Sasha and the Triumph of the Human Spirit Over Adversity.

For the last few months, I have writing articles or editing articles for three hours each week for Street Sense.

This is both the name of the organization and paper.  The newspaper is sold by homeless people in Washington, DC. They must register with Street Sense, receive an ID which they must wear when selling the paper. They must also wear a yellow vest which denotes they are a licensed purveyor of Street Sense.

This is the intro I wrote for a profile about a young woman who has been through hell. I almost wept as I interviewed her. Below the first paragraph is the link to the entire story.

Vendor Profile: Sasha Williams

by Charles McCain
“She knew the rapist. He was from the neighborhood, one of the bad crowd she had begun to hang with a few years prior. Resist? Impossible. While raping her he kept a pistol aimed at her head. If she reported this to the police he would kill her and her family.”

On the story page there is a link for you to donate to the organization should you so chose. They need money.


Each person who sells the newspaper must purchase their copies for fifty cents up front. Then they can go to their territory and sell the papers for a suggested donation of $2.00 although many people buy the paper for a larger sum.

I have learned a lot about the homeless through this volunteer work. First and foremost, homelessness is a complex problem not amendable to quick and easy solutions. Many of the homeless have multiple problems such as learning disabilities combined with alcoholism, depression and poor overall physical health.

Nonetheless,  many of my pre-conceptions were incorrect. Almost all the homeless people I have met are highly intelligent, and have accomplishments of all sorts. But they usually became homeless through a combination of adverse life events, depression which veered off into alcohol and drug abuse, loss of job/income, home and everything else. Many do enter treatment facilities (hardly like the fancy ones the well to do with great insurance go to) and break their habit of alcohol and/or street drugs.  But after managing this, they are in the deepest pit you could dig since they have fallen so far out of society.

However, a number of homeless people have jobs but these are either part time or only pay the minimum wage and they can’t afford to rent a place to live. Actually, getting a Section 8 housing voucher from the Federal Government is difficult to do and there is never enough money appropriated by the US Congress to provide these vouchers for all the homeless who would be able to use the program.

Contrary to prevailing thought among so many in America, the homeless receive scant government assistance. True, they do stay in homeless shelters and some of these are paid for with tax dollars but many have been established by churches and people donate money to keep them open. But a homeless shelter is a grim place. One gets a bunk. That’s about it. And you can’t stay in a homeless shelter during the day. You have to get up and leave in the morning whether it is sunny, raining or snowing or 30 degrees or ninety degrees.

According to the October 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development/Office of Community Planning and Development:

In January 2014 there were:

*578,424 homeless people on a given night.

*Of this number, 135, 701 or 23 percent, were children under the age of 18.

*69% were in homeless shelters.

*31% were on the streets.

Since 2007 homeless has declined by a mere 11%.

US Dept of Housing & Urban Affairs 2014-AHAR.pdf

To feed yourself, an adult in Washington DC who is homeless (or not) and has no income receives less than $200 a month in food stamp money (now known as SNAP–supplemental nutrition assistance program). A mother with several children might receive $300 to $350 a month to fed her and her children.

A single adult receives a pittance to maintain themselves in addition to their SNAP money. Same with a mother with children. It is embarrassing that our country does so little to help these, the most vulnerable of our citizens. Even though we purport to have the largest percentage of practicing Christians than any other country that is laughable. I don’t what Bible they are reading but they must be reading one with all the parts about helping others excised.  The prevailing attitude today is that all homeless people are lazy drunks,who won’t work and receive plenty of money from the government to take care of themselves but spend it on gambling, whiskey, or drugs.

This is a wild and untrue exaggeration. Nonetheless, when I look at polls, lots of Americans don’t change their minds even after they are presented with the actual facts from non-partisan organizations. My only conclusion is these people would prefer that the homeless simply die– freezing to death in the winter for example.  Or getting so depressed they kill themselves. (This happens a fair amount). Or being stabbed or shot to death by criminal elements who believe it or not rob the homeless and take the handful of dollars homeless people have.

Homeless veterans are a subset of the homeless and many are homeless because of physical and psychological illnesses including traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Fortunately, the Obama Administration has put time, money and political muscle for programs to reduce homelessness among veterans. Because of the increase of the number of women in the armed forces, there has been a consonant increase in the number of homeless female veterans.

Fortunately, in 2009 the Obama Administration began to put time, money and political muscle to get funding for programs to reduce homelessness among veterans. Since that time homelessness among veterans has dropped by 33%.

“According to data collected during the 2014 Point-in-Time Count, 49,933 veterans experienced homelessness on a single night in January 2014. That estimate represents a 14 percent decline compared to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2013 estimate, and a 33 percent decline compared to its 2010 estimate.”


It is a terrible situation.



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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: