As many of you know, I volunteer once a week for Street Sense, a newspaper sold by homeless people in DC. I have met a lot of homeless people and listened to their stories. Sometimes being around people who have suffered so emotionally painful I don’t want to do it anymore. But most of the time, and I know this is a cliche, I get more out volunteering and being of some small help, than I ever thought possible. I get down about my life and my stalled writing career a lot. Many of the homeless people I see once a week encourage me. I never expected that would be one of the gifts I would receive from people who have so little. This article first appeared in Street Sense on 15 June 2016. You can learn more about the organization here: http://streetsense.org/
Vendor Number Six: Anthony Crawford
Urinating on homeless people is a favorite prank of drunken white college kids in D.C., says Street Sense vendor Anthony Crawford. “They think it’s funny and isn’t funny.”
These same fun-loving lads also enjoy kicking the blankets off of homeless people as well as spitting on them. And why not, by gosh? Most people experiencing homelessness are Black, or people of color, and obviously the poorest of the poor since they can’t even afford a roof over their heads. Who cares if these people are mistreated? Certainly not the police, Anthony says.
In his 57 years he has seen a lot of life and lots of what he has seen isn’t pretty. Yet when I interviewed him in the Street Sense offices several weeks ago, Anthony speaks without bitterness or anger. “A lot of people care about other people,” he says.
This truth comes to him most every day on the corner of 19th and M Streets NW, where Anthony has been selling Street Sense for thirteen years. He secured this prime spot because Anthony is Vendor Number Six, one of the very first homeless people who signed-up to sell the paper. Over his many years he has built up a large and loyal following of customers who faithfully buy their copies of Street Sense from him.
One of the reasons he has been successful is that he treats people with respect. “I talk to people. ‘How you doing? How’s your day? How’s your family?’”
Anthony’s mother raised him to be the strong and caring man that he is. But she didn’t do it by telling him, she did it by example. From his days as a lad, he recalls several boys in his neighborhood whose mother was a junkie. Like Anthony, they did not have a father. So when their mother could not care for them, Anthony found them at his mother’s table. She fed and cared for these young boys along with her own five children.
Until his mid-30s, Anthony continued to live with his mother and helped with expenses. His main recreation in those years was listening to soul music, especially the greats, B.B. King, Otis Reading, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder. “Music lifts me up,” Anthony says, because “all music has a message to it.”
When his mother died, Anthony found himself on a journey of great difficulty that lasted many years. At age 50, he made the decision to live on the streets. The reasons are simple. He was in a situation with a lot of rules and he “never wanted anyone to tell him what to do or how to do it.” So he made the streets of D.C. his home, usually sleeping in DuPont Circle or McPherson Square.
He heard about Street Sense from a homeless woman he had become friends with. They met on a regular basis to play chess and during one of their games she mentioned the paper and suggested he look into it. So he did.
Although a recent heart attack and stroke have slowed him down, he still holds down his corner on 19th and M five days a week selling Street Sense to his many loyal customers.