A light in the dark: Living outdoors requires some nerve and a few good friends

A Vendor Profile
By Elizabeth Schwartz
Contributing Writer

gimelprofilebw1Gimel Gaiah has been selling Street Roots outside Borders on Southwest 3rd and Morrison for about two months. His customers are primarily MAX riders and Borders Books patrons. He also sells papers to a few people who work in a nearby office building. The bookstore treats Gimel well. They allow him to sell papers near their main door, use their bathroom, and sit and read books when he needs to get warm. Gimel also values the fact that the staff treat him with the same respect they offer other customers. In return, he buys a daily cup of coffee and refills from them.

“I love readers,” the vendor told me. “Readers are different. They have a deeper ear to understanding, are open to listening and talking, and are more patient.” Sometimes Borders patrons purchase a book on drawing and give it to Gimel after noticing him making pen and ink drawings in a little notebook. Others buy him snacks from the bookstore. One man brought him a large bag containing almost anything a homeless man might need: shoes, socks, a tent, and a sleeping bag.

Gimel told me that he does not just sell Street Roots for the money. “People are approaching my loneliness and bringing theirs. I’m not waiting here for the money from selling a paper. I’m waiting here for the people who approach me and give me human contact. The beauty of it is the variety.”

Gimel says that often the first thing people ask him is, “Are you really homeless?” The vendor told me that he has found that homelessness is a “touchy” subject for people of all income brackets in Portland. They want to know where he lives, how he survives, and most of all how he keeps from going crazy. He suspects that those who want to know the details of his life and survival are somehow reassured by what he tells them. At my request, Gimel agreed to pass on to Street Roots readers the techniques he has learned from old-timers about how to maintain his sanity while living in the wilderness.

For Gimel, the single most important thing is having a candle to light at night. He had not had the money to purchase a candle the night before I interviewed him. “A candle and a match to light it at night make the difference between acute loneliness and a sense of warm community when you live in the woods,” he told me.  I was deeply struck by the simplicity of this man’s need. All he had wanted was a candle.

“How did you make it through the night last night? How did you deal  with the loneliness?” I asked.

“I thought about Street Roots,” he replied, and the wonderful ways that they help him feel part of a community and regain a small sense of self-respect.

Gimel said an old-timer who lives near him in the woods has helped him overcome his fear of darkness and the forest. Gimel has learned that if he is patient, his eyes adjust to the dark and he can see well enough to move around safely. “This is paradise, the Garden of Eden,” the old-timer told Gimel. “Don’t see it as dark and scary. See it as a place that takes care of you, shelters you, and is calm.”  He also counseled Gimel to make friends with raccoons, who prey on mice and rats, Gimel said. Keeping his shelter clean also helps reduce the rodent population, which can be a serious problem for the homeless. The Street Roots vendor’s shelter is currently under a tree, which is home to a family of three raccoons. He does not have much of a rat problem.

When not selling newspapers outside of Borders Bookstore, Gimel keeps busy drawing his pictures and collecting wood. He searches the forest for “old, burl-type pieces.” He told me that it is like “finding jewels. They are dynamic, hard and do not rot.” He uses the wood to decorate his shelter. He does not normally build a campfire, but the wood may have saved his life during the severe cold in December. The dry, dense wood burned hot and long, warming him.

At the end of our interview I bought a paper from Gimel, who said, “God bless you, and thank you for reading.”

5 responses to “A light in the dark: Living outdoors requires some nerve and a few good friends

  1. i am sitting here, disgusted, reading an article from your 3/05/09 article, where you feature “gimel”. poor gimel. let me tell you something about gimel that you left out of your article. his name is not gimel, it’s scott stacy. scott stacy is not homeless, he was kicked out of his very comfortable home, and abandoning his two children, because he physically attacked me, the mother of his baby, in front of our children after years of his abuse.

    he is not some sweet homeless person. he is a mentally ill and dangerous. besides assaulting me and abandoning our daughter, he also did the same thing to his first wife. their daughter, seneca, has been abandoned by scott for almost four years.

    scott is a conman. and this is just a big con. he is not worthy of selling this paper. the vendors should be people who TRULY need help and money. scott is LAZY and does not want to work. he is playing a game, and your article was free-advertising to get him more free stuff, as he loiters in front of borders, conning poor do-gooders who think this man is down on his luck. he is NOT. he is playing each and every one of you.

    shame YOU for writing a story without reasearching the subject. that is really BAD journalism.

    scott is not a good person selling papers. he is a criminal who is plagued by a mental illness that finds him delusional and psychotic. i am sitting here with my children, barely getting along because “gimel” scott stacy REFUSES to work and help support his children. my daughter will have permanent scars from this. my older daughter witnessed the attack and has been plauged with trauma ever since. she cries at school uncontrollably, she has nightmares that scott has come back to kill me.

    to see his picture and this bullshit story makes me sick. you do such a disservice to women like me who have been abused and their children abandoned by men who refuse to take their medication and get a job to be responsible for the lives they’ve brought into the world. i am sickened by this. i can promise you that nobody i know will ever purchase this rag again. all street roots does is aid and abed criminals who are shirking life’s responsibilities. legalized panhandling is what street roots is.

    i suggest you do a background check on the “vendors” you are so EASILY manipulated by.

    i can thank you for one thing. giving me and the police and the DA his whereabouts. he has already been served a restraining order at that spot.

    i’ll be sure to share your name with as many people i know, as an unprofessional writer.


  2. typically when someone is kicked out of their “very comfortable home” and forced to live under a tree in the woods, they are indeed iconsidered to be homeless, don’t you thnk? not sure how that would accurately depict them as being one who has abandoned their child(ren) either. sounds more like he was forced away from them by reading your contradictory words, julie.

    that aside, to belittle street roots as a whole and the people who create and sell it is absolutely ridiculous and inane. gimel/scott has clearly hurt you and that is sad but you needn’t derogate everyone solely because you know part of one man’s story. come on, lady. i’m sure if scott was with you long enough to have a child with you, you’re smarter than that. i have known several people associated with street roots for over the past 10 years or so and have made many donations to their organization because it IS a good cause and they ARE good people.

    scott, thank you for sharing your art in recent publications of street roots. i have very much enjoyed the three pieces i’ve seen (street roots, tina and shelter). thank you also elizabeth for a very well written article, even if you didn’t include every single little detail of his past life. 😉

  3. Elizabeth Schwartz

    I write the Vendor Profile column for Street Roots, and have been doing so since October 2008. The profiles happen in this manner.

    Step one: Someone at the Street Roots office asks me to profile a specific vendor.

    Step two: I try to find the vendor. If I am successful, I check to see if they agree to the interview and having their photo taken.

    Step three: The vendor and I talk about what is happening in their current life and a little about how they got there. Then I photograph them.

    Step four: I go home and write up my impressions of a conversation between two human beings: the vendor and myself.

    Step five: I send the photo and description of the conversation to Street Roots for their editing, approval, and publication.

    All the time that I am talking to the vendor and writing about them I am aware that they are presenting themselves in the best possible light and may be, for all I know, telling me nothing but lies. I am also aware that people whom the vendors have hurt or harmed in some way will find the article difficult to read or hear about.

    I would be very surprised if any vendor existed who has not left a trail of hurt behind them. Most of us have to one degree or another. Some have done great harm. I know that I will interview some in that category and that I present them in a more favorable light than they have earned.

    Vendor profiles are my impressions of a 1-2 hour conversation. They were never intended to be “the truth” about any individual. They are not researched.

    I appreciate all feedback through this venue about how my vendor profiles impact people. Although such feedback will not change the purpose of the profiles [reporting my view of a conversation] it does inform future choices that I make.

    For example: I will check with the editor to see how we can add a disclaimer to the profiles, saying something about how it is based on a conversation and not intended to be a researched truth about an individual.

    It also makes me review why I write these articles and ask how I can do a better job of protecting the people who read them.

    Thanks to all who give me feedback


    Elizabeth Schwartz

  4. I actually had the pleasure of meeting Gimel once for a few moments in passing. He seemed to be a genuinely kind person and a gentleness to him that is rare. He reminded me of my brother in a way, who is a very good man who has had bad things happen to him.

    Everyone, good or “bad”, has done at least one wrong in their lives. Because s/he has done one bad thing that you are aware of in his life and didn’t outright mention it doesn’t mean he was lying or that you need to apologize for what you’ve written, Elizabeth. It does not mean that are liars. If you interviewed me, for example, I wouldn’t tell you that I once accidentally ran over a squirrel and left it to suffer rather than going back to help it, or that I helped a friend steal his mother’s car at the age of 13, just before crashing it in a cemetery and then lying about it. Not many people would come right out and say “Well, I fucked up this one time and….”.

    So please know that you have a gift as a writer, and don’t ever apologize for that. I don’t think the first person who responded mentioned what she did or has done for similar reasons. You wrote an article, not a novel with an abundance of room to outline the potential darker side of an individual. Just because he didn’t share every aspect of his life doesn’t mean that he was dishonest or lacking in genuineness… or any of the other fine people you’ve had the opportunity to interview.


  5. I have family members that I love very deeply and who suffer from severe mental illness. I have suffered the backlash of psychotic episodes and bouts of mania from them, but with the help of nonprofits such as, NAMI, I have educated myself and have gained useful tools when it comes to escalating situations. Until we as a society stop demonizing these folks and look at the root of the issues the negative end results will continue to be a vicious cycle that hurts and causes pain to everyone involved. Thank you street roots, thank you Jason, thank you NAMI and thank you Scott Stacy/Gimel.

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