Illustration that projects rejection
Dwight Harris

Have we met? If so, I can’t recall the pleasure of your acquaintance. I may have seen your face before, but my memory is suspect. That happens when you’re sleep-deprived.

We homeless share that long-term symptom. You see, it begins before homelessness actualizes. It’s the great disruption that interferes with problem-solving, from the notification of housing at risk through eviction or displacement and crisis resolution to housing acquisition and forward to healing, a.k.a life recovery.

What I do remember — as if indelibly imprinted on my psyche — is your expression, disapproving of my existence. That look you offer saying I am an encumbrance, an obstruction, a burden. The look that evokes my confused response. I don’t understand, because the most I ask of you is “How are you?” To which the common retorts are: “No, thanks”; the hand extended toward my face; the wipe, a sudden face-turn-away; the nose in the air; or, in special cases, The Whizz, a Usain Bolt-like burst of speed until you are three steps beyond my post. Then and only then can you exhale.

On my birthday, Oct. 5, when I was vending with a large square helium balloon imprinted “Birthday Boy” and tied to “Lydia,” a female person of maturing years asked, “Is today your birthday?” “Yes, it is!” I replied proudly. She turned and exited as though I was never there.

Bottom line: Rude is rude. Insulting is insulting. But civility and courtesy always surpass those vile emotions. Mrs. Martin taught her babies to “never talk to strangers but speak when you’re spoken to.” Politeness requires acceptance of other people as just that. Anything less is uncivilized.

Ken Martin is a vendor and artist for Street Sense. Ken operates a pop-up hat shop in the District. Learn more at