Robert Williams holds a photo of himself, wearing a Marine uniform.
credit: Christy Ulmet

As we sat down for our interview, Street Sense vendor and native Washingtonian Robert Williams pulled out from his bag a rolled up photo of himself wearing his Marine Corps “blues.” Robert is a proud vet, and he’s not shy about it.

“I was in the most elite branch of the military,” he said as he straightened his posture. “My official title was Field Radio Operator.”

As a part of a national initiative to end veteran homelessness, Robert received a housing voucher from the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing initiative (HUD-VASH). He’s had a roof over his head and a place to call home for about three years.

Robert’s journey with Street Sense began about two months ago when he met some vendors at a mayoral rally in Freedom Plaza. During his time here, Robert has made an appearance at the Street Sense office almost daily, meeting with the writer’s group, illustration workshop, theater group and filmmaker’s co-op.

“I have found that all these classes and groups have brought out some skills that were lying dormant within me—that have not been utilized for awhile,” he said.
Robert is also a part of a group that deems itself Focus Attitude Commitment to Excellence (FACE). The group, led by fellow vendor Robert Warren, meets to discuss various issues vendors want to change and offers them an outlet to be proactive.

Every day, Robert heads out to his main post at 17th and K Streets Northwest around the Farragut North Metro stop. He always tries to be kind to those he comes in contact with, and has a passion to help people.

“I try to be a blessing to others. I’ve tried to look into an individual and look beyond what I see on the surface,” Robert said.

But putting a smile on his face hasn’t always been easy. Getting to this point has been a bumpy ride for him. Robert found himself homeless while living in Chicago. He went from sleeping in a condo to sleeping in an ally behind a condo building.
Instead of sitting around, Robert decided to work at the local street newspaper: StreetWise. He admitted that while he working with the newspaper in Chicago, he went through depression and a lot of stress because he lost his main job. But he held tight to those closest to him.

As Robert started talking about his family, a smile stretched across his face. He told me about his two adult children, a daughter and a son, and his “two beautiful grandchildren.” Though he doesn’t see his family often, Robert keeps in contact with them almost daily. He said he’s very proud of his children.

Robert’s daughter is a nurse, and his son is working and going to school. Robert also linked his happiness to his spirituality.
“It’s not so much what I’ve done, it’s all about the building of God’s kingdom and that He be glorified. It’s in Him that I live, breathe and have my very being. Without Him I am nothing.

Even through his toughest days, Robert has kept on smiling and fighting through the difficulties he faces.

“I’ve always believed that a setback is just a set up for a comeback.”