Anthony's Angels on the Road (2nd and D Streets, NW, D.C.)
Meet Lashawn, the woman I befriended when I volunteered at Bread For The City (post #31). Lashawn originally impressed me because she had lost a son to gun violence and turned her grief into inspiration by starting Anthony's Angels in his honor - an organization that works to improve the lives of the homeless and grief stricken. Lashawn and I could have parted ways after my time with her at BFC but we didn't! In fact, we've gotten together twice since and are kindling a very sweet friendship.
A few weeks ago, we met for lunch on Capital Hill to discuss an art project I wanted to commission. (Lashawn transforms empty soda cans into woven pieces of art to help the homeless -- See (https://www.wusa9.com/mobile/article/news/local/dc/woman-turns-trash-into-art-to-help-the-homeless/65-510979528) Before our lunch ended, a homeless man approached our table and asked for food. Then, someone else started tapping on the window gesturing that he was hungry too. Needless to say, our lunch turned into an impromptu homeless feeding mission with Lashawn as my guide and radar. She seems to know who needs what, how much is enough, and, luckily for me, how to say, "no!" We had a lot of fun and scheduled our next get together -- today's mission ... !
Sundays are "Angel Days" according to Lashawn and today, I was her lucky wingman. I brought sandwiches, chips, carrots, and clementines and Lashawn assembled toiletries, bought water, and we were off! Out of all of my projects, today was one of the best! Lashawn knows right where to go, what to bring, and how to engage with people. She's also a heck of a lot of fun too! She jumps into my car and we are off! There were several places Lashawn had in mind, but we end up at 2nd and D Streets, NW. We have no problem finding people who look hungry and thirsty so we start distributing the water, toiletries, and food. Not too surprisingly, my ham and turkey sandwiches aren't such hits -- I quickly am told that this is the staple food at shelters and they are far more interested in the clementines and Pringles! At each site, the people are appreciative, polite, and thankful. Many of them direct us to where they know other hungry people are gathered. At each stop, Lashawn engages people in conversation. "What's your story?" she asks. "How did you become homeless?" For many its a result of battling mental illness, for others it was losing a job or returning from military service. They warn us to stay away from the nearby shelter saying they'd rather sleep on the streets than sleep in there where they say people are hurt and violated. I said today was one of my best service days, but I didn't say it was easy. Within an hour or so, our bags were empty and Lashawn left with a mental list of what people needed or wanted: more shampoo, hand lotions, hot meals such as spaghetti and soup, and backpacks to carry their belongings. She tells them we'll be back and we start back to my car.
Once we are in my car, Lashawn reiterates that "everyone has a story" and when I ask how she knows this so well, she tells me her story. Lashawn, who is my age, is the mother of 8 children and is a grandmother as well. A few years, following the death of her eldest son Anthony, Lashawn and her family were homeless for 16 months. For 8 months they lived on the street and for the other 8, they were in a family shelter. When her family lived on the streets, she says no one knew they were homeless because they cleaned themselves, dressed, attended school, and carried on with their daily schedules. They stayed mostly in boarded up vacant row homes but always slept with one eye open. She and her boyfriend alternated being on watch while the others slept. Her children each slept with their backpacks on in case they needed to make a fast exit. Entrances and exits were always studied and there was always a plan to escape danger; this danger likely included police and/or social services coming to separate her family. This story chills me -- to mother your family through homelessness. Lashawn says her children attended school everyday and were good students. They often had to regroup after school if a new evening location was needed. This in-and-out of vacant houses ended after 8 months when a room in family shelter opened up. She attributes this "good fortune" to a woman who was horrified that she and her children lived on the streets. She believes she was able to push through the red tape and secure her room. She says her good fortune continued when a landlord called the shelter asking if anyone there had a voucher for a large family. This is what enabled her to move into her present house in Anacostia, so close to where I met her at Bread For The City. Now, do you understand why today was one of my favorite days?
My Takeaways: (1) Everyone DOES have a story and Lashawn's is remarkable and gives me great pause. I've spoken before about parenting in poverty but parenting while homeless is another story. Never does Lashawn complain, speak ill of anyone, or blame someone else for her situation. She did whatever she had to do to keep her family safe and together while retaining her faith in God and in mankind. Never have I met someone so strong. (2) Who better to know the challenges of homelessness than someone who has been homeless? Lashawn is a great listener and really wanted to give the people we met today a chance to tell their stories. She also doesn't forget about their needs now that she has a place to call home. Most Sundays and throughout the week, Lashawn devotes herself to the needs of the homeless and grief stricken. She has big plans and I hope to help her see some through! (3) Lashawn and I have entirely different histories, presents, and futures and yet we are still very compatible and are developing a meaningful relationship. Good hearts feel one another and if you put yourself out there and are genuine, you can make friends and changes in the most unlikely of places.