Street Sense vendor, cancer survivor, veteran, and writer Patty Smith has seen and done almost everything.
Born in Mississippi, Patty Smith moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her mother when she was almost 6-years-old. She came to D.C. when she was 24, and started a typing service. In her mid-20s, she bounced from job to job, and could afford to live all over Northwest D.C. When the money ran out, she went back to Pittsburgh to be near her mother and work temporary jobs.
Her aunt encouraged her to get a stable job, so Patty decided to move back to D.C. and join the Army.
She recalls going through basic training and alternate individual training. “[Every day] we got up at 4:00 in the morning and then exercised and did a bunch of stuff. We got drilled, and got hollered at. We were tired out.”
She served with the military police for one year, and then moved back to Pittsburgh to work five years in the 302 Medical Battalion. Office management was becoming Patty’s specialty.
But then she got sick. Ovarian cancer forced her to take medical leave and get a hysterectomy. Patty continued to work temporary jobs and travel from D.C to Pittsburgh.
Street Sense came into her life in 2005, when she saw an ad on the Internet. She began selling papers part-time while working as a home-care aid.
Then, in 2007, Patty started school at Strayer University in D.C.
“That was the first time in my life that I had ever seen new books,” she recalls.
She was amazed at how new everything seemed to be. Her dream was to become a writer. She was a member of a writer’s group during her time at Strayer, and was constantly seen with a writer’s instruction manual in her hand. Those were, and continue to be, her favorite type of books to read.
However, disaster struck when Patty’s aunt grew ill and died. She went up to Pittsburgh for the funeral, and when she came back, she was dealt a second blow. “You’ll never be a writer,” one of her teachers told her. Patty’s grades dropped significantly, and she dropped out.
During this time, Patty had been living at the YWCA, and has since lived there for 14 years. She was hospitalized after her case manager suggested she get caught up on her medication. After losing that housing, and being placed in temporary housing, she now has reapplied to live somewhere else.
She obtained permanent housing recently and is waiting for her move in date, according to her case manager, Julie Turner.
Despite what her teacher said, Patty became a writer. Her favorite story she wrote for the paper is, “My Mom the Car Driver.” She loves the social aspect of Street Sense, and hopes to continue writing.
“I love seeing the people and talking to the people, and just having a good time selling the paper.”