By Becky Mullins, Staff Writer
Allen Bennett Jr. is a Portland native, a Street Roots vendor and the owner of one of the most contagious smiles in the Portland metro area. Allen’s positive attitude and huge smile make it hard for one to believe that he has been experiencing homelessness for seven years now.
When Allen explains how it happened that he began to experience homelessness, he reflects back seven years and says, “Basically my apartment was shared with roommates and they ditched on me. I tried to maintain the apartment by myself but soon found that I could not afford the apartment on just one income and was forced to give it up. I slept in my car for some time. However, after five years of this the car broke down, and I could not afford to fix it. Now I sleep wherever I can find a dry spot without the police shoving me out.”
Allen was a mechanic for more than four years and now wants to go into construction. He says he likes how he feels after a long day of hard work. He likes puzzles and figuring out how things work. About a year ago, while at work, Allen went to pull a heavy box down from a high shelf and ended up tearing major muscles in his left arm. He was told that it could take years of healing before he has full use of his arm again.
Since Feb 25, Allen has been selling Street Roots at Common Grounds coffee house. He is an early bird and arrives at 6:30 a.m., taking a break for lunch at noon and returning to sales an hour later, sometimes selling papers as late as 10 p.m. when the coffee house closes. Allen has been saving most of the money he earns from selling Street Roots for a deposit on an apartment for himself and his partner Kim. The two of them have been together for a year and a half now, supporting each other while experiencing homelessness.
Allen very much enjoys meeting customers that are new to Street Roots and customers who are regular readers of Street Roots. “I like that people have accepted me at my location, and it feels so good when people say good morning and smile at me.” The staff at Common Grounds coffee house are very supportive and kind and I even sweep the sidewalk every other day. I want my location to look good, feel good and be free of debris, and so do the staff, so we work together to keep it that way.”
When asked about what he would like customers to know about Street Roots, Allen said that he not only uses his money for simple things, such as purchasing food, clothing and sometimes renting a hotel room, he also said, “Vendors are quite different. We all come to Street Roots for different reasons and with very different stories as to how, but most important, please know that the paper can help you see into my eyes and see the world as I do.”