credit: Tessa Wild

Vincent Watts, a homeless artist and writer, has gone through a difficult journey to find his identity. Although he’s lost his legal identity, he has gained a deeper sense of self than most do in a lifetime.

He moved to the D.C. area about five months ago, almost five years after his identity was stolen. It was “misused in a bunch of ways,” Vincent said, and he has spent about six years trying to clean up the mess. “It’s been a journey. I am my own case manager, my own lawyer, my own social worker —  my own a little bit of everything.”

After the identity theft, Vincent looked into pro bono services, which in turn got him interested in filing court appeals and looking for other ways to represent himself. Soon, he became interested in learning judiciary procedure. However, because he didn’t have a permanent address where he could receive mail, his case was continuously put on hold.

The case remains pending and he remains homeless. However, being homeless has allowed Vincent to find his identity in a way that he hadn’t before.

For example, he says his survival skills have peaked over the last several years. “I’ve completely turned into a physician slash doctor. Just being out here with the very few resources that I have, just being able to take care of myself.” Vincent said. “When it was time to survive, that kind of kicked in. It was just kind of this dormant, hidden thing and it’s pretty eerie, but it’s also very gratifying.”

Identity is also a central theme in Vincent’s writing,. Three months ago, he discovered Street Sense Media and began publishing his work in the media center’s print newspaper. The first installment of his three-part fiction story is scheduled to publish in an upcoming edition.

“That was literally my first piece that [has ever gotten] published,” Vincent said. “It’s about a cowgirl who comes across two gentleman who help her develop as a teen and a woman. She’s really interesting—she’s like this petite, short, spunky girl who has developed in the West of hustlers and bootleggers. She’s really finding a life outside of that, but not too far from it. She’s picked up this other life that she really doesn’t know what to do with yet.”

Vincent’s story is a fiction piece, but some aspects of it are very personal. The theme of learning within the story, for example, is something Vincent based off of his own life. “She’s a clever girl, but she’s learning something completely new, and she’s like ‘Okay, this is really cool, but it almost seems as if I’m not meant to do it.’ But she perseveres, she finally does get it down, and it’s very cool,” Vincent said.

Through his writing, Vincent has discovered new elements of his creative side. “I’m a visual artist first, and a descriptive artist second, so I found my descriptive strengths in writing, and it’s really been an eye-opener for me,” he said.

Vincent lives at the 801 East Men’s Shelter for now and plans to stay in D.C. “I would love to keep writing,” he said. “I’m gonna put [visual] art down for a little bit and kind of expand my creativity in writing. If I could stay in fiction, that would be awesome.”

Vincent’s search for his identity is unique . However, people all over the world struggle to find their true selves, especially when experiencing homelessness. “Identity is important to everyone, or at least it should be,” Vincent said. “Anyone that is experiencing constant growth, don’t be afraid of it, or don’t be too shy of it. I really found that asking yourself questions and taking some time alone really helps build your identity.”