Phillip Howard, one of more than 100 vendors working for Street Sense, stands on his corner at DuPont Circle every day at rush hour, chanting his slogan: “Street Sense! Help the homeless, ladies and gentlemen!” Howard has been with Street Sense for more than 10 years, a changed man.
Street Sense is a newspaper based in Washington, D.C. that is distributed by vendors around the city. It aims to raise awareness on issues of poverty in the area.
“I’ve been through hard times. I’ve been up, and trust me, I sure as hell have been down,” Howard said. When he was 14, Howard’s legal guardian died, and he ran away from home at age 18. In 1988, Howard was arrested on drug charges and was sentenced to five years in a Texas prison.
“The inmates weren’t the worst part. It always used to rain so hard there. I remember hearing it hit the roof, and I thought it would never end. That damn rain would never stop,” he said.
When he was released from prison in 1994, Howard repented and said he found refuge in his faith. “Real freedom is here,” he said, as he laid a shaky hand on his chest. “Only the good Lord can give it to me.”
Diagnosed with diabetes and severe arthritis, Howard was unable to stay on his feet for long periods of time, and was unable to find work, he said. Thirteen years ago, Howard became homeless and wandered from shelter to shelter for three years. He lost his 6-year-old son to terminal meningitis in 2006. His eldest daughter is 11 years old and lives with her mother just outside D.C.
As he talks about his success with the newspaper, Howard’s face lights up with excitement. “I swear on my mother’s grave. I have stared death straight in the eyes. Then, all of a sudden, it was gone. That’s the Lord’s work right there. He works through Street Sense.”
According to its website, Street Sense’s mission is to “offer economic opportunities for people experiencing homelessness in our community through a newspaper that elevates voices and encourages debate on poverty and injustice.” Street Sense vendors pay 50 cents for each paper to cover publishing costs and then distribute each paper for a suggested donation of $2.
Howard is a contributing writer, and said he is pleased with the way that Street Sense allows him to express himself and tell his story. In the latest edition, Howard proudly presents his first poem, titled “Today’s Glory.”
“I’ve been through a lot. People have a tendency to hold on to negativity. I just let it go. Street Sense allowed me to get back up and keep going,” he said.
Howard earns around $50 per day. “I’m happy,” he said. “I’m just… happy.”