Photo of Eric Thompson-Bey
Lindsey Habenicht

Eric Thompson-Bey has come to find refuge in his ability to create. He was dealt a hard hand, but that has not stopped him from rewriting his life’s story.

“Writing gives me a chance to think. I can sit there and make a story of my own. I can imagine what I want to write, put it on paper, and make it happen,” Thompson-Bey said.

But the story hasn’t always been his own.

Growing up in Southeast D.C., Thompson-Bey only knew a broken family. His mother passed away when he was 2-years-old, causing the family to split. He was then raised by his father until he died when Thompson-Bey was 9. At that point, his sister took him in. He entered adolescence with no guidance, structure or discipline.

At the age of 19, Thompson-Bey found himself caught up in the streets, in-and-out of prison and battling a drug problem. He was unable to complete his education.

“I wish that I could do a lot of things over,” Thompson-Bey said.

When asked if he has remained close with his family, he shook his head. Someday, Thompson-Bey will be ready to reconnect. But he doesn’t believe they could understand what he’s going through right now.

“Sometimes I’m mad at my sisters because they’ve got places to live. I’m the only one out there homeless,” Thompson-Bey said. “And maybe they think I’m the same person.”

However he has come a long way since first becoming homeless in 1997. Thompson-Bey has rewritten his story countless times. He marks 2008 as one of the most monumental years in his recovery, the year he started at Street Sense.

“I love Street Sense. Since I’ve been here, I’ve had a lot of opportunities. I’ve met a lot of good people,” Thompson-Bey said. “The paper is my livelihood. It’s how I survive, and it’s always been there for me.”

Although he spent a period of time away from the paper, he always finds his way back.

“It gave me a lot of confidence, coming into [Street Sense] out of prison; to have people trust me who didn’t even know me,” Thompson-Bey said.

One of the happiest moments of his story so far was when he was asked to be a spokesperson for the paper.

“I knew that they knew my history — my drug history, my criminal history — but they gave me a chance,” Thompson-Bey said. “That was a big deal for me. People don’t usually ask me things like that. And I was so happy, I cried, and cried, and cried.”

For Thompson-Bey the paper is about more than the money. It’s about the relationships he’s built with the people who see him selling, who listen to his story, and who believe in his drive to make a better life for himself.

Thompson-Bey could go on and on about how supportive the Dupont Circle community is of Street Sense and its vendors.

“Opportunities come from people who see me doing the paper every day and know my stories,” he said. “A vendor in Dupont Circle offered me a job to work on his farm.”

If everything goes as planned, Thompson-Bey will leave for the farm in mid-September to work apple-picking season.