By Sophie Alexander, Editorial Intern
"Welcome to my humble abode," said Anthony Crawford as he opened the door to apartment 310. There was quiet pride in his voice as he showed off the small place to visitors one recent day. This month, the longtime Street Sense vendor will celebrate his first anniversary in his own home after living for more than two decades on the streets.
Every weekday from 7:30 a.m. to noon you are likely to find Crawford selling papers on the corner of 19th and M St NW. That is the same corner where on February 2, 2010, Crawford's luck took a turn for the better. It was there that he met Reed Sandridge.
When the two men first spoke to one another, Sandridge was giving $10 to a stranger each day in exchange for his or her story. He called it his Year of Giving, a project he embarked upon after being laid off from his job on the management team of a healthcare nonprofit. Sandridge kept a record of each donation in a little black notebook and shared the stories of the people he met in a blog.
It was on day 67 of this project that Sandridge approached Crawford and offered him ten dollars. It was there that he began to get to know the most basic facts about Crawford and his life.
Crawford became homeless when he was still a very young man.
"My mom and dad passed away. I was 25. I had some medical bills and I couldn't pay my rent," he explained.
After a troubling experience in a shelter, he decided to start avoiding such places and began sleeping outdoors. Even when the temperature fell below freezing, Crawford bedded down in a park or on the pavement, cocooned in cardboard and a sleeping bag. He did sometimes hope to change his life. The kindness of people helped him imagine something better for himself. One winter night when Crawford was sleeping on Connecticut and M St NW, a woman woke him up, gave him a cup of soup and offered to buy him a hostel room for the night. After spending a night in a comfortable room, Crawford dreamed of having his own apartment where he could sleep in a bed every night. He knew it might be possible.
Some among Crawford's "tight knit group" of homeless friends had managed over the years to find homes. In the meantime Crawford, who had been selling Street Sense since 2005, scrimped and saved money each week to spend Fridays in a motel, where he could get a shower and a warm bed. But it wasn't until Crawford met Sandridge that he started making strides in getting a place of his own.
Reliably on his corner, selling his papers, every weekday morning, Sandridge didn't find it hard to stay in touch with Crawford. After getting to know each other the two decided to meet for lunch every other Tuesday. It was at one of those lunches when Sandridge asked Crawford an important question.
"A year from now -- where do you want to be?"
"I want to be in an apartment -- my own apartment," Crawford replied. Among other things, he told Sandridge that he worried he wasn't eating right living outdoors.
A discussion with Anthony's doctor confirmed the importance of getting Crawford into a safe home.
"Anthony has a lot more to worry about than what he's eating. If you want to improve his health, find him stable housing," the doctor told Sandridge. It was on November 27th, 2012 that Crawford and Sandridge officially started their search.
"I underestimated how complicated it would be," Sandridge admitted, looking back. The first three months were a learning experience. They put Crawford's name on the D.C. Housing Authority's waiting list, only to learn that the wait for housing for a single male was an estimated 43 years. If he was even alive by then, Crawford would be close to 100 years old. (The following spring, with 70,000 names, the list was officially closed.)
"How does anyone take this process seriously?" Sandridge thought to himself. It was clear that they would have to find another way to get Crawford off the streets. Sandridge began reporting on their search in his blog.
"Most of the centers that we have reached out to don't return phone calls or don't follow up after in-person meetings. It's ridiculous," Sandridge noted in one post. Yet after pressing on for months, Sandridge and Crawford found the nonprofit Pathways to Housing and staffer Elizabeth Horren, who they began to call their "superstar outreach worker."
For the next six months they filled out forms. Potential housing providers gave Crawford forms to fill out. Crawford completed and returned them. Then they gave him more forms. After filling out those, they gave him what he thought were the last of the forms. Crawford completed those, but then came more forms. Crawford began to lose heart.
"It was discouraging; I was really discouraged. But luckily Reed pulled me back together."
Finally in June 2013, right as Crawford was ready to give up, there was some good news. Horren told them she had met with Catholic Charities, the social ministry outreach of the Archdiocese of Washington. Catholic Charities provides affordable single room apartments to people recovering from homelessness. One of their affordable apartment locations, McKenna House, had two open rooms.
"This kind of housing doesn't come along often," Horren told Crawford.
July 15, 2013, nine months into their search for housing, Crawford got the keys to his new place. Today, a twin bed, chair, lamp, mini fridge, dresser and television are carefully arranged in the small single room apartment. Almost as much as the home itself, Crawford said he appreciates those friends who have helped him through his journey:
"The people I met showed me they do care about me. It made me care about myself again. They showed me I didn't have to live like an animal anymore, sleeping in parks and stuff. I was sick and tired of it."
Now that Crawford has his own place he has recovered from many of the wounds of homelessness. For someone with a history of health problems and on nine different medications, proper nutrition is essential. Crawford is finding it far easier to eat well now that he has a place to live. Getting enough rest is also very important. Sleeping on the streets, Crawford rarely got a full night of sleep.
"You don't know who's gonna come after you at night. I had to sleep with my back against the wall. I know for a fact that I wasn't gonna make it if I were still on the streets."
Along with this security, Crawford has recovered his pride; "I know that I can come home, stick my key in the door and close it behind me."
Today when asked where he wishes to be in a year, Crawford, who stopped his education in the 7th grade, will tell you he hopes to obtain his GED.
He offers words of encouragement to those who are still struggling to prevail over life's challenges.
"If you really want it you can do it," he says. "If you don't believe me come down to 19th and M and we'll talk."