Aida Perry holds up her diplomas.
Faithful Okoye

When Aida Peery received her master’s in information systems with a 3.83 GPA, she never thought that in a few years she would be homeless, living on the streets.

Life can sometimes throw you a curveball, she acknowledges now.

“You just have to deal with it.”

Her troubles began when her boyfriend was diagnosed with lung cancer. Struggling to help him while caring for her daughter, she began to get behind on her bills.

The worst was still to come. On the week of Christmas, while many were celebrating, she received a notice that she would lose her government job if she didn’t straighten out her finances within two months.

“In two months?!” Peery exclaimed, thinking back. “I couldn’t fix it within two months.”

Unable to get back on sound financial footing, she lost her good job.

She had daughter to support and tried to hold onto her apartment. But unable to get emergency funds and with no job in hand, Peery was evicted.

That night, she slept on the streets. She had gone to the different shelters, but all of them were full.

The next few nights, she slept in a friend’s house until she got a spot at the Open Door shelter.

During the Occupy DC protest, she slept alongside the occupiers at Freedom Plaza.

“It was stress-free,” Peery said. She didn’t have to wake up at a certain time or rush to arrive at a shelter before it was too late. And it was much less cramped.

She says a lot of people stay in shelters for a long time and make it their home, but she sees the shelter as temporary.

“That’s just a shelter. It’s not my home.”

Now, Peery works as a Street Sense vendor. She often sells on the corner of Ninth and F streets NW and in front of Staples in Columbia Heights, and people can hear her chiming out the words of Street Sense.

“Street Sense: lots of poetry, lots of stories. Buy Street Sense.”

She is also on the lookout for another job. But with her education and professional experience she fears she might be considered overqualified for jobs working in fast food restaurants or retail shops in a mall.

Peery’s daughter just turned 18 and is now on her way to college at Howard University.

“She understands what’s going on with me, “ Peery said. Right now, she is living with Peery’s mother.

Peery’s boyfriend died months after he fell sick from lung cancer. Remembering his lung condition, Peery said she is trying to quit smoking.

In the meantime, Peery keeps busy. She is currently reading the “Seven Secrets of Success” by John Hagee.

“It’s changing my perspective on how to sell the newspaper and how to get out there and start doing something,” she said.

At 56, she hasn’t quit studying. Peery is hoping to take the Praxis test in the hopes of eventually becoming a teacher.

Even while standing on the street and having many people pass by without stopping, Peery expressed frustration, but encourages other vendors to not give up. She says she is grateful to all her customers who stopped and buy from her on the corner of 9th and F.

“Thank you for the customers that do buy. I do appreciate. Even if I make $10, $15 a day, it still helps.”

“And thank you.”