Street Sense social worker celebrated for work empowering homeless vendors

A dedicated social worker at a street paper: a rare, yet incredibly valuable asset. Washington DC’s Street Sense is one of the few street papers in the world lucky enough to have such a beneficial resource.

In recognition of her work empowering the paper’s most vulnerable vendors, social worker Julie Turner was presented with the Street Sense Good Neighbor Award at the paper’s 2015 Fall Gala last month.

Street Sense social worker Julie and her award, photo by Chon Gotti

Julie has been supporting vendors at Street Sense for two years, helping them find housing whilst building their confidence. Prioritising her vendors’ creativity is a key part of her work.

“Street Sense is a newspaper and arts program first. A social worker is just there to move life along. I am a tool. A tool in a good way I hope,” said Julie.

“In order for a social worker to be effective in this setting, the social worker must use the creativity as a spring board to help vendors. Social services are important, but the art is what motivates people to move forward, to be courageous.”

Having worked closely with the Street Sense team, Julie is a strong advocate for their projects.

“I believe Street Sense is the anchor that offers stability so people find their voice. Having a voice is powerful. It’s what drives good art, social change, or in my line of work a case plan,” she explained.

“I believe that treatment isn’t the first priority, maybe just being treated like a human being is.

“The vendors have so much pride in what they do and how they do it. This is who they are. I am still wrapping my head around these incredible people.”

The Street Sense Gala took place at the start of October, following the theme ‘Home is where the heART is’.

“Eleven vendors went home that night. Home, to their own apartment with their own bed. One of the 11 has a two-year-old child. I hope her earliest memory is of her wearing a sparkly dress at a grown-up party.”

The money raised through tickets sales and a silent auction will go directly to fund the organisation’s creative workshops, including a filmmaking collective and a theatre group.

Reflecting on the evening of celebration, Julie was delighted to see the people she supports take centre stage.

“The gala was about great art, a professional-quality newspaper, and how art helps people to rebuild their life.

“Here’s the thing, Street Sense is a good product. The writers talk about important issues. They report accurately and fairly. The vendors make the product. They have pride in their work. Pride and self-esteem go a long way in rebuilding lives,” said Julie.

“Eleven vendors went home that night. Home, to their own apartment with their own bed. One of the 11 has a two-year-old child. I hope her earliest memory is of her wearing a sparkly dress at a grown-up party.

“This is what is important. In 28 years of doing this work, hearing ‘thank you’ from the people I have helped means more to me than an award.”

Julie said that she considers herself lucky to work with such creative people.

“They remind me why I come to work every day. I really can’t imagine going anyplace else. Who wouldn’t want to be around filmmakers, writers, artists, and musicians all day? It’s a dream job.”

Executive Director of Street Sense Brian Carome said that Julie is vital is to the street paper’s vendors.

“Julie has worked with some of our most vulnerable vendors, helping them navigate the complicated maze of public benefits and, as a result of her work, several of our vendors are now living in permanent housing, including two who were homeless for more than 20 years.”

The award now takes pride of place in Julie’s office, alongside clippings of vendors’ artwork as it appeared in the paper.

“I am extroverted when it comes to coordinating care and advocacy or even talking about the weather. I can stand up before congress and give them a piece of my mind, but receiving an award from an organisation that I respect as much as Street Sense is an honour,” said Julie.

“The award is on my wall next to the vendor’s articles. I am very proud of what we have accomplished together. We still have a long way to go.”