Pope Francis visited Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago. It was a historic occasion. I even got a glimpse of the papal icon as he zipped by me in his little Fiat on my way to work. You can barely make him out in the far backside of the car.
I thought that was pretty cool. When I told Anthony, he said, “I got to meet the Pope. He’s got soft and warm hands.” Yep, Anthony met the Pope at a luncheon that several homeless and formerly homeless men and women were invited to attend. Check out the photo he snapped from his phone and the article he wrote for Street Sense about the experience.
Anthony’s life changed on July 15, 2013 when he received the keys to an apartment in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC. And while we celebrated that moment, we both knew that a hard road, possibly harder than the one we had just traveled, awaited us.
Recent numbers reported by David Berns of DC’s Department of Human Services show that 91% of people who were experiencing homelessness in the district and were rehoused remained in housing after one year. This gave me hope, but Anthony had been on and off the street for nearly 20 years. I was worried that he might be that one person out of ten that doesn’t make it.
My worrying though was for nothing. Anthony worked hard to stay housed and we celebrated his one year anniversary on July 14th at Rumors – a restaurant across the street from where he has sold the Street Sense newspaper for the past nine years. About 40 people – friends, supporters, employees of local businesses, etc – showed up to celebrate with him. He didn’t stop smiling all night.
Today, July 29th, is Anthony’s 57th birthday. My wish for him today is that he stays housed and celebrates many more birthdays. Happy birthday Anthony!
It was a little more than 18 months ago that Anthony and I were meeting at Au Bon Pain on 19th Street. It was one of our regular biweekly meetings that we have. I had asked him during the previous get-together to think about where he wanted to be in one year or five years. “Don’t answer me now,” I told him. “Think about it and we’ll talk about it when we meet next time.”
Two weeks went by. We sat down at our usual table; Anthony carefully accommodating the multiple bags of personal items that lugged around with him all day long. Before we had even taken the first bite of our lunch, Anthony said that he had been thinking about what we talked about the previous week.
It seems like last week we skipped straight to winter – at least you would have thought that based on last Thursday here in DC. The high just made it over 50 degrees and the wind chill canceled out any relief the occasional sun provided. I’m glad that my friend Anthony has a warm, secure place to sleep indoors this winter. Thank you for your help in helping him achieve his goal.
I met Anthony over lunch. Joining us this time was another friend Steve who lives two blocks from Anthony’s apartment. They’ve met a couple of times and I thought I’d extend an invitation to him to join us.
There’s been an autumn chill in the air recently in DC. Normally that brings with it mixed emotions. While I enjoy the fall very much, it serves as a reminder that colder weather is coming and that my friends who sleep on the streets will begin preparing themselves to endure the elements.
Thanks to his new apartment, I will not worry so much about Anthony when it drops below freezing. Sure, he still spends exponentially more time outdoors than I do since he sells the newspaper on the street corner Continue reading →
It’s been a while since I’ve updated you on Anthony and me. Anthony is doing great. He’s so happy to have his very own living space. Thank you to all of you who helped him in some way. From the financial donations to the care-packages to this amazing quilt that Joyce from Texas made especially for Anthony! It’s beautiful! He has it spread over his bed and uses it to cover up at night if he gets cool while watching tv.
Right now we are working on two new things for Anthony. First, we are looking for an adult literacy class for him to join. As a result of dropping out of Continue reading →
So, Anthony gets out of the hospital, we go get him checked out by his physician later that week and then we meet with Elizabeth, the rockstar social outreach worker we have been working with to help get him housing.
Elizabeth had great news. Anthony has passed the basic qualification requirements for housing. And not just any housing. Now I haven’t seen it yet, but it sounds like an amazing opportunity for my friend. It’s a single room – so he doesn’t have to share it with others – which is important to Anthony. Next, it’s in Columbia Heights! For those of you who are not familiar with DC this is a great neighborhood with excellent access to public transportation.
A few days after my last post about how Anthony’s health seemed to be doing better I called him only to find him admitted at George Washington University Hospital. His blood pressure was dangerously high and he was not feeling well. A customer of his saw him sitting near the spot where he sells the paper and, after seeing that he didn’t look normal, asked if he was feeling alright. He wasn’t…and they called an ambulance.
I learned about this the following day. My office is only a few blocks from the hospital so I walked over on my lunch break to check on him. I was his only visitor he told me. While I was there with him he opened Continue reading →
The eye drops that Dr. Rubinfeld put in my eyes were starting to take affect when my phone rang. I moved the screen a bit further away than normal and read Anthony’s name on the caller ID. He was calling to say that he might be a little late for our 11:45 meeting – his pants ripped earlier in the day and he needed to get a new pair across town at a thrift store.
My eye exam wrapped up and I was cleared for Lasik eye surgery next Wednesday. I wandered out of the doctor’s office, my eyes fighting off the unwelcome sun that was bathing the sidewalks of Friendship Heights, MD. Although it’s only about a block to the Metro, it took me a few extra minutes to arrive as I kept my head tucked deep into the top of my coat looking straight down as I walked, using my hand to shield my eyes from the sun’s rays. I stepped into the underworld of the Metro and finally found my eyes relaxed in the cool dimly lit concrete world. A few minutes later I was downtown DC near Anthony’s corner. I grabbed a coffee and plopped down in a comfy chair at Caribou Coffee to burn some time until he arrived.
We met; he was upbeat and very chipper. A side of him that I hand’t seen in a while. In fact, I hadn’t really seen any side of Anthony in a weeks as he’d cancelled a few of our meetings.
He slipped me a folded up piece of legal paper – you know the yellow colored type. “We’ll talk about that over lunch,” he said with a smile. Before heading off to lunch, Anthony asked me to take a photo of him to send to a very generous woman named Joyce who has been following the blog and sent a donation to cover a night in hotel for him.
Over quesadillas and tacos we talked about the piece of paper he slipped me earlier. I unfolded it carefully – it seems that it had gotten wet at some point and could potentially tear so I wanted to be gentle with it. Inside I found a business card for an outreach worker that Anthony likes very much. He hopes that she will be able to help him navigate the housing assistance jungle. We’ve got several irons in the fire, but I believe that we really need to stick with one group and work more closely with them if we want to get keys to an apartment in Anthony’s hands.
After lunch we walked back to his corner. He grilled me on my book writing. I’m behind again, but still very committed. But Anthony suggested we up the stakes some. “You need consequences,” he said grinning about as wide as one can. “If you don’t get your draft proposal done in the next 3 weeks, then I think you need to come sleep on the streets with me.”
Not a bad motivator. I don’t have any interest in spending a night on the streets of DC. I nodded my head slowly knowing that Anthony’s suggestion was a good one, despite the fact that I wasn’t wild about the idea. But that is just the kind of consequence that we need to have – something to motivate me to meet my deadlines. So there you go. The clock is ticking and I need to get writing…so I will be back in touch next week.
The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house. All that cold, cold, wet day.
― Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat
For me the pitter patter sound of falling rain soothes the soul. I often stay inside by the fireplace where I find my eyes wandering toward the windowsill. The only difference today was that when I looked out at the marbles of rain bouncing on the street surface below I knew that Anthony was not snuggled up in a home next to a fireplace drinking freshly brewed coffee.
It was a little after 7am. I was up writing but having trouble focusing. I was supposed to meet him at 11:30am for our bi-weekly meeting. Last week he flaked on it – well maybe that is too harsh. I found him in an exhausted state after being up most the night monitoring a group of college kids that he was supervising as they went through a 48 “urban plunge” where they experience life on the streets. It’s understandable he didn’t feel much like meeting. Hell, he didn’t want to eat. I know he’s not feeling well when he passes up a free meal!
It was shortly after 11am when I got the call. Anthony cancelled again. “Maybe next week,” he said sounding sluggish and melancholy “It’s nasty out there this morning and I’m just going to stay here at the Au Bon Pain and wait it out and maybe try to get some sleep.” I offered to meet him there at the french bakery, but he insisted that today was not a good day.
I let it go. We talked for a minute about a few other items, he checked on my writing progress. “Well, I tried to do some this morning but that didn’t work out. I’ve got some time set aside later this afternoon,” I told him still hopeful that I would get some productive time in on the book after lunch.
This is the first time since we have been working together that he has cancelled twice in a row. I offered to change my schedule and meet with him on Thursday but he preferred to wait until next week.
Something doesn’t seem right.
Sadly I didn’t get any work done on my book. I got a lot of other crap done…but no writing.