After 27 years of homelessness, Nashville street paper vendor gets his own apartment

By Amelia Ferrell Knisely, The Contributor

For the first time in 27 years, Anthony has a light bill in his name.

The 55-year-old Army veteran recently signed the lease to an apartment in Nashville after spending years sleeping in hotels, at friends’ places and on the city’s streets. “When the lady handed me my keys, I cried,” he said.

Anthony has been selling The Contributor for seven years. Since that time, he’s gained a regular customer base and profits to help pay rent for the apartment he acquired with help from the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program.

Photo by: Linda Bailey

After receiving the voucher, which offers rent assistance, it took Anthony two months to find a place that he could afford. He said that his case worker, Mark Holman, “busted his butt” to find him an affordable apartment in Nashville.

“If it weren’t for HUD-VASH and my customers, this wouldn’t have happened,” he said.

Anthony became homeless after life threw him a series of events: child support obligations, loss of a job and health problems. He underwent back surgery then had a heart attack. His career as a plumber and in fire protection was over. “People automatically think you’re a drug addict, or alcoholic or pill head, but you never know what life will throw at you. You can’t stay down,” he said. “Thank God for The Contributor.”

Selling The Contributor is hard work, according to Anthony, who has perfected his selling style with a “no pressure” attitude toward his customers. He sells at night, when he said customers are “not rushing somewhere,” like they often are during the day. “If you think this job is easy, follow me for a week. I’ll show you how much hard work each vendor puts into it. When you see people get off the street, you know they put some work in.”

Anthony has become one of The Contributor’s most-published writers. His stories touch on the reality of not only his own life, but the human experience: heartbreak, poverty, dreams and gratitude. “I get to free my soul. I get all that tension and heartache out. If you buy my stuff, I write about life. It ain’t easy out there, and the stuff I write, people like because they feel the same way.”

He has now sent his words in the form of greeting cards to Hallmark and American Greetings, and hopes his writing will one day help him pay his bills. His friend Jennifer Robey works as his “secretary and computer whiz,” helping him transfer his stories to a flash drive and sending them out to other outlets until he gets his own computer. “The Contributor made me a writer,” he said with a smile. Anthony said that the best part about having a place of his own is the “serenity”, plus now he can cook for himself. He likes to make what he calls “goulash” in the crock pot: hamburger, green beans and onions. Plus, cornbread to sop it with.

He’s still furnishing his new home and is especially looking forward to owning pots and pans to expand his menu options. “I just want to thank my customers. If it wasn’t for them, I’d still be sleeping in the park.”