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Jan Creel: a ‘vibrant presence’ on Halsted & Diversey

Mon, Jun 30, 2014

IMG_0668On the bustling corner of Diversey and Halsted, locals have grown accustomed to Jan Creel’s vibrant presence. So accustomed in fact, that they’re quick to recognize when something’s amiss.

Creel told StreetWise about a health scare she had while working a few weeks back. A customer named Ryan noticed that Creel was lacking her usual “bounce.” Knowing she wouldn’t leave her post until she sold all her papers, Ryan bought the remaining 15 so Creel could seek medical attention. It turned out she was in a-fib, or the early stages of a heart attack.

“It’s funny how people pay attention,” she said. “That customer actually saved my life.”

But it’s not just that one customer. From the Walgreen’s cashiers to the beauticians across the street, everyone looks out for Creel. If she’s late, or moves from her normal spot, they worry.
Creel remembered another customer who overheard her on the phone talking about how she needed money for medicine. The customer then insisted on buying it for her.

“You got to have that connection to someone,” she said. “You need to have eyes on you to some degree.”

An astute vendor, Creel knows how to sell and market papers without pushiness or aggression. One of her tactics is to save her tip money so she can use it to give out papers for free to passersby who don’t usually buy StreetWise.

“I’m really a hustler, but a good kind,” she said. “I’m not going to force you to do something, but I’m going to make you want to do it.”’
Creel, who sells about 60 papers a week, hopes to increase this number to 90.

“I’ve always been a self motivator. Once I know my job, leave me alone and let me do it because I’m going to do my best.”

IMG_0690Creel landed in Chicago largely by chance 43 years ago. Travelling north from Florida with her boyfriend, they ran out of gas in the Chicago area and chose to settle here. Since then she’s worked in a factory, a nursing home, and in projects such as Cabrini Green as an armed security guard.

Creel started working for StreetWise about 10 months ago. After she retired from her job in a nursing home, she realized that she needed a way to subsidize her social security checks.

“This is my extra income to help me make my life more comfortable and buy my groceries,” said Creel. “Not everyone who does this is homeless. Not everyone out here is drunk or a drug addict.”

Creel’s personal life is just as active as her professional one. She enjoys roller-skating, roller blading and walking. She even ran two half marathons to benefit AIDS research.

While Creel found the work challenging at first and suffered through an illness in February she says she loves this job. “If you don’t love what you do don’t do it,” she said. “It’s not the paper so much, its getting out there and meeting the people. I am so blessed.”

As Ryan, the customer who saved Creel’s life told her, she’s like the song Titanium.

“You shoot me down, but I won’t fall.”

Brittany Langmeyer and Emma Peters
Streetwise Publisher & Editorial Intern

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