How Robert Warren is Using Poetry to Write a New Future for His Community

Holed up in a small media center tucked away on H St in the Nation’s Capital, writer and poet Robert Warren fields question after question from other participants attending his writer’s workshop. It’s an unusual setting to associate with people in housing transition, but Street Sense Media hosts a series of classes and workshops throughout the week targeted at training people experiencing homelessness with skills in media and journalism. An 11-year veteran of the program, Warren is now on the other side of the education platform, giving back to others wanting to learn how to write and develop their skills as a storyteller. But it hasn’t always been that way. 

Slipped Through the Cracks

For six years, Warren surfed from friends’ couches to shelters to the streets. After a risky exposure to chemical fumes as a sheet metal worker, Warren developed serious health issues that result in leaving his job. Unable to develop financial security to keep up with his living expenses, Warren eventually lost everything.

“For a lot of us, it’s just economics, lack of affordable housing,” shares Warren, now a staunch advocate for those in his community who have struggled to find stable housing.

Light in the Storm

While staying in a shelter in Anacostia, Warren discovered Street Sense. His passion for writing developed steadily over the last several years; the damage caused by Hurricane Katerina in 2005 put his life into perspective. After seeing the fallout from the storm, Warren began to engage with the issues challenging his community through journalism. When he came to Street Sense, Warren joined a writers group called “Will Write for Food” a place for writers without stable housing to commune, share poetry and eat.

Now the author of several published pieces through Street Sense’s newspaper, Warren is hoping to one day write his own book. His poem But the Leaves chronicles the narrative of time passing as observed by leaves. As part of the series of cinematic poetry vignettes produced by United Way of the National Capital Area and Street Sense Media, Warren’s piece seeks to destigmatize the stereotypes and experiences of those without homes in our community.

To learn more, visit unitedwaynca.org/phc

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