my help.  

His name was John.  Two Johns in a row! 

Even from a few feet away I clearly smelled a very foul vinegar-like odor coming from John.  He definitely needs some new clothes and a good shower.  I wanted to help him and offered him my $10.  He accepted it.

Photo: Reed

His shopping carts are full of grocery store boxes and empty bottles and all kinds of other things.  I asked where he leaves the items during the day, because I imagine he can’t stay with the items all day long.  He said he usually just leaves them down near the McDonald’s on 20th and M Street.   The 64-year-old is obviously uncomfortable talking to me…but I push on.    

John has been homeless for five years he says as he looks around a bit erratically.  The tattered hat he wears cast a slight shadow on the upper part of his face making it difficult to see his eyes as I speak with him.  He says that he ended up homeless here in DC after moving down from Albany.  “I couldn’t find housing when I got here,” he said.  He has been pushing the carts for years. 

My guess is that he suffers from some form of mental illness. He says that he will use my $10 for food.  I asked him if there was anything that the YoG followers could help him with, but he said “no.”  I really wanted to get his clothes washed for him or get him some new ones but he said he had no contact information, although I might be able to find him near that McDonald’s he mentioned.  Incidentally that is the same McDonald’s where Gregory from Day 71 used to hang out.  I haven’t seen him for a couple of weeks now.

I managed to get a short video of John, but then he got a little antsy and went on his way.

  

Read Full Post »

Ben & Jerry's Dupont Circle (Photo: Reed)

I am still behind on posting my giving experiences.  Today’s post is from last Tuesday!  I’m going to try to start ‘posting two a day until I get caught up.

I was walking home from a meeting and noticed a large line outside of the Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop south of Dupont Circle on 19th Street. 

As it turns out it is Customer Appreciation Day where they give everyone a free scoop of ice cream.  Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t stop there though, they also partner with cause related organizations to give them an opportunity to fund-raise.  

Here’s how it works.  Ben & Jerry’s allows the charitable organization to be present and ask for donations on free scoop day.  In addition, if a patron donates $2 or more, Ben & Jerry’s gives the donor a 10% off card valid for all purchases for a year.  Great idea!

I had to stop.  The organization asking for donations was Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund.  I donated $5 to the organization and then decided to try to give my $10 to person asking for donations.

Emily (Photo: Reed)

Originally from Arizona, Emily is a Research Assistant with the organization.  It was quite chilly that afternoon and Emily looked like it was taking a toll on her.  Her face was tight and body scrunched together as she tried to stay warm.  Her coat sleeves provided little relief for her exposed hands that held her sign.

Emily said that she was going to give the money to someone else.  “I am not exactly sure how, but it will go toward helping someone else out!” she cheerfully shared.  I asked if she gave regularly and her smile went awry and she said, “Well, my fiancée is better at that than I am.”

There were several interns helping Emily get donations.  They would tell the people in line that they were accepting donations for the Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund as well as explain the added benefit that patrons would receive by donating more than $2.  At some point the interns had to leave and Emily was left by herself.  I noticed that the donations slowed down as people were just walking by Emily.  I had a few minutes to spare and offered  to walk up and down the line and tell those waiting about the opportunity to donate and receive the Ben & Jerry’s discount card.  I did this until 5:30 when a fresh set of volunteers were scheduled to arrive.  I had to get going and said goodbye to Emily. 

A few hours later I received the following email from Emily!

I was so excited to do something with my $10 but was not sure that “something” would be blatantly obvious. I was wrong. Not only did I have the opportunity to use my $10 for someone else’s well-being, but it happened a mere 2 hours after meeting you.

I was freezing cold after working outside trying to get donations for the organization I work for and just wanted to get home. Upon trying to enter the blue line platform [on the Metro], I discovered the blue line was having massive issues. It was going to be a very long wait to even board a train. I decided I would get a drink and wait it out. Perfectly logical, right? As soon as I stepped outside it began to pour rain. After running into the nearest bar and discovering there was not a single seat, I settled on a nearby Subway.

As I tried to rush in the doors from the rain I was approached by a seemingly homeless female. Now, my personal policy is to not give money to homeless individuals. This is not because I am heartless; rather, I prefer to make donations elsewhere to places I have a better idea of where my money will go. So when she started to ask me–I already had my mind made up–I said no. What I didn’t process until after I had said no, was that she didn’t ask for money–she asked for a sandwich. I promptly ordered 2 turkey meal deals. She was very thankful and is currently eating her sandwich across the room from me.

I wonder what her story is.

Thanks for the opportunity to make someone’s day. I’m still in subway typing this email out…I couldn’t wait to share my ten dollar story.

 Respectfully,

Emily (day 99!)

Read Full Post »

Mark your calendars.  June 15th is the Worldwide Day of Giving.  I know what you are thinking.  You’ve never heard about this day.  Well, that is because I just made it up.  It’s going to be an amazing day though.  Let’s see how many people throughout the world we can get to give $10 (or the local currency equivalent) to a stranger on that day and then share their stories here on the Year of Giving.  More details to come…but start telling people now.  This is your chance to experience the exhilaration that I have been feeling every day for the last 3 months!

On Day 87 I met Rick.  He was sitting in front of a hair salon on Connecticut Avenue.  I remember seeing Rick about a month and a half ago when I was giving my $10 to Ron.  Ron asked if I knew Rick…he said, “Everybody out here knows Rick.” 

Rick says he has been homeless for 7 months…but that doesn’t seem to add up with the fact that everybody seems to know him.  Even Rick himself told me that everybody knows him.  Maybe he has been panhandling longer…but just lost his housing 7 months ago.

He says he doesn’t like to stay in shelters.  “They’re full of drug users in there” he says.  Most nights he sleeps on the streets.

He keeps one eye always on the foot traffic…especially the ladies.  He is quick to shoot a smile their way.  A couple people fill his cup with dollar bills as we talk and a few regulars say hello.

Rick is a little too smooth.  I wasn’t sure what to believe or not to believe. Sometimes he seemed to lose his train of thought…maybe it was the booze.  His breath was soaked in alcohol…although he wasn’t sloppy. 

Check him out for yourself and find out what he thinks of his family, where he sleeps, and what he says he is going to do with the $10!

Read Full Post »

Terrible news from Chile…another devastating earthquake shocks us this year.  Luckily the epicenter was not in as densely of a populated area like it was in Haiti.  Nonetheless, I have made myself available to travel to Chile if there is a relief organization that can use my services.  I speak Spanish and have been to Chile and would welcome the opportunity to help those in need.

Phillip sells a paper to a passerby (Photo: Reed S.)

On Day 75 I met Phillip, a colorful salesman for Street Sense.  I was driving north on Wisconsin Ave. in the Tenleytown neighborhood on my way to my father’s place in Pennsylvania when I saw a man on the right side of the road with a “Cat in the Hat” type hat.  Well, I had to pull over and meet this guy.

As it turns out Phillip is a Street Sense vendor and the hat is part of his “marketing.”  He is vendor number 202 and has been selling the paper for 2.5 years.  He told me that summer is the best time of year for selling the paper when he can often sell over his average of 30-40 papers a day.

Phillip is homeless and on two waiting lists for subsidized housing.  “You would not believe how many people are one or two paychecks away from being homeless,” says the former plumber whose problems started when he was hospitalized with stomach ulcers and bleeding.  He spent 17 days in the hospital and when he came out he found himself losing his home and his marriage in peril.  He got better, but unfortunately was not able to reconcile his marriage.  Financially he was in freefall and ended up on the streets.

Go see Phillip if you are in DC.  He radiates love and kindness.  He can be found in front of the CVS near the intersection of Wisconsin Ave. and Brandywine St.  Look for the hat!  Phillip needs clothes: Shirts (XL), Pants (38×34), Shoes/Boots (11), Gloves (Med/Large). 

Here is a great video clip of Phillip explaining how he stays indoors during the bitter cold months.  

There is another great video of Phillip on Facebook.  Click here to see it.

Update July 7, 2010: Here is some video of Phillip receiving some of your donations!

Read Full Post »

Gregory has been homeless in DC for almost eight years.  He stands bundled up holding this sign and a ripped up cup at the corner of 18th and Connecticut Ave. in downtown Washington, DC. 

Photo: Reed S.

I spent about 45 minutes talking with Gregory.  He is very soft-spoken and gentle.  He says that he lost his job and his wife left him for another man about 8 years ago…the cocktail of events started a chain reaction that left him homeless and drinking.  Gregory said he used to never drink…he said he didn’t even like the taste, but he felt that he was able to escape from the pain and depression that he suffered from by drinking.  He paused and said that he has been sober for seven months now. 

His voice got even softer and he fought off tears as he shared some of the painful memories.  He told me that he had seen some doctors at one point and they wanted to give him pills for depression and mental illness.  He never took them.

Like almost every homeless I have met, he does not stay in shelters due to the violence, theft, and poor conditions.

While we talk, a man who was eating at Fuddruckers came out and gave him a small box of food, said nothing, and left.  Gregory continued to talk to me for a few minutes and then asked if I minded if he ate while we talked.  He opened the container to find an order of French fries.  He seemed hungry as he ate the entire box. 

I asked him what he planned to do with the $10 and he replied, “I know exactly what I am going to do with it.  I can get 3 meals at McDonald’s and have a dollar left over for something else…maybe something on the $1 menu.”  His favorite food is fried fish.  I asked him what the most he had ever received and he pointed to me and said $10.  

We talked about different services that are available to him.  I suggested he sell the Street Sense paper as well…several of the vendors do quite well once they build up a loyal customer base.  I asked him if there was anything that the readers of the Year of Giving could do for him and he said that he could use some jeans and other pants.  He wears a size 38 x 32.  If you are in DC and would like to meet Gregory, he is normally in front of the McDonald’s on M Street in between 19th and 20th Streets.  If someone else is there, he usually goes to Connecticut and 18th Street.  I can also reach him if you would like to get something to him.

By the way, I went down to try one of John’s burritos at Pedro and Vinny’s burrito stand.  It was excellent…I highly recommend it!  You definitely need to check out his stand at 15th and K. The food is tasty, the banter upbeat and interesting, and the line is full of regulars who he quickly recognizes.  An interesting thing is that John has somewhat of an honor system going on for payment.  He has a box that you are supposed to put in the amount that you owe.  I liked that.

On my way home I saw Roger from Day 57 but we didn’t get to talk.  About 4 blocks away I ran into Nikki from Day 66.  She didn’t recognize me and seemed pretty out of it.  She said she was talking to “the Man upstairs” and continued walking on to meet with a group of men standing in the center of Dupont Circle.  I also saw Kenneth from Day 30…but he was across the street and I was late for a meeting so I was unable to say hello.  Needless to say, I am starting to really get to know my neighborhood!

Read Full Post »

A start of a new week.  Is anyone following the Olympic hockey?  I saw several matches this weekend.  Although I was shocked and thrilled to see the USA beat Canada, it was sad that Finland could not redeem themselves from the 2006 Olympics and beat Sweden.

As I am not working now and I have finished with my theatre commitments, I have some free time.  I have some consulting work that I am doing, but so far it is fairly flexible.  So, what do you think would be interesting to do with my time?  I keep myself busy volunteering, working out, consulting, job hunting, etc…but I have been thinking that I am probably missing amazing opportunities to travel or volunteer in unique ways, etc.   What do you think?  Let me know and be creative!

So on day 69 my $10 ended up in the hands of Lauren.  She is 26, lives in Virginia, and has a degree in horticulture from Virginia Tech.  Perhaps she would have came across my uncle Larry while at school…he was a professor at Virginia Tech in the Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science – but she said that his name was not familiar to her.

Brian and Lauren at Brasserie Beck in DC

Anyway, Lauren was with her friend Brian having some oysters and Belgian beers at Brasserie Beck.  I had never been there and happily give it a thumbs up.  One complaint would be the noise factor.  It was so loud that the video I took of Lauren and Brian didn’t come out very good so you will have to use your imagination and trust me that they were a lot of fun.

Lauren tells me that she will give my $10 to a homeless person and promises to follow up with me to let me know about her experience.  

Oh, and as for the oysters, Lauren said they were amazing…her favorite ones there were called “blue diamond” she thought.  

They were Foodies of a sort…they told me about some of their other favorite stomping grounds such as: Zaytinya, the Capitol Lounge, and the Red Derby.  The Red Derby sounded pretty interesting.  Lauren and Brian tell stories of an almost secret location on 14th Street in Northwest, DC where there is no sign, just a red painted derby hat on the door (reminds me of the Quarry House in Silver Spring, MD).  They rave about the weekend brunch, the can only beer selection, and a variety of board games on hand to keep your group entertained.  On top of all of this, every Wednesday is Big Lebowski night where they play the cult film and offer White Russian drink specials.

Read Full Post »

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’s 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 counseling 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 specific and he said he would really like help getting into some type of apartment.  Also, he would 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:

UPDATE: September 18, 2017

Anthony has started to make greeting cards, and they look fantastic. Check out Second Story Cards to see some of Anthony’s designs.

 

Read Full Post »

Nikki panhandles near Dupont Circle, DC (Photo: R. Sandridge)

Nikki has been homeless off an on for the past 20 years.  She is 55 and says she suffers from various health complications stemming from some aneurysms that she has had.  She sits on the cold concrete ground, rocking back and forth, and never looking at me in the eye.  The emotion in her face has been completely drained.  She maintains that cool steady expression during the entire time that we speak.

I asked her what she planned on doing with the $10 and she said that she would probably use $5 for food and the other $5 to put on her Metro SmarTrip card.

Nikki says that people can stop by and say hello to her.  She is in/around the Dupont Circle most weekdays.  Also, she could use some help from somebody who understands Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).  She has been denied benefits and says that her case manager is not very helpful in getting the issue resolved.  So if anyone has some knowledge about this and is willing to share with Nikki, please let me know.

I taped a little video with Nikki which you can see here:

Read Full Post »

Snowpocalypse 2010 (photo: R. Sandridge)

I woke up this morning to more snow!  After going down and shoveling the stairs and sidewalk in front of my condo, I headed out to give away my $10.  I found Melise, Kevin and Danilo…all said they could not accept my $10 for one reason or another.  All were nice and interesting to speak with…however, I was on a mission.  After more than an hour searching, I found Jeremy.

Jeremy was standing in a covered entry way for an office complex where he sought refuge from the cocktail of cold, wind, and snow that was swirling around Farragut Square in DC.  He is 48.  His stained clothes and weathered look led me to believe that he was homeless.  When I asked him if he was, he struggled with the answer.  Jeremy said he tried to stay with friends mostly or in a shelter near 2nd and E Street. 

Conversation was awkward with Jeremy.  He was extremely polite but seemed to be in a slightly altered state.  I don’t know if it was the cumulative effect of being out in the cold or a result of substance abuse or something else.  He took out a folded piece of newspaper that he had in his stained jacket and wrote down my name and other information I told him.  Every time I would jot something down in my small notebook, he would write something on his paper.  

Jeremy hopes to make a few dollars shoveling snow (photo: R. Sandridge)

I asked him what he was doing there.  He said he thought that some of the maintenance crew of the nearby office buildings would pay him to shovel some snow for a few dollars.  I asked what he would do with the $10 and he said that he would get some food, hot tea, and maybe use the leftover for bus fare.

We didn’t talk more.  I felt he was uncomfortable and I was freezing by this time.  I asked if I could take his picture…he obliged and I took the photo you see here. 

Would you believe on the way home I passed Melise again…the first woman who refused my $10 today.  She was nice and recognized me immediately.  Small world.

Read Full Post »

I didn’t think that the driving situation could get worse than yesterday…but I stand corrected.  Today there were way more amateur drivers venturing out into the snowy mess.  I helped dig out and push five cars.  Most of the people were not used to driving in the snow.  Sadly one of them was a taxi driver who was completely clueless about driving in the snow (in his defense, he was from East Africa).

I was surprised at how few people offered to help.  One time a maintenance man at a nearby building offered to help.  His name was Chavez…I tried to give him $10 after we got the person unstuck, but he politely refused and said the next time I saw him he would accept.  I will be looking for you Chavez!

I later found Roger, a Street Sense salesman, at the Farragut North Metro entrance.  Roger is 58 and lives in DC.  He has been living with his brother-in-law for about four months after he had some serious problems with his wife and daughter that lead to his wife changing the locks.  “That’s a bad sign” he tells me.  Yea…I would have to agree with you Roger.  Now his brother-in-law is also asking him to leave.  He is not sure where he will go after Feb 11th.

He says he will keep my $10 and add it to his savings to hopefully pay for housing/shelter.  

Roger seems very nice.  I shot a little bit of video of him that you can see here.

Want to help Roger out?  Here are a couple of things he needs:

  • A place to keep some of his things.  Preferably a place where he could have key to lock the items up.  Even a closet like space would help.
  • Free counseling. Roger has went through a very difficult time with his family.  He realizes that he needs counseling on how to deal with the situation.  I would like to try to find a therapist who would work with Roger on a pro bono basis.
  • Lastly, his computer broke and he really misses having his computer.  He actually still carries his computer case.  If anyone or any company has a working laptop that they would like to put to good use, Roger would be very appreciative. 

If you can help with any of these things, let me know and I can contact Roger.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday my brother invited me to see another Capitals game.  Man, it was a good one!  The Caps were down 4-1, then came back to tie it and eventually win it in overtime.  Although Ovechkin looked a little sluggish sometimes, he was on fire shooting 3 of the 5 goals.

After the game, Ryan and I thought we would hang out a while before we tried our luck getting on the Metro.  They were only running one train every 30 minutes and the majority of those who came to watch the hockey match came by Metro…so you can imagine what a mess it would be right after the game.

We headed into a Starbucks to take refuge from the cold and chat for a while.  I ran into Thomas, a friend who used to live in the same condo as me before he and his wife moved to New York.  Well, they moved back and he spotted me in the coffee shop and said hello.  It’s a small world.

I approached a woman, Lori, reading the paper at the counter and asked her to accept my $10.  She refused, urging me to find someone else more deserving.  I get this answer a lot.  I try to explain to people that they can do whatever they wish with the money.  If you think that you are not deserving of it, why not take a minute out of your day to give it to somebody who you think is deserving of it.  I sometimes think people are too lazy to do that…or they just don’t want to be bothered.

I ended up finding Esteban.  The 67-year-old Mexican-American was standing, with the help of a cane, next to the Verizon Center.  The first thing you notice about Esteban is the fact that he is not wearing any socks or shoes!?!?  He has a pair of sandals on.  He says that he doesn’t wear socks of shoes because he was poisoned with mercury by some people walking by while he slept and now it is too painful to put anything on his feet.

After a few minutes, I find myself a little confused in the conversation.  I switched to Spanish hoping that that would help clear up what he was trying to tell me.  Unfortunately, I realize early into my 25 minute chat with Esteban that he most likely suffers from schizophrenia and/or other mental illness.  Ok, the lack of shoes and socks should have been a red flag.

I am not sure what to believe about what he tells me.  Some details seem normal and very believable.  Like the fact that he came to the US in 1984, has been homeless for most of the time, has relatives in Texas, and is originally from Tamaulipas, Mexico.  But then there were the bizarre stories.  Like the lynching of a bully in a DC shelter or the friendship with a DC police lieutenant or stranger yet, the intimate knowledge he has of a scandal involving the FBI, CIA, and a former DC mayor that caused him to flee the city and end up at the Pentagon. 

It was sad.  Esteban needs help far beyond what I am able to provide.  It takes a while to wrap up the conversation as he retells some of the stories.  He said he would use the money to get some food this week.  I told him to protect his feet.  He explained again about the mercury and how anything he put on his feet hurt.  I suspect his feet are frost bit.  I urged him to go to a shelter, but he refused.

I wished him luck, shook his hand and nodded to my brother to get on our way.  He smiled and hobbled a bit further under the overhang, close to where his bags sat wet from the gray slushy mess that covered the sidewalk.

Read Full Post »

Day 49 – Ivory W.

You may remember that zazzle.com offered to make cool business cards for me for free!!! Yep, I got them yesterday.  They look great.  I will take a picture of them and post it later this week.  Zazzle’s site is cool, you create your own designs (for all kinds of things, not just business cards) and can then post them in public libraries of content, making it available for purchase and customization by other visitors to the site.  Very cool!

On Monday I got my official authorization from the DC government to perform Ryan and Mandy’s wedding!  Finally.  On my way home, I decided to walk part of the way home.  As I walked north on 7th Street, I saw a Street Sense vendor at the North East corner of 7th and E.

Ivory displays the latest copy of Street Sense

I really like interacting with the Street Sense sales people and I try to see if I know this vendor.  Peaking out of his hooded jacket, Ivory’s eyes look out above his glasses and meet mine.  He smiles, revealing a shiny tooth with 4 diamonds on it.  I have not met Ivory (badge number 102) before and decide to give him my $10.

Ivory is a very interesting guy.  He started selling Street Sense 3 years ago on the corner of 7th and E and has grown his clientele significantly now.  His clients have helped Ivory get out of the shelter and into an apartment in Arlington that he shares with a roommate.

Ivory is an artist.  He paints his canvass with words…whether it be the spoken word or his written fictional stories that he has published.  That’s right, he has over 25 published stories and has written a book that sold 500 copies.  You can browse through old issues at the Street Sense site to find his articles or better yet, start buying the paper and look out for his next story, Galaxy Baseball. 

So what is he doing on the streets?!  I am not sure, I didn’t discover that yet.  He tells me that he is originally from Texas, where he grew up to be a rodeo bull rider.  Sounds dangerous…but so is flirting with homelessness.  Ivory takes it in stride though.  He eventually made it to DC and seems to be on the right path. 

Everyone knows Ivory.  A minute doesn’t go by while I am talking to him that somebody doesn’t greet him.  His eyes are always scanning the faces that fill the streets.  A man stops and Ivory gets excited as he tells me that he was one of the key people who got him started 3 years ago.  The man gives him a dollar.   In the following clip, Ivory talks a little bit about how he got his start at 7th and E Street.

Ivory said he was going to use the $10 to go toward rent.

For those of you in DC, go visit Ivory and help him out.  For those who are not in the area, I will try to post some more video.

As I was writing up my blog, I found a story about Ivory in the Washington Post from March 16, 2008.  It sheds a little more light on his life and the path that led him to be homeless.  There is also a write-up on Street Sense.

Ivory alerts me that it is almost 5:00pm and he needs to start paying attention to the foot traffic as the after work rush hour begins to buzz by.  He snaps into action to meet and greet his friends and customers and I am on my way.

Read Full Post »

Some friends of mine were in town this weekend and we met for brunch at Kramer’s in Dupont.  For those of you who have been following the blog, you probably have figured out that I like that place.

They have a decent brunch.  I am not sure that I am a brunch person…I always struggle between the breakfast and lunch options.  It doesn’t really matter I guess though, whatever you order you are going to eat too much probably and feel a bit comatose when you’re done.  As we forced our sluggish bodies out of the iconic locale, we saw a homeless man right outside of the door.  I decided to see if he would accept my $10.

Norman outside Kramer's in DC

It’s a strange feeling when you stand inches away from someone who has committed heinous crimes and feel compassion for them rather than fear.  To say that Norman is a likeable fellow is an understatement. 

His home now is the New York Avenue Shelter.  He says that he tends to be a bit of a loner preferring not to associate with other people at the shelter.  He explains that taking sides is how you get into trouble; probably a lesson he learned in prison.  I asked him what his future looks like.  He kind of shrugged as if to say that he doesn’t see his life getting much better.  I asked him if he was aware of organizations that could offer him help to get back on his feet.  His eyes look downward, then up and into my eyes, “If after 35 years in DC, 18 years in 7 different prisons, you don’t know how to take care of yourself, you aint ever gonna learn.”

Norman said he was going to use the money for some food and transportation this week.  He said it was very generous.  On a good day he told me he can bring in about $110 panhandling.  One time a doctor over near P Street gave him $40.

Like many of the other homeless people that I have met, I feel sad to say goodbye.  I know that I am going back to my warm comfortable home and he will still be here in 20 degree weather.  I shake Norman’s hand and give him a smile and tell him to take care of himself.  I hope that I run into Norman again.

By the way, I have updated the statistics page this weekend and continue to add to the Lend A Hand section.

Read Full Post »

I ran several errands on Day 45.  I ended up near the World Bank then hiked over to Franklin Square, where I found Ryan Z. on Day 42.  On my way over, I passed a lunch stand on the corner of 15th and K Street.  There was a line 25 people deep.  I peered into the stand and I saw a lone man deftly making burritos for the hungry crowd.  This place must be good, I thought.  I continued on another block to my next appointment.  I finished my meeting around 2pm and then crossed Franklin Square to get some paperwork from a friend of my brother’s fiancée.  I picked up the paperwork and then started heading back home.

John hard at work at his burrito stand

It was probably 2:30 and I spotted the lunch stand and thought that I ought to check out the place.  The line no longer there, the “burrito man” was packing up.  I walked up to John and asked him if he would participate in the Year of Giving.  He was very busy and agreed on the condition that I am quick.  I gave him the $10 and got his name and asked a question or two about his burrito stand, Pedro and Vinny’s.  He has been doing this for about 10 years he tells me. 

Although in a hurry, he takes time to tell me about the all- vegan bean product, the fresh ingredients, and that he doesn’t use any lard in his preparation.  He proudly tells me that his Mango Habanero sauce is now commercially available.  Although I had already had lunch, my stomach is screaming at me for a burrito! 

I asked him what he was going to do with the $10 and instead of replying he darted out of from behind his stand and looked around.  He explained that he was looking for one of the homeless guys who tend to hang out near his stand so that he could give the money to them.  I liked his immediate reaction to help someone else out.  He went on to say that he gives away 3 or 4 meals a day to those in need.  That’s awesome!  Good for you John.

“How’s business?” I ask John.  He smiles and says that last year was his best year ever!  On an average day he sells about 150 burritos.  On a good day he sells over 200.  At an average of $5-6 per burrito, his customers appreciate a good product at a reasonable price during these challenging economic times.  You do the math, and it sounds like John is doing ok too.  In fact, his daughter Kristin is opening up her own stand this spring.    

I am interested to taste a burrito.  I will go back and get one some day.  I can almost guarantee you that the food is good though.  You don’t get a line like he had on a cold day if you don’t have something tasty!  

Pedro and Vinny's Menu

I know that John is in a hurry.  He gives me a business card and agrees to follow up with me via email if I have any other questions.  I will definitely update you when I go and get my burrito!  By the way, I was curious as to why he choose “Pedro and Vinny’s” for the name…I have followed up with John via email and will let you know when I write my review of his burrito.

Read Full Post »

I found myself in the picturesque neighborhood of Georgetown.  As I walked along M Street, I notice a man on the corner of M and Wisconsin sitting in front of the Banana Republic store.  

I cross the street and make my way to where he is sitting.  John has on a pink foam hat that says Vintage Virginia (I have been to this wine festival and was not impressed), a heavy wool blanket wrapped around him and a mini disco ball on a chain that hangs from his neck.  I stopped to talk to the 52-year-old homeless man and walked away with a smile on my face.

A clever phrase, a warm smile, or just a wave seems to work for John as he is successful in getting the attention of those who walk past him.  His kindness and free-flowing smile seem to almost warm the crisp winter air.  

John has been homeless for about 5 years he explained.  His life took a dramatic turn after he lost his wife and child in an auto accident.  He also said that he lost his other son due to heart failure at the age of 17 while playing basketball.  Too much personal tragedy for one person.

Now, he has become somewhat of a regular at this intersection I found out from a neighborhood local.  I asked John about his hat and disco ball.  He said they were gifts and he has worn them for over a year and that people remember him by his crazy pink hat.  That may be partly true, but I will remember him not for his hat, but for how friendly and optimistic he was despite his situation.

On top of being homeless, John suffers from heart disease and is an insulin dependent diabetic.  He recently lived through a difficult situation when he was denied benefits to get his insulin.  He doesn’t appear angry though.  He seemed to just take everything in stride.  We chatted for a while about all kinds of things; from his health stories to a meeting he had with Mayor Adrian Fenty to his fondness for really tall women!  Hey, if there are any 6’ or taller women out there who want to meet a really nice man, let me know and I will hook you up with John!

I asked South Carolina native about the hat.  He says that everyone knows him now by the pink hat.  He has other hats too.  A turkey hat for Thanksgiving, a complete Santa Outfit for Christmas, a red, white, and blue hat for the 4th of July, etc.  He doesn’t have an Easter Bunny hat, so if anyone has one that they would like to give to him, let me know! 

I asked John what he was going to do with the $10 and he replied with a big smile that revealed some missing teeth that he would get himself a big vegetable dinner.  He was very thankful of my donation.  I asked him how much he collects on  a good day and he said about $30-$40.  I think he might have lowballed me on this, as I saw at least $5 make its way to his bucket while I was standing there and a few more as I jotted down some notes from across the street after I spoke to him.  I bet a good day for him is at least double what he stated.  He explained that people do a lot of nice things for him and I asked him what has been the best “gift” so far.  “Conversation,” he said without hesitation.  I was touched by this.  A man who desperately needs financial resources valued the conversation of others much more than the money that they were giving him.

If you are in Georgetown, keep an eye out for the pink hat and stop and say hello to John.  It will be worth your time, trust me.

Read Full Post »

I was on my way to help construct the stage for the theatre production that I will be performing in starting January 22nd.  [For those of you in the DC area, come see the Foreigner at Rockville Little Theatre.  Details can be found here!] 

I was heading up to Rockville, MD on Georgia Avenue where you turn off to Veirs Mill Road and saw a woman standing on the median with a sign that said, “Not homeless yet.”  I made a u-turn and parked at a Baptist church, crossed to the median and went to speak with her.

As I walked up to her, she crossed her arms in an “X” shape and said, “Oh no!” as if she was trying to keep me away from her.  What the heck?  This has never happened.  Was I wearing my Montgomery County Police Department hat?  I asked her what was wrong and she said, “Your shirt….you a Redskins fan?”  I was wearing a Washington Redskins shirt.  It was then I noticed her Dallas Cowboys hat.  Oh lord…my second Cowboys fan here in DC that I have encountered in my Year of Giving.  I explain that I am actually a Steelers fan and we form a truce.

Dana, a 47-year-old single woman living in Maryland, says she is at the Georgia Ave. / Veirs Mill Rd. location almost every day from 9am to at least noon.  She claims to have hit financial turbulence two years ago when her mother passed away and left her with a house that still owed more than $60,000.  She says that she was unable to make the mortgage payments and the house entered into foreclosure.  She offers to show me the foreclosure papers that she has in her bag, but I didn’t think that was necessary. 

She says she is looking for work.  “I will scrub floors, clean toilets, whatever!” she says.  She gets by with the money she collects at this intersection now.  A Wonder® Bread truck rolls past and she hollers out, “Hi honey!”  She goes on to say, “Sometimes the driver gives me some leftover bread and pastries.”

This got me thinking.  I asked her what was the best thing she had received from someone driving by.  Her answer intrigued me.  Instead of saying a dollar amount or some material good, she said that the most valuable thing that she had received was encouragement from those that speak with her. 

She says she will use the $10 for food. 

Dana is very likeable.  She has been hardened considerably by her life experiences, but that doesn’t keep her down.  She is very positive and optimistic and smiles often; revealing that she has almost no teeth left.  We chat for a few more minutes as cars wiz by us on both sides.  She probably notices my slight fear of standing only 3 feet away on both sides from cars traveling 40 miles an hour.

I asked her if I could take a picture of her with her sign.  She agrees, but the camera on my phone doesn’t work.  I told her I would try to see her some day next week.  I thanked her for her time, wished her good luck, and said goodbye.

If anyone would like to reach Dana or help her, please let me know.

Read Full Post »

Today was a busy day!

I had an informative meeting with a friend of a friend on how to effectively incorporate twitter into my Year of Giving.  Look for this being added to the site soon.  Then I had a meeting with World Neighbors, a very impressive international development organization whose focus is to eliminate hunger, poverty, and disease in the poorest, most isolated rural villages in the developing world.  I urge you to check out their website and support their fantastic work.  Then I met up with Jenny from Day 13 to follow up on her thoughts about being a recipient of the Year of Giving and

Jenny from Day 13 in front of Kramerbooks where I met her

how her job search is going.  As you might remember, several YoG blog readers commented on suggestions for her to find work in the international public health sector.  Thanks to all that helped!  I should have a short video posted on Facebook soon where Jenny talks about her reaction to the Year of Giving as well as her own altruistic pledge!

Finally I went to the Embassy of Haiti to volunteer my time and resources to any efforts that they may have.  As I approached the embassy I was greeted by news trucks and a small memorial of candles and paintings.  Inside the embassy there was a very uncomfortable vibe.  Somber yet frantic if you can imagine.   The hustle and bustle of people was occasionally broken up by tears and desperation.  While I was there, I gave away my $10 to Gilles, a Haitian-American who lost his mother in the earthquake.  It was a very moving experience.  I will give a full report on Gilles tomorrow. 

I have been so busy, that I have not updated the blog on yesterday’s recipient…so here goes.

On day 30 I found Kenneth selling Street Sense at the Dupont Circle Metro entrance.  I bought a paper for $1.00 from the 43-year-old and asked if I could talk to him about a project I was doing.  He agreed and grabbed his personal items and suggested we have a seat nearby on a bench.  Kenneth is cheerful and full of energy. 

Kenneth selling Street Sense at the Dupont Circle Metro entrance

Before I finish telling you about my gift to Kenneth, let me say a few more words about Street Sense.  Street Sense is a great paper produced twice a month that is mostly run and written by those who are homeless or below the poverty level in DC.  You might recall David from Day 5 who was also selling Street Sense.  I have seen the Street Sense sales people for years, but never bought the paper.  Since I bought my first copy from David, I have really become a fan.  The paper is short and can be read in one sitting.  The stories are great and really give you insight into the DC homeless and poverty issues.  Sixty-five cents goes to the vendor and thirty-five cents goes to the paper.  The next time you see a sales person, stop, say hello, and buy an issue.  It’s a dollar!  These people are making an honest buck and the paper is great.  Here’s a little bit of trivia too.  Check out their vendor ID number and you can tell how long they have been at Street Sense.  They go sequentially from when they started so you might meet someone who has been there since the early days back in 2003 when it was started if they have a number under 20 for example.

Back to Kenneth.  He shared with me that he suffered from various conditions (bipolar, schizoaffective, and post traumatic stress) and as a result was living in a community residence facility (CRF), which is like an assisted living situation.  Although he said he wished that he could live on his own, I sensed that he understood that living in the CRF would help him get the most out of life.  

He enjoys selling the paper.  On good days, he sells his 20 papers within 2-3 hours.  Occasionally he gets the opportunity to mentor young professionals who want to experience what it is like to work for a nonprofit organization – he says he really enjoys that. 

I am mindful that my time with Kenneth is keeping him from selling his papers and wrap up our conversation.  He says he will spend the money on food this week.  I asked him if I could take his picture and he smiled and happily said that was fine.  He quickly went back to work hawking the remaining papers.  I encourage everyone who uses the Dupont Circle Metro to keep and eye out for Kenneth.  He is usually at the corner of 20th and Q.  Say hello, get a paper, and tell him that I sent you!  If you don’t live in the DC area, check to see if your city has a newspaper dedicated to the poor and homeless, lots of urban areas have them!

One final note, I heard back from Zazzle.com about sponsoring business cards for the Year of Giving.  They were delighted to help and will be shipping me 500 cards shortly!  THANK YOU!!!  Check out there site.  They have an interesting business model and do all kinds of other personalized items (clothes, mugs, etc.).

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »