Remembering Fred Anderson, a big personality
Fred Anderson, Street Sense’s first vendor coordinator, died in August in Peterson, Virginia. Anderson used his position in the community to promote the paper and recruit vendors. Laura Osuri, one of the co-founders of the paper, remembers.
“Fred was with us from the very beginning,” Osuri said. “He was a security guard at Miriam’s Kitchen and his endorsement of the paper really helped us get our first batch of vendors.”
Ted Henson, Street Sense’s other co-founder, remembers meeting Anderson at Miriam’s Kitchen when the Street Sense staff was trying to get people excited about writing for the paper.
“Fred quickly became, in my mind, a very integral part of the whole project because he was a big personality, kind of like a big teddy bear. He was always cracking jokes, funny, smiling, cut loose a lot,” Henson said. “He was our first high volume vendor at Street Sense, him and his buddy Alan.”
Anderson would buy a bundle of 100 papers in the morning and sell the whole stack in a day, usually near Eastern Market and Capitol Hill. Although Anderson would sometimes face rejection while selling papers, that never stopped him from being friendly and developing relationships with clients, according to Henson.
Aside from the logistics of the operation, Anderson was dedicated to building community at Street Sense. He helped make the office a place where people who were homeless could come rest, put their stuff down and talk about their day, according to Henson. “We recruited a lot of people that way. We would have vendor meetings and Fred would help lead them.”
When the organization was just getting off the ground and getting press coverage, Fred was one of the vendors that reporters would follow around and write about, according to Henson.
Anderson also wrote an advice column for the paper titled “Ask Fred,” in which he would offer his insight into issues affecting people experiencing homelessness. He deconstructed misconceptions facing people experiencing homelessness and gave advice on how people could best support and aid the homeless people they encountered.
He also used the column as a platform to discuss root causes of homelessness. In his opinion the leading factors at the time were a lack of affordable housing, mental health, and economics.
“We live in the wealthiest nation on earth that rebuilds foreign nations after war,” Anderson wrote in “Ask Fred.” “In order to reach the goal of ending homelessness, a good start would be with affordable housing. To sustain this goal, the proper support network should be in place in regards to health care, child care, services to address mental health issues, substance abuse and employment.”
Working at Washington City Church of the Brethren, Miriam’s Kitchen, and Street Sense, Anderson was dedicated to helping his community. He earned an income selling the paper but also felt a strong connection to its mission because he knew many people struggling with homelessness, himself included.
“What I enjoy about homeless outreach is the fact that I am able to reach out to people in need and establish relationships that are lifelong lasting,” Anderson said in his 2003 vendor profile. “I find it meaningful that I am able to shed a little bit of hope on some people’s situations.”
The people who wrote for and sold the paper are the reason the project succeeded, according to Henson. He and Osuri helped guide it but it was the vendors who got the public’s attention by wearing the vest and standing on street corners.
“I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that Street Sense might not have survived the first year without Fred,” Henson said.