Sunday, July 15, 2007

Jake, Ivory and Goodbye to Rita

Job for Jake

Congratulations are in order for Jake Ashford, a veteran vendor of Street Sense, who has landed a job at Insight Global in Chantilly, Va. After a long and trying search, he will finally be starting full-time employment. He will be helping out with warehouse shipping and receiving. He is excited to finally get into a work routine, and would like to thank all his customers for supporting him over the years. Even though he will be working 40 hours, he still plans on selling Street Sense at his favorite spot at Whole Foods on P Street.

Ivory the Writer

Ivory Wilson, a Street Sense vendor of six months, has caught the writing bug and is now writing about three stories a week for Street Sense. The first of his many stories, the coming-of-age short story "Black and White," ran in the last issue and this current issue includes the exciting thriller "Don’t Answer the Phone." Others in the works include "Black Cowboy," "The Fat Rat Under Union Station," and "Stacy from Malibu." He has also recently written several poems including an ode to his customers at 7 and E streets, NW.

Street Sense is publishing a piece of Ivory’s fiction each issue, but he is well ahead of the game already. After self-publishing his first full-length book, "A Player’s World," he is looking for a person or company to help publish his short stories in a compilation or someone to help him flesh out one of the stories into a full-length book.

The Heat is On

With the terribly hot weather in the past few weeks, please be mindful of the vendors that have to be out in the heat in order to earn an income. They do their best to find a shady spot and dress in lightweight clothes, but anything you as customers could do to help them stay cool would be much appreciated. The occasional bottle of water or cold drink is always welcome, as are a simple hand fan or sweat towel.

Goodbye Rita

And all of us here at Street Sense would like to thank Rita Monjardino, an office volunteer at Street Sense for the last eight months, and wish her the best of luck as she heads back to her home in London. Not only was she a top-notch office volunteer on the dreaded Monday morning shift, but she was also the voice of vendor Martin Walker’s girlfriend on the first few episodes of StreetSense TV.

As she cannot continue to lend her voice to StreeSense TV once back in London, Martin conveniently dumps Rita for another woman in episode four. But we here at Street Sense will never dump Rita and will always welcome her back!


Editor's Note: Celebrating Multitudes

The streets were deserted outside Union Station when I pulled up in a cab at 3 a.m. on a Thursday. Inside, an Amtrak waiting lounge was crowded with travelers slumped in place or lying across several seats in unapologetic sleep. My train to New York didn’t leave for another hour, but there were no empty seats here. I rolled my little bag to the next lounge, my eyelids itching from too little sleep in a long week of deadlines.

Less than 40 feet away, another lounge looked emptier and somehow different. There were far fewer travelers but they were all in a deep, stretched-out sleep. They had surprisingly little luggage, if you could call their few plastic bags luggage. Where were these people going with their beat-up looking CVS bags?

I hesitated. An unwashed smell drifted by.

They weren’t catching a train. They were homeless. They were catching up on their sleep under these fluorescent lights, using their hands or a balled-up shirt for a pillow.

Less than a month ago, I would probably have sat somewhere else. This Thursday, two weeks after I took over as editor of Street Sense, I mentally shrugged and settled into a stretch of empty seats, taking care to avoid the source of the smell.

It made me think of “Gotta Go,” the pilot episode of Street Sense TV, a 13-part series put together by a homeless crew that’s due to air on District cable this fall. “Gotta Go” illustrates a devastatingly simple problem: where do you go to the bathroom if you’re homeless? And how do you avoid smelling bad if you don’t have a regular place to wash and change your clothes?

Less than a month ago, I would not have looked as deeply at the people stretched out around me and wondered about their daily rituals of survival. I’ve never been homeless. But since joining Street Sense, I’ve been doing some serious learning.

Some of the learning has been professional, like taking an intensive weekend class in New York City to learn our page-layout program, or attending workshops on affordable housing at a homelessness conference on Capitol Hill.

But much of the learning has been based on personal interactions with the vendors and volunteers who frequent our little office in the Church of the Epiphany every day.

So far, I’ve found Street Sense to be a unique little animal, more challenging and multitudinous than any place I’ve worked in my 12 years in journalism. I’ve learned creative ways to survive when our computer network crashes and we have no technical help available in the face of a looming printer deadline.

I’ve re-learned that powerful storytelling and beautifully fragile poetry can come from unexpected sources. I’ve understood that despite their best intentions, sometimes people will break promises and let each other down. But I’ve also seen them try to rise again.

I think of Walt Whitman when I think of Street Sense.

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you…

Do I contradict myself?

Very well then, I contradict myself.
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

-- Koki Smith

Monday, July 2, 2007

Vendor Notes


Vendors Herman Lee Mayse and James Davis have recently become employed with established organizations. Lee Mayse secured a position as an assistant in the Food and Nutrition Services Department with the George Washington University Hospital. This is a part-time position with benefits. Lee says the position is perfect as his medical condition does not allow him to work 40 hours per week. He said it allows him to pace himself and to concentrate on improving his health. His appearance is certainly a testimony to that fact. He says he will still sell Street Sense when time is available. That idea is right in line with our Vendor Code of Conduct.

Another vendor, James Davis, is now working for Ritz Camera. James recently returned to the Street Sense family approximately two months ago and has used his connections to attract the manager of the store to offer him a position. He also intends to sell the paper when he is not working at the store.

These two gentlemen set an example we hope many other vendors will follow. Congratulations, guys, we are very proud of you.

Blessings Abound

Vendor Muriel Dixon took the initiative to pursue the Goodwill Training program to get a better job. She got it. She pressed forward to get a better place. She got it. And she prayed to get a car. You guessed it, she has it. Someone who will remain nameless for this issue took note of all the hard work and life changes Muriel had made and presented her with a car with one condition, and that was that she get new tires and tags. The last time I spoke to Muriel she was on her way to the DMV. I don't know about you, but I am going to double up on my prayers.

Poetry Launch

Street Sense held a book launch on June 24 for its poetry book, “Street Verses,” at the coffeehouse Busboys and Poets. We had a grand time. Brenda Karyl Lee-Wilson, James Davis, Conrad Cheek Jr. and I had the opportunity to present some of the poems in the book. I recited two creations authored by David Harris. They were “What I want for Christmas” and “Pride.”

The best presentation in my estimation was by Conrad Cheek Jr. for his poem “The Upper Echelon of the Homeless.” This poem not only had to be heard but the visual experience was something to behold. His use of the term “Street Sense” drove home the enormous talent that this man possesses. In addition to the poetry, clips from the first episode of Street Sense TV were presented by our own star-in-residence, Martin Walker. I can say that they are extremely well-done. Watch out Sundance Film Festival, Street Sense T.V. is on the horizon.


We are truly fortunate to have a wonderful replacement editor for Charles Jackson. Her name is Kaukab Smith, nicknamed Koki. She has a pleasing personality and will make a great fit with Street Sense. Again welcome, Kaukab, we hope your stay will be a long and pleasant one.

-- Jesse Smith

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Director's Desk: Stepping Up

As some of you might have noticed – based on our changed masthead on page 2 and the lack of an editors column in last issue – the first full-time editor at Street Sense, Charles Jackson left after a brief two months. And as his exit was with about two hours warning, we obviously had no replacement lined up, and were, thus, operating without a full-time editor for the last month.

Consequently, the past few weeks have been rather crazy around the Street Sense office and inside my head as well. (Last month was also marred by one of our formerly homeless volunteers using the Street Sense credit card to steal $3,000 of computer merchandise, but that's another story all together.) But thanks to the help of all our wonderful volunteers and the outstanding Street Sense board of directors, we were able to get through it all, with me still have (most of) my sanity in place.

Despite the nuttiness, I think Charles departure is for the better, and the timing – in retrospect – could not have been more perfect. On Friday June 23, we hired a new editor, Kaukab “Koki” Smith, who has some wonderful ideas and great energy and thankfully could start right away.

And on Sunday June 24, we had a thank you reception for our volunteers and top donors. The event also was to promote our new poetry book “Street Verses” and including some powerful readings from vendors. While the reception was in honor the support over the last year, it really was appropriate to close out the last month when every volunteer and board member really stepped up in all ways.

The Monday after Charles left, I sent an email around to all the volunteers, letting them know, and I got 22 responses from volunteers offering to help out in anyway from rewriting stories to helping to organize the office. Below is just one of them that illustrates our volunteers' dedication:

So sorry to hear the news! That's pretty unbelievable. Hang in there!
I'm at a crunch time with work, but let me know if I can help and I'll try to get it done.
Cheers, Jo

In fact, in my email, I mentioned that we needed a last book review done, and five different people offered to review it, including one who already read the book.

Also, Street Sense could not have come out successfully these past two issues without the help of our fabulous summer intern Daniel Johnson. Thankfully he started helping out at Street Sense two weeks before his internship began. This was critical as he got to meet Charles and see what we are about before being thrown into writing a last minute article, laying out half the paper, and making all final editing changes to the paper.

I could personally have not made it through this last month without the support of the dedicated Street Sense board of directors. They offered up their support and shared stories of other their experience with employing jumping ship last minute. I appreciated comments like “I would work for you and wouldn't mind you being my boss,” and “It clearly wasn't meant to be and perhaps the absolutely most perfect person is now waiting in the wings.”

Boardmemer and co-founder Ted Henson was a lifesaver, helping with coordinating the editing process for the June 15 issue. Boardmember John Snellgrove really stepped up to help logistically pull off the thank you reception and poetry event. And all the board member really came through in force with the financial support for the thank you reception and future operations.

And obviously I would be remiss not to mention the help and encouragementfrom vendor manager Jesse Smith. Though this last month included a few rough days with him as well, we have pulled through it all and the organization and Jesse are looking to be much better off for it.
With this large network of support, Street Sense has made it through a rough month and is finally on the up and up. And I am finally looking forward to see what the next few week will hold.

As our board president Robert Egger told me when everything seemed bleak for Street Sense a few weeks ago: “It'll be a rough climb, but if we work together we can climb out of this ditch and build and even stronger Street Sense.”

And, indeed, with our dedicated volunteers, staff and board, a stronger Street Sense is where we are at. -- LAURA