Vendor Profile: Phillip Black
His customers know Phillip Black, 46, as “The Cat in the Hat,” because he always wears a goofy red and white Dr. Seuss hat.
One day in spring, dozens of children who were on a bus tour in D.C. saw him with his hat and stopped by the corner of E and 11th streets NW, where he sells Street Sense, to take pictures with him.
“I took about 30 pictures this morning [with the kids],” he said.
Black started wearing the hat two years ago on March 2, the birthday of Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel. “I put it on and I liked it and I started wearing it every day.” He has about 10 similar hats.
“The Cat and the Hat,” also becomes his pen name whenever he writes for Street Sense. He writes poetry and shares his own story. He also writes about his children.
Black has two daughters who lived with him until about four years ago when Black became homeless after having surgery for nine bleeding ulcers and then losing his job. During the past four years, his daughters have lived with their mother in North Carolina.
“They’re coming June 15,” he said. “I’m ready.”
“I’m going to take them to Six Flags, Kings Dominion, to the museums, and then I’m going to get them to schools,” he said.
The three of them will live in Prince George’s County, Md., where Black has a two-bedroom apartment from a government program called Pathways to Housing. He was on the waiting list for two years before he got the place.
Black sells Street Sense for a living, but he also does plumbing. He went to school for plumbing and worked in a plumbing company for 10 years. But when he got sick, his employer replaced him with someone else.
His plan for the future is to start his own business, Black’s Plumbing, and to work for himself. Though he knows he may not make as much money as working for a company, he said he chooses to work on his own to have more time with his children.
Some of his Street Sense customers know that he is a plumber, so sometimes he gets a call to do some plumbing work. “I still have all my tools; when I was homeless, my cousin kept all my tools,” he said. “Now I’m still involved with Street Sense, and I’m doing plumbing on the side. That way I can still spend time with my children.”
“It’s tough living on the street,” Black said. “But I’m a strong person, and Street Sense helped me so much. I believe in Street Sense.”