John Littlejohn stands in front of a building and some trees
credit: Dorothy Hastings

Despite addiction, depression and arrests, John Littlejohn has found hope and a new way of life through his faith and ministry. One of his duties as a minister is redemption services, where he shares his experience with others that are struggling with addiction. He shows them that he has been in their position and that there is a way out of the darkness.

“Some things come fast and some things come slow,” Littlejohn said about these journeys. “What is being delayed in our lives is not being denied, it’s just being delayed.”

Littlejohn has been working for Street Sense since 2010. He has been standing in selling the paper in front of a restaurant in Chinatown for six years and has been able to build a good relationship with the management there. They allow him to use their facilities if he needs the restroom, water, or shelter in extreme weather conditions.

His depression made it hard for him to work eight hours, but Littlejohn said he is appreciative of Street Sense, which gave him the support he needed and was a second chance for him.

Littlejohn was arrested in 1995 for a charge that was later dropped because he was acting in self-defense. He completed a 60-day treatment center program through D.C. General Hospital and then was placed in Second Genesis Treatment Center. He was then transferred to St. Elizabeths Hospital for psychiatric treatment, saw a psychologist back at D.C. General and was released back to the streets after he had been sober for a few months. He has remained sober since then.

He then enrolled in the Washington Saturday Bible College, where he was involved in choirs and youth groups, and attended until 2003. He received his GED through community school Washington Highland Adult School.

In 1995, he rented his own apartment, which he kept for 10 years. In 1999, Littlejohn was licensed and ordained as a minister in New Fountain Baptist Church in Northwest D.C. In 2009, four years into homelessness, he received an honorary doctoral degree in religious education from Mutual Baptist Missionary Association of Washington, D.C.

“When I lost that apartment, I lost my motivation, my enthusiasm, my will to want to be on my own,” Littlejohn said.

He lived for eight years in 801 East Men’s Homeless Shelter in Southeast D.C., where he volunteered as a minister and cleaned up the shelter.

Working as a vendor for Street Sense and a construction worker for Trojan Labor allowed Littlejohn to pay off his debt and move out of homelessness. His boss at Trojan Labor worked with him to help get an apartment in Southeast D.C., close to where Littlejohn grew up. Littlejohn grew up the youngest of five children.

Through Bread for the City, Littlejohn was approved for the apartment in June 2015, despite other property management companies deeming his employment unstable and denying him housing.

Despite the many blessings he has been given since overcoming homelessness, Littlejohn says mental health services have failed him. He has been denied financial assistance to help cope with his conditions six times since 2010 despite being under psychotherapy and medication for a year and being diagnosed with multiple disorders including anxiety, depression, suicidal ideations, and paranoid schizophrenia.

“They have denied me every time,” Littlejohn said. “The government told me I was alright despite my diagnosis.”

Littlejohn is grateful for his life today, and for the confidence and strength his faith has given him and the spiritual growth he experiences daily as a minister.

“I am thankful for joy and I am thankful for gladness,” Littlejohn said. “At one time, sadness and hatred was my only friend.”

He explained how easy it is to be overcome with anger and jealousy when you are homeless or unemployed, but the most important thing is finding the strength to persevere.

“We still have honest living and honest earning and true, honest and hardworking people,” said Littlejohn. “We have to be grateful and do the right thing.”