The family and friends of Street Sense vendor, martial artist, philosopher, mathematician, homeless advocate and photographer Cliff Carle celebrate his life and mourn his passing on December 21.
Cliff was a familiar and cheerful presence in the Street Sense office and on the sidewalk, selling his papers outside Trader Joe’s market in Foggy Bottom. Lean and sinewy with an impish smile, he spoke with a gruff voice, walked with a cane and was often seen with his cherished camera swinging from around his neck. He took literally thousands of photographs, many of which appeared in Street Sense over the years. His images captured the strange and sometimes surreal beauty of Washington’s fountains, monuments and street life.
Cliff died of cancer at George Washington University Medical Center, according to his older sister, Eudora Carle, a teacher here in Washington. “I’m ready to go,” he said. “I’m gonna braid your hair,” she told him. When he passed away, “he looked like a samurai asleep,” she said.
Cliff was born in Springfield, Mass. on Jan. 15, 1949, a self-described Army brat whose family moved often. He spent part of his childhood in France and loved photography from an early age. He graduated from high school in Springfield and studied mathematics at the University of the District of Columbia. At one point in his life he used hard drugs but spent his later years in recovery.
“He made choices based on his struggle with his life,” said his younger sister, Tanya Gibson- Clark, a choreographer from South Orange, N.J. “He chose his way back.” She called Cliff her hero.
He was also a practicing vegan and a black belt in martial arts.
In a 2008 Street Sense vendor profile, Cliff said he became homeless on July 4, 2005. “I was taking a shower and the sheriff came into my house and said I was being evicted. He said I didn’t pay the rent but I knew I had. Turns out the landlord hadn’t been paying the rent so I got kicked out. On July 8 I got hit by a car and on the 11th I lost my job.”
Cliff spent his last years sleeping at the shelter run by the Community for Creative Non-Violence, which he jokingly called “the Ponderosa.” He faced his final illness with characteristic calm.
He did not want anyone to cry for him, his sister Eudora said. Cliff leaves behind three sisters, a son, a daughter and grandchildren.