D.C. Woman Gets Apartment After Years of Homelessness

Posted: April 23, 2013 by thehomelesspage in Uncategorized
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Aida Basnight selling Street Sense on a cold spring day

D.C. Woman Gets Apartment After Years of Homelessness

By Heather Curtis for the Homeless Page

Aida Basnight never imagined she would be unemployed and dividing her time between homeless shelters and the streets of D.C., not long after completing her master’s thesis.

“I was just like, ‘how could this happen?’ because I could pay my rent.” Basnight said. “I could do everything I needed to because I had an increase of salary once I had graduated from graduate school.”

In 2010, Basnight was working for the Department of Defense. She graduated with a 3.83 average and a master’s degree in information systems from Strayer University and soon after, earned a promotion. But on Christmas week, the DOD gave her an ultimatum: straighten out your finances or lose your job. A clean financial record was required for the promotion’s security clearance.

Saddled with student loans and other financial problems, Basnight found the requirement impossible. The DOD let her go.

In an attempt to keep the apartment she shared with her 19-year-old daughter, Basnight took money out of her 401 K retirement plan and tried to get help paying rent from D.C.’s Emergency Rental Assistance program. But eventually she ran out of money and options, and in August of 2010 the eviction trucks came to remove everything they owned from the apartment. For the first time in her life, Basnight found herself homeless.

Her daughter went to live with Basnight’s mother in D.C., but Basnight herself had a troubled relationship with her and wasn’t welcome there unless she went to family therapy. She decided it wasn’t worth the emotional stress and moved into the Nativity Shelter for Women on Georgia Avenue.

Her boyfriend at the time (now husband) gave her some money to get by, but that made her uncomfortable because she didn’t know him well enough yet. The only job she could find was working on an eviction truck, so she took it.

“I couldn’t believe I was on these eviction trucks after these same trucks and same people evicted me from my apartment, but it was money.” Basnight said. “It was fast money for that day.” But when her boyfriend found out where she was working, he was upset. She decided to quit.

One day at the shelter, a woman asked her if she ever sold Street Sense, a bi-weekly D.C.-based newspaper written by the homeless under the guidance of professional writers. Vendors pay $0.50 for each paper and sell the papers for a suggested donation of $2 each. At first, Basnight wasn’t interested, but when the woman told her she made $80 in one day, she decided to try it out.

She signed up to be a Street Sense vendor and was issued the paper’s trademark yellow vest and vendor identification badge. But standing on the corner of 9th and F Streets NW proved more difficult than she imagined it would be.

“People just passing right through me like I’m invisible, and I kept saying, ‘God, when will I make a sale?’” Basnight said. “Next thing I know, one customer came and got his paper from me, and they kept doing it over and over.” One woman bought between 15 and 20 papers. Basnight was so pleased, she started regularly selling papers on that corner Monday through Saturday.

Fellow vendor Phillip Black, better known as the Cat & the Hat, told Basnight if she wanted to make more money, then she should go to the weekly Street Sense writer’s group and start writing for the paper. One of her first pieces was about the sidewalks of D.C.

“When I get feedback from my customers they say, ‘I know who you are, you wrote Beautiful Sidewalk of D.C.’ That makes me feel good.’’

Encouraged by the feedback, she decided to write another article about her homeless experiences.

“I wanted people to understand, too that not everybody who becomes homeless has a mental or an alcohol or drug problem.” Basnight said. “I don’t have that problem. It’s about me. I had a problem because I couldn’t keep up my finances.”

The response to that article was even greater than the first. One woman who read it dug into her purse and handed Basnight a cross. The experience made her feel so good, she decided to keep writing.

After an exhausting morning of selling papers the last week of January 2013, Basnight decided to go the Bethany Women’s Shelter for a free lunch. On her way to the bus stop, she saw another homeless friend of hers who reminded her she owed him a dollar and asked her to buy him a grape soda. She contemplated buying her friend the soda but realized doing so would probably cause her to miss the bus along with lunch at the shelter.

“Next thing a push of wind came from nowhere,” Basnight said. “I’m not kidding. I felt hands pushing me. I turn around. There ain’t nothing back there. I know it sounds weird, but this is what happened. Wind came from nowhere out of the park and pushed me on that bus, and I got on it.” The decision to get on the bus proved to be a life-changing one.

Basnight made it to the Bethany Women’s Shelter just in time to get a tray of food before lunch service ended. When she finally sat down to eat, the director called her into her office and asked Basnight if she wanted an apartment.

“I told her, you don’t have to ask me twice,” Basnight said.

After two-and-a-half years of living in shelters, on the streets, and in a tent at the Occupy Wall Street camp, the idea of a place of her own was something she wasn’t going to pass up. She packed all of her belongings, and in about two weeks she moved in with the help of a group of people.

“I dropped to my knees and said hallelujah thank you, Jesus, thank you, God. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. In front of all those people and everybody just stood there and looked at me. They didn’t say anything. I prayed. I prayed. I didn’t even have tears in my eyes, I just prayed. Thank you. Thank you,” Basnight said.

Basnight can stay in the apartment as long as she wants, but she must look for a full time job. Currently her only income is from Street Sense. Once she finds a full time job, she will be required to pay 30 percent of her income in rent. While she’s grateful to have a home of her own for the first time in two-and-a-half years, she says she wants to get to the point where she can support herself entirely.

“Even though I got an efficiency through a program, it’s not what I want. It’s probably what I need right now to get out of the shelter,” Basnight said.

She also wants to find a full time job as quickly as possible.

“Street Sense doesn’t help with everything. There’s some good days, and there’s some bad days. Everybody doesn’t always have that $2,” Basnight said.

For now, she’s working hard to achieve her goals and leaving the rest up to God.

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Want to go on the streets with Aida to sell Street Sense? The Homeless Page’s Heather Curtis brings you there.

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