With photos by Jane Cave.

Vendor Angie Whitehurst
Name:
Angie Whitehurst
Age: 63

How long have they been a vendor? Three years
What is the best Christmas present you’ve ever received, and why? One of her most memorable gifts she has received was a red suitcase, because it was something she wanted.
How do you plan to spend Christmas this year? She will probably spend Christmas with her mother and sister, who Christmas is very important to. Whitehurst likes the Christmas season because of the lights and the “aura of giving.” She says it makes people nicer and puts “an aura of happiness in the air.”
If you did not sell Street Sense, how do you think you might be spending Christmas this year? Without Street Sense, she says she would be very depressed during the Christmas season, because it is a big part of her emotional well-being and health. She would be “numb and unfeeling” without it.
Do you have a special Christmas message for your customers? “That they find a maximum joy of everything and minimum of sadness in nothing. Live to live. Love and be happy.”

Whitehurst was born in D.C. and went to college in Connecticut. She has spent time overseas at many times in her life. She used to read Street Sense when she was downtown in D.C. before hearing that there might be opportunities for her there. It took some time for her to become a vendor at Street Sense because she had several personal obstacles to overcome, including family issues and experiencing a stroke. However, Street Sense didn’t give up on her because, as she says, “it is an embracing and positive place where you can get grounded.” Whitehurst believes that homelessness can happen to anyone, because “ever life is fragile, and human beings are fallible.” She says that we can’t predict the future
because “life is not a given path.” She enjoys scrabble, dance, art, and cooking. Her favorite food this year is eggplant with tomato remoulade.


Vendor Chon Gotti

Name: Chon Gotti

Age: 40

How long have they been a vendor? Two years

What is the best Christmas present you’ve ever received, and why? My family is my best Christmas gift. We were eight people, my parents had a good income. My father was an engineer and my mother was a teacher. I enjoyed spending time with my grandparents, too. They listened to me, and sheared great stories with me.

How do you plan to spend Christmas this year? If my daughter want to join me, I will spend the Christmas with her. Otherwise I just stay alone.

If you did not sell Street Sense how do you think you might be spending Christmas this year? Who knows? I could have spent more time with my daughter. Or I would have find other ways to make money, since I not have many to celebrate with.

Do you have a special Christmas message for your customers? Don’t take the life for granted. Two or three unpaid checks can send make you homeless. Be nice to people you meet and respect them. I also say it’s important to live your dreams , otherwise someone else will use you to live out their dreams. It’s a lot to learn from that word of wisdom.

 

I have always enjoyed making my own money. I started selling insurances and learned entrepreneurship on a local scale here in D.C. When I was younger I sold CDs, cigarettes and drugs to make my income. Selling Street Sense doesn’t give that income that I made before, but I enjoy coming here and meeting people.


 

Chris Shaw

Name: Chris Shaw

Age: 62

How long have they been a vendor with your paper? 3-4 years before I started to volunteer.

What is the best Christmas present you’ve ever received, and why? I have received many nice presents, but what really stands out is the book called Wonders of Life and Earth, which I got from my father when I was seven years old. The book made me interested in the nature and humanity.

How do you plan to spend Christmas this year? My girlfriend and I will celebrate together. For some time we have saved money to go a place and have a delicious dinner. I will also play some music for my fellow residents in Foggy Bottom.

If you did not sell Street Sense, how do you think you might be spending Christmas this year? Since I am a volunteer now, and not a vendor, I can share a story from I was selling papers. I got some big amounts of tips by a man from Texas. That money I saved instead of buying alcohol. At that time it was more important to keep some money if something occurred.

Do you have a special Christmas message for your customers? Remember that love is valid through the whole year, not only for Christmas.

 

I felt traumatized when being a homeless man. My family alienated me, didn’t want anything to do with me. However, when I went sober, it became easier to talk to them, and meet other persons, they took me more seriously. My current situation satisfies me. In Foggy Bottom I have my own apartment, and enjoy my situation. I play guitar in a band called ETUFE, and also draw my own illustrations for Street Sense.


Debbie Brantley

Name: Debbie Brantley

Age: 46

How long have they been a vendor with your paper? Six years

What is the best Christmas present you’ve ever received, and why? Once, she received some pots, pans, and other household items from her parents, and that made her feel as if she could support herself.

How do you plan to spend Christmas this year? Brantley currently lives in transitional housing, and she looks forward to spending her time there over the holidays. She plans to spend time writing and going to celebrations around town. She also plans to spend time with friends, and to spend time making plans for the future.

If you did not sell Street Sense, how do you think you might be spending Christmas this year? If she were not selling Street Sense, she says her holiday season would be very different, because she would have to beg, and that “would make things go backward.” She would not have to chance that Street Sense gives her to improve her skills in photography, writing, and art.

Do you have a special Christmas message for your customers? “Don’t you think you’re well enough off to guide people? People should help people.”

Additional comment to other people experiencing homelessness: “Keep your spirits up, keep moving at all times. Always have a project and do some kind of work. Don’t fall into bad pleasures. And like Bob Dylan says in his song, serve somebody.”

Though born in Kentucky, Brantley has lived in D.C. for 30 years and says she grew up here with her mother and brother. She graduated from a nearby high school in Virginia, where she says she was a great English, science, and math student. She has suffered from mental illness since she was 17 years old. Since high school, she has attended college on and off, but has not been able to finish yet. She hopes to one day finish college and study journalism. Brantley has been homeless since 2007, when she had to move out of her mother’s house. She began living in a shelter, where she heard about the opportunity to become a vendor for Street Sense. Brantley enjoys art, writing, music, dance, and acting. She says she sometimes feels discouraged that she is not making the progress that she would like. She is hopeful that she will someday make progress as a writer and blogger.


Derian Hickman

Name: Derian Hickman

Age: 44

How long have they been a vendor with Street Sense? Since (approximately) 2008

How do you plan to spend Christmas this year? Hickman hopes to be in D.C. housing by Christmas.

If you did not sell Street Sense, how do you think you might be spending Christmas this year? His work with Street Sense helped him to make progress toward finding housing. Having been wait listed for housing since approximately 2008, the Deputy Administrator of D.C. Housing saw him selling papers and approached him about finding housing.

Do you have a special Christmas message for your customers? “Thank you for supporting the homeless, and have a wonderful Christmas!”

Hickman moved to D.C. to be closer to the Supreme Court. He reached the point where he had filed 20 cases with the Federal Court and a few with the Supreme Court, but the cases were all dismissed, which Hickman calls an obstruction of justice. Since moving to D.C., he has also tried unsuccessfully to receive his military records, which he says is a large contributing factor to his homelessness. He has also struggled to gain access to his financial disclosures, which has made finding housing difficult. At one point, he was charged with shoplifting, which he says was a false arrest. He has been reluctant to find employment because he would risk losing his disability check, and worries that if a job doesn’t work out he will not receive disability in a timely fashion. However, he has found a source of income in Street Sense, which helps to make up for the money taken out of his disability check for child support.


Carlton Johnson

Name: Carlton Johnson

Age: 53

How long have they been a vendor with Street Sense? Five or six years

What is the best Christmas present you’ve even received, and why? I don’t do Christmas.

How do you plan to spend Christmas this year? Sleeping.


Ken Martin

 Name: Ken Martin

Age: 61

How long have they been a vendor with your paper? 1.5 years

What is the best Christmas present you’ve even received, and why? A candle from my children.

How do you plan to spend Christmas this year? If the place is ready, I plan to have my children with me at my place. It will be the first time together in five years.

Special Christmas Message: Tis the season to be jolly. It’s a difficult thing for children on the street. Please get off your apathy and do something. God bless us everyone.


Leonard Hyater

 Name: Leonard Hyde

 Age:

How long have they been a vendor with Street Sense? Two years

What is the best Christmas present you’ve even received, and why? He hasn’t received many Christmas presents but he wants a nice pair of long underwear. Perhaps a couple.

How do you plan to spend Christmas this year? He doesn’t know. Maybe he will be a guest at the church dinner.

Special Christmas Message: He wishes them all a merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year and lots of donations.


Robert Williams

Name: Robert Williams

 Age: 56

How long have they been a vendor with Street Sense? One year

What is the best Christmas present you’ve even received, and why? The best Christmas present is being able to enjoy family. He believed Christmas is not a material thing but at times it can be materialistic. He thinks there is too much consumerism.

How do you plan to spend Christmas this year? He doesn’t know. He recently lost his parents.

Special Christmas Message: “Open eyes, looks around, be aware.”

Robert Williams is a Veteran and considers himself a voice for the Vets at Street Sense. He thinks it is monstrous that the majority of the homeless population are made up by Vets. He first experienced homelessness in Chicago and he has just received a vast voucher from the city of D.C. He is a regular writer for the paper and is a member of all Street Sense Media Vehicles.


James Stewart

Name: James Stewart

Age: 57

How long have they been a vendor with Street Sense? Seven years

What is the best Christmas present you’ve ever received, and why? These shoes and this hat I wear now, mean a lot to me. I always keep that in mind when I wear them, being careful of not losing or breaking them.

How do you plan to spend Christmas this year? I will meet my friends and go to the church with them. Also I prefer to meet other homeless to spread some joy in each other’s life. If some of them bring their children, I will try to teach them about moral and being nice to other people.

If you did not sell Street Sense, how do you think you might be spending Christmas this year? I would have spent more time with friends, and practiced more on the drums.

Do you have a special Christmas message for your customers? I wish them all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Try to make the next year better than the last one, but don’t stress all the time. Remember to live, as well.

 

Right now I live on the street, but have been to the CCNV shelter here in Washington DC some times. I miss my siblings, since they never will see me. What I always keep in focus, is to be nice to people, respect the, and stay out of any trouble. To brighten up my daily life, I love playing drums. That’s my hobby and my way of self-expression. Sometimes I bring them outside to play on the street, and people enjoy. Sometimes I play in the woods. That gives me the right mood, the sounds there are so nice.


Patty Smith

Name: Patty Smith

Age: 61

How long have they been a vendor with Street Sense? Ten years.

What is the best Christmas present you’ve ever received, and why? Staying home with my mom, because I love her. Christmas isn’t only about what you’re unwrapping, but also to have nice and friendly people around you. Christmas was always a special time for my family.

How do you plan to spend Christmas this year? I will celebrate with my friends in Woodley Park Towers, we create a lot of festivities, and have delicious food. I use to call my fellow residents my buddies, because I have been so involved with them. Christmas is a great opportunity to take care of that friendship.

If you did not sell Street Sense, how do you think you might be spending Christmas this year? How do I know? I have sold papers for so many years now, that I can’t remember any other lifestyle. But, if I have to pick anything, I would probably go back to school and develop my skills and give me some advance.

Do you have a special Christmas message for your customers? It’s important to love each other and yourself, too. Be kind to persons around you, children and adults, since we are all in the same boat.

From January to June this year, I experienced being homeless. I was lucky and got a place to stay in CCNV, a homeless shelter here in DC. From there, I put my life together, and now I live in a group home in Woodley Park Towers. We are 16 people there, who get along most of the time.


Phillip Black

Name: Phillip Black (The cat in the hat)

Age: 38

How long have they been a vendor with your paper? Nine

What is the best Christmas present you’ve ever received, and why? My children, I lived three and a half years without them. I turned my life around to take care of them, which includes no more alcohol and or drugs.

How do you plan to spend Christmas this year? I will have a look at the Christmas three outside of the White House, and bring my children to shopping. The Christmas includes a lot of delicious food, and I am a cook. Among my specialties you find different types of turkey, ham and corned beef.

If you did not sell Street Sense, how do you think you might be spending Christmas this year? I volunteer in a church at Wisconsin Avenue, NW, in DC. There I bring food to the homeless people living in the woods close by. They sleep in tents or under some blankets, so I appreciate helping them. If I didn’t sell Street Sense, I would have volunteered more for that church. I have done that for five years now.

Do you have a special Christmas message for your customers? Support the homeless, and don’t judge the book by its cover. Spend some time to get to know them instead of judging. I would also like to say thank you to the people who support the homeless around the city.

I had to go through surgery, and then my wife took my children to North Carolina, since I became homeless after the surgery. Today I am healthy and have my two daughters here in DC, since their mother couldn’t take care of them anymore. They go to high school and college, and the three of us stay in 14th street in DC, where I rent a basement apartment. My daughters brings so much joy to my life.