WASHINGTON - Street Sense is a bi-weekly newspaper sold on the streets of D.C. by homeless people. The vendors pay $.50 for copies and then distribute them for suggested donations of $2.
About half of the newspaper is written by those who are homeless or formerly homeless. But Street Sense is much more than a newspaper. The people behind it have other hidden and extraordinary talents and they showcased them at Street Sense’s District of Art celebration.
“I'm proud of my work, but I’m even more proud of the people that I'm connecting with here,” said Ken Martin.
He moved to Washington D.C. to be closer to his daughter more than a year ago and has been without permanent housing ever since. But a life on the streets has not stopped him from artistic achievements.
He is learning about photography where he can express himself through images, which are providing a glimpse into the life of the homeless. He also plans to put these skills to good use.
“My real goal – I just want to learn how to take pictures so I can take still pictures of hats because my plan is to open a hat store,” he said.
Martin is one of more than two dozen men and women who frequently spend their nights outdoors. But on this night, they are inside the Josephine Butler Parks Center in Meridian Hill showing off their creative work.
Street Sense is celebrating its 13th anniversary selling newspapers. Several years ago, it also began to provide workshops.
“Starting with our tenth anniversary, we began exploring these other platforms – theater, photography, filmmaking, illustration, graphic design,” said Street Sense executive director Brian Carome.
The list goes on to include poetry and music.
Sheila White said another Street Sense vendor encouraged her to join and she fell in love with it the minute she started. Her photos of her granddaughter are on display and she is learning to write and practice public speaking.
“There is so much down there you can do,” White said. “I'm in a mug creating class – we are all making mugs. Singing. I don’t sing that well I don’t think, but it gives me a sense of belonging.”
“It’s that sense of engagement that really helps people transform themselves and transform their lives,” said Carome.
He said that the next time you pass a vendor, pick up a copy of Street Sense. Read it, but also take a minute to talk with the person who sold it to you.
“You might be surprised to find that they are not as different from you as you might have first imagined,” Carome said.
Ticket sales from Thursday night’s District of Art event will benefit Street Sense's workshops.