On March 21st, two Street Sense vendors, Ken Martin and Robert Warren, and AU alum and Street Sense volunteer Bryan Bello came to speak at AU for an Intersection of Art and Poverty panel discussion. The event was hosted by AU School of Communication senior Daniel Marks and his classmates for their PR portfolio and honors capstone project.
“We held an art showcase and panel discussion to highlight the stories of the artists and vendors. Through having the panel, we gave Ken, Robert, and Bryan an opportunity to share their stories from their individual points of view.” Marks said.
Street Sense is a non-profit advocacy group that produces the bi-monthly Street Sense newspaper that serves the homeless population of Washington, D.C. Vendors purchase each copy for 50 cents and distribute them for a minimum suggested donation of $2. According to Street Sense’s website, the donation system people in need of financial assistance to achieve it without panhandling.
The website also says that “nearly all vendors report a marked improvement in their lives since starting at the paper.” The project involves more than just distribution; more than half of the paper’s content is contributed by the homeless.
“Street Sense was a big part of giving me a voice,” Warren said. He described time spent in a poetry group associated with Street Sense, exchanging ideas and discussing writing.
In addition to the paper, Street Sense hosts poetry, writing, film and photography classes encouraging others to use their art as a tool for their own advocacy.
Martin, a vendor in Tenleytown, is known as “The Hat Man” because he decided to take a photography class to photograph hats in his pop up shop, Brims 4 You, located in Adams Morgan. He collaborated with fellow panelist Bryan Bello on a film to get the word out.
Bello said that in his time at Street Sense, he has learned to allow people to control their own narrative and he understands that people are an expert on their own problems.
“I came to Street Sense after experiencing an internal artistic crisis.” Bello said. “I felt like a predator, taking people’s stories and leaving people with nothing to offer.”
Although Martin said he has been ignored by AU students, he was able to tell the crowd about positive encounters he’s had with his customers and encouraged students to be empathetic to other vendors.
“It can happen to any of us,” he said. “I had four homes, two businesses on K street and a lot of money in the bank. But then I got sick.”
Each panelist held shared the opinion that housing is a basic human right. They emphasized that AU students can get involved with Street Sense.
“You don’t have to have the answer to homelessness to engage with Street Sense,” Bello said. “But you can leave people with something more than what they had before they got there.”