Monday, December 21, 2009

A Homeless "Cat in the Hat"

"I found out within the last couple of years who my best friend is. And my best friend is the mirror. Because every time I look in the mirror, I see myself. I see a person who has been through a lot. I see a person who put so much trust in other people and I was doing it wrong all the time. I was supposed to put trust in myself." Phil Black, vendor of the homeless newspaper, Street Sense, in Washington, D.C.

When Phil Black sees himself in the mirror, he also sees his tall, red-and-white-striped hat.

The hat is like the one worn by the mischievous title character in "The Cat in the Hat" children's book, written by the popular author Dr. Seuss.

Black’s eye-catching hat helps draw attention to the special newspaper he is selling. Street Sense is a 16-page bi-weekly paper about homeless people that’s written largely by the homeless themselves. Like its companion website, the paper provides a forum for D.C.’s homeless community and raises public awareness. And it empowers homeless vendors like Black, who get 65 cents for every one-dollar-copy of the paper they sell.

Black became homeless after ulcers from work forced him to quit his job and medical bills left his finances in ruins. His wife and two daughters also left him.

But he has now reinvented himself as a newspaper salesman and neighborhood guru. He hawks Street Sense in an upscale Washington neighborhood, engaging passers-by near a busy metro stop and just outside a pharmacy, inviting them to learn what the city’s homeless have to say.