The displaced populations in most American cities have grown so much that they comprise a neighborhood separate and unique from any geographic based community. These people who fin themselves unhoused travel the city, but depend on each other for safety, survival and family support. Steve Thomas was the older uncle figure in the homeless community of DC who was working every day to give a hand up to everyone without housing. Thomas died on February 23, 2022 after long term health struggles that limited his ability to do what he loved most—helping people.
Steve had a career that included travelling the world with the military, and travelling the country driving a truck. Bad decisions and fractured relationships led to Steve eventually losing his home. He lived in his Jeep for years struggling with his own demons, but always had a pair of socks or a rain jacket to spare for anyone in need. He developed life long friends on the streets of DC, and saved the lives of countless individuals who never had anyone care for them or look out for their well being. Rachelle Ellison knew Steve for 25 years (including 17 years on the street) and tried to talk to him every day. She said, “He had a heart of gold, and was always there to uplift us.”
Steve Thomas was the Public Education Coordinator for the National Coalition for the Homeless, but the title does not give the full extent of his role as the heart and soul of the Speaker’s Bureau and the glue that kept everyone together as a family. While on the street, he met some of the speakers from the Faces of Homelessness program and got to know Kelvin, Rachelle, Eric, David and others before eventually becoming a speaker. Steve would tell you that he was the best speaker in the program despite Donald Whitehead, NCH’s executive director, claims to the contrary. They had a long running joke of which one was the best speaker at NCH with each trying to outshine the other and each making the other better when the spoke together.
Thomas stepped into the role as coordinator after the death of Michael Stoops and after David needed a break from that role. Steve loved to cook and many of the speakers talked about how much they enjoyed his food. Up until the pandemic, he had regular dinners at the office for the speakers to motivate them, provide updates, but most of all to show everyone they were a family. Steve is survived by his daughter, Stephanie, and he told us all at a staff meeting how proud he was to be a part of her wedding in 2021. He built a family of speakers at NCH that he protected, counseled, found work for, and became a close friend to every one of them. Thomas was a veteran of the US Air Force where he rose to the rank of Sergeant, which may have been where he learned to put the needs of others ahead of his own.
Donald remembered him as bringing so much humor to the staff and said Steve was really like a brother to him. Speaker Karen Ennis remembered that Steve loved joking about her teeth until he fell and cracked his own tooth. He then would tell everyone that Karen must have somehow contributed to his fall to get back at him for the jokes. Megan Hustings, the Deputy Director of NCH and his supervisor for a time, remembered that he was always so dedicated to seeing that NCH succeeded and was always willing to take on new challenges. She remembers that he turned mundane activities like monitoring a table at a service fair into a cheerleading session for everyone to yell out the NCH name who visited the table. Everyone he met would talk about his booming personality and the joy he tried to spread. Those who first met Steve would think he was a cold disciplinarian, but as Kelvin Lassiter explained, “he was really just a big old teddy bear at heart.” It took a short while to get to know him, but those who spent time without housing were forever his family.
Thomas’s biggest issue that he struggled with for 20 years was that he could not stand to see people pass away on the streets of DC. He helped organize a number of sleep outs as part of the Candlelight Memorial Vigil service in Washington on December 21 and did everything in his power to prevent people from dying when they did not have housing. Penny Nance, another of the NCH speakers, loved his ability to tell stories and the concern he had for all the speakers. Steve had started a group to try to eliminate homelessness in the District, and loved going out to distribute items to those who lived outside and those who felt safer on the streets than in the shelters.
Kelvin Lassiter, Policy Director at NCH and a long term speaker, remembered this story that Steve told him. Thomas was overseas in Turkey during his military duty, and eating with some of the local population. They encouraged him to try all the strangest and most repulsive sounding foods. Steve, never wanting to insult or offend his hosts, was always willing to try whatever they put in front of him, and he made it out of Turkey without having to have his stomach pumped or being poisoned.
Don Gardner, another speaker who met Thomas in recovery, thought Steve had a great talent for matching speakers to fit the engagement. Gardner said that he always would try to link people back to their families and that very few people knew all the things he was doing behind the scenes to help give the speakers the best opportunities. Ellison talked about how fair he was to every speaker trying to get everyone an equal number of engagements. Steve was a good actor and had done a series of skits called “The Obsoletes” with other speakers to demonstrate the real stories of living on the edge in a modern American city. Thomas was extremely competitive, and Whitehead described him as an “inspiring personality who was always helping others.” The staff at NCH found him as a joy to be around and all were the subject of his verbal pokes to keep us on task and to help us overcome the depression and sadness associated with working so closely with those struggling to survive in such a prosperous country.
Services for Steve Thomas will be held on March 7, 2022, at Purity Baptist Church & Urban Center, 1325 Maryland Ave NE, Washington DC 20002. For those unable to attend in-person, the service will be livestreamed via FB at www.facebook.com/Betterbelievesteve.
In lieu of flowers, Steve’s family is requesting donations be made to NCH. We will be announcing plans to keep Steve’s legacy alive and to continue his mission to help those within the District.