A photo of Street Sense vendor Eric Thompson-Bey
Jeff Gray

My journey to homelessness started in the summer of 1997 when my sister told me I had to leave her house. I was 30 years old and didn’t know where to start. I ended up at the Randall shelter in Southwest. That was almost 19 years ago. On March 10 of this year, I signed my first lease ever. That night I stayed in my first apartment.

The journey was far from easy. I made my situation even worse by getting mixed-up with drugs and prison. For example, I was called for a housing voucher in 2001 — but I was in prison and had to start all over. I signed up again in 2005.

I’ve slept everywhere from in front of the Canadian Embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue to in front of the CVS on 20th and M streets. These were my homes. I never want to live like that again. I’ve been awakened by the police at 2 a.m and told that I had to move for no reason. I’ve had my property stolen and thrown away. These are just a few things that I’ve been through during my journey. Now I feel so safe, so happy.

I never thought that the day would come that I would have the keys to my own apartment. I really can’t explain this special feeling. I am blessed. I want all of the homeless community to feel this special feeling. But I don’t think that everyone will receive housing, because the system has major flaws that has to be fixed. Everyone deserves one chance to be housed.

My journey doesn’t end here, it continues. As it was explained to me doing the interview for my apartment, there are rules and regulations that I must follow so that I won’t have to start this journey all over again. I’ll continue to share my housing resources with the rest of the community, like they were shared with me.

I can’t lose focus on the rest of my life because I have housing. Life goes on. The journey goes on.

I have to admit that these last four and a half years have been the most frustrating. I had come so close to being housed. Things didn’t work out. When I was released from prison in 2011, I knew housing would be a problem. Like always. But I stayed focused.

I wanted to avoid sleeping on the streets. I used the money from selling Street Sense to rent rooms. That didn’t work out either. I spent the last two and a half years at the CCNV shelter. More goes on in the shelter than on the streets: corruption, abuse, extortion, you name it. I thank God everyday for my blessings.

I wouldn’t be writing this article now if it was not for two hard working ladies that kept on working when I gave up: Julie Turner, our case manager here at Street Sense; and Crystal Hill, my case manager at Hillcrest Children and Family Center. Thank you both for working so hard with me.