Wednesday, April 16, 2008

From the Chair of Board: The Quickening

by Ted Henson

In my first column as chairman of the Street Sense
board of directors, I want to emphasize the importance
of visualizing where we want to be in context
of where we’ve come from.

I moved to Washington in August 2003 for two reasons:
to follow my future wife Rebecca and to start a street newspaper.
Those first few months in Washington were an epic
time. Initially, we were a ragtag all–volunteer project of the
National Coalition for the Homeless, with an operating
budget of zero and a desk in the corner of a room that was
shared by three people as its only office space.

Laura Thompson (before she was Osuri) came to the office
on a daily basis, with business plan in hand and mock–
ups of the paper. Her boundless energy and leadership are
what guided those early days. Michael Stoops, from NCH,
brought me to D.C. and has been a steady and loyal advisor
to the paper ever since.

Vendors such as August Mallory, Fred Anderson, Conrad
Cheek Jr., Phillip Howard, James Davis, Bobby Buggs, Alvin
Dixon, Francine Triplett, Allen Jones and Leonard Cannady
put feet to concrete and papers on the corners. Writers like
David Hammond, Diane Rusignola, Fiona Clem, Gaby Coppola
and Carolyn Cosmos produced dynamite news stories
that the Post would have been lucky to run. And the list
of volunteers who helped Street Sense survive and grow is
nearly endless.

In a conversation that I had today with longtime vendor
Martin Walker, he mentioned that if he had a place to live
in, or at the very least a reliable alternative to wandering the
streets at night or keeping an open eye at a shelter, he would
be able to dedicate more of his energy to lifting himself out
of his current, unstable situation.

Martin’s comments relating where he wants to be came
more than a week after Mayor Fenty and his director of
the Department of Human Services, Clarence Carter, announced
plans to create a Housing First fund and create 400
units of supportive housing for the chronically homeless in
Washington. As various sides argue over the validity of the
Housing First strategy, I know from talking to Martin that an
apartment would be a godsend for him right about now.

While the City Council decides whether or not to approve
the mayor’s budget and to try something new, I feel it’s important
to take bold steps every so often and it’s good to
defer to those willing to make those leaps.

Organizationally, it is my goal as board president to help
Street Sense formalize its operations and to make it more
agile and equipped to service our staff and vendors. That
means practical changes such as creating stronger HR policies,
expanding services offered to vendors, and dedicating
more effort to advertising and fundraising. I look forward
to working with our board to making these things happen.
I also look at the attributes of our staff and core of vendors
and feel a sense of confidence in Laura’s leadership, Koki’s
editorial finesse, Rita’s passion and Larie’s ambition.

It seems appropriate to conclude with words spoken by
Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated 40 years ago
this month. In his “Mountaintop” speech in Memphis, given
the night before he was killed, King asks himself how he
would answer if God were to ask him which period in time,
out of all the ages, he would want to live in. Here is King:

“Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say,
‘If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of
the twentieth century, I will be happy.’ Now that’s a strange
statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The
nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around.
That’s a strange statement.

“But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough,
can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period
of the twentieth century in a away that men, in some
strange way, are responding –– something is happening in
our world.”