On one of Yale’s busiest streets, a woman wearing a “Harvard Sucks” shirt sits on a plastic crate beside a bag of flowers wrapped in recycled paper.
“Would you like to buy a flower?” Annette Walton sings. “For a sandwich/Something to eat/Some food?”
It’s a refrain almost all Yalies have come to recognize. Known to students as the “Flower Lady,” Walton has become a familiar face.
“For most students Annette is a comforting presence on the corner of York and Elm, always asking students how they are doing, and reminding them to dress warmly in the winter,” said Diana Cieslak ’03, the co-coordinator of the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project.
Walton’s ties to Yalies are on display on a daily basis, as she greets the students she knows every time they walk by.
“I love my friends at Yale,” Walton said. “If it wasn’t for y’all, I would never be able to sell my flowers.”
“If it wasn’t for flowers,” she added, “I would probably be somewhere dead.”
Nearly two years ago, when Walton was arrested for “disorderly conduct” while selling flowers without a license, students became actively involved in getting the charges dropped.
With Walton facing a 90-day jail sentence, students held a rally and slept out on the New Haven Green to protest. Students also led a fundraising event at a local bar for the $200 license Walton needed to legally continue selling flowers.
Prosecutors dropped all charges, and license in hand, Walton was allowed to resume flower sales.
Walton now lives at a women’s shelter a bus ride away from campus and works part time at a nearby office in addition to selling flowers.
Walton said she usually buys her flowers from a local vendor and has claimed her usual territory by early afternoon.
Walton has perfected her singsong sales pitch.
“If you’re singing it, you ain’t talking to nobody but they hear you and want to know what you is talking about so they pay attention,” Walton explained.
Walton said she has been working since she was 12 years old. In addition to working as a flower vendor, she has held on-and-off jobs as a construction worker, painter and office employee.
Walton said she became homeless 10 years ago when the wholesale Jewish bakery where she had worked for nine years moved out of town and she was evicted from her apartment.
Now a regular on campus, Walton has found a wide range of friends — from a passerby who shares cigarettes to Yale students who often stop to chat.
Walton has also formed a close relationship with the businesses on York Street.
Laurie Kuhn, the manager of the Au Bon Pain on York and Elm, gives Walton a cup of coffee every morning and bakes Walton birthday cakes every July.
“We give her our respect, she gives us hers,” Kuhn explained.