By Elizabeth Schwartz
Although he stands under the overhang at Powells’ backdoor on NW 11th and Couch, Roger Moore is not totally protected from the weather. “The wind funnels down through here,” he told me. “The rain blows sideways sometimes.”
The street corner is a busy place, but few people stop to buy a paper. “This one’s a week old,” Roger explained. When “it first comes out I sell about 30 an hour.” He looks around at all the people walking past. “Today I’ve sold six papers so far.”
Several other people are competing for the public’s attention. Someone has put up a makeshift stand across Couch Street. The sign on the side of the stand reads, “Shutdown the Bailouts.” During my hour on the corner, there is always at least one person reading the literature and talking about the economy.
“I’ve seen older people stop coming to Powell’s over the past year,” he said. I asked him what he thought the reason was. “They’re budgeting their dollars or they don’t have it,” he replied. He said that most of his customers are between 20 and 40 years old, but he still has a few regulars who are in their 60s.
A young woman approached Roger while we were talking. “I made that guitar player leave,” she told him, referring to a young man who had been playing music nearby. “I told him there’s other corners!” Then she left. Roger smiled. She’s been a regular customer of his for about five years.
“When them panhandlers and musicians are on the corner asking for money, people don’t buy a paper.” Sometimes people just seem to find it easier to throw change to a musician or panhandler than exchange money for a newspaper. If the corner gets too crowded with people wanting money, “no one gives to anyone.”
Panhandlers not only reduce the number of papers he sells, but sometimes they make rude comments to him, probably two or three times a day. “It is mostly the teenagers,” Roger claims. Most Street Roots vendors “are trying to make a living.”
Roger says he had been homeless a long time before he started selling papers. Street Roots got him a place to stay after he became a vendor. The income from the newspapers he sells pays his $147 in monthly rent and $225 in monthly prescription costs. He gets $47 a month in food stamps and rarely needs more than that for food because people buy him tea, coffee, and sometimes pizza or sandwiches while he works.
Roger is proud of what he does and ignores people who ask him, “Why don’t you get a real job?” His job not only pays his rent, but he finds it “real interesting to talk to people from all over the world.” He likes to find out where people are from and what it is like living in places like Canada, Australia, and Italy. “It’s almost as good as traveling.”
I stand and watch Roger for a little while before I leave. He keeps busy opening the door for women with baby strollers and people bringing large boxes of used books to sell to the store. Several people stop and converse with him. A few buy a paper. He is a small, quiet, unassuming man with a long braid. He works hard to earn his living.