James Davis, a leader for the cause
James Davis enjoys his informal title: Chief Executive Officer of Seventeenth and L Streets, NW. In his pinstriped blazer, he looks the part. His musical baritone commands attention as he delivers what to him, is more than simply a sales pitch.
“Help the homeless help themselves. Buy Street Sense.”
Mr. Davis is a self-proclaimed workaholic. When he is not at his Street Sense post, he may be working for Metro services, speaking on behalf of the National Coalition for the Homeless, or teaching a course on social justice at Gonzaga High School. James Davis is on a mission. He knows the isolation and hunger of homelessness first hand, and he wants to be sure the rest of us fully appreciate our parts in this issue.
After losing his home in a divorce, Mr. Davis was forced to move to the Central Union Mission. He needed to supplement his unemployment income, so in 2003, he signed up as one of the original dozen vendors selling what was then Washington’s brand new street paper, Street Sense. Since that time, in addition to selling the paper, Mr. Davis has contributed to Street Sense in many ways; he recruits vendors and he trains them. He has served on the nonprofit’s board of directors as well.
In addition, Davis serves as a speaker for the nonprofit National Coaltion for the Homeless, traveling across the country to speak about homelessness to high school and college students.
His message is simple yet striking.
“You can never predict who might be homeless or who might become homeless. Homelessness is non-discriminatory.”
The feedback from the audiences stays with him. After giving a talk at Elon University in North Carolina, Davis recalls a young man in the audience stood up and admitted that he too had been homeless. His fellow students were so moved, they started their own street paper.
In his limited spare time, Davis is a poet. His first book of poems, a compilation of his early work for Street Sense is entitled “Street Verses” and is available on Amazon.com. He is now working on a second book of poetry.
When asked what he has learned from his experience selling Street Sense, he is quick to respond. “I sell papers to hot dog vendors, the police, and even pedestrians who are seeing-impaired,” he says “You can never judge who will be a customer..”
Just like homelessness. You can never tell.