Tag Archives: Cole Merkel

Street Roots writing group offers safe place to share

by Cole Merkel, Staff writer

The Street Roots creative writing group has been meeting every Wednesday at 9:15 a.m. for the past year with a simple mission: to create a safe, inclusive space for anyone who wants to join — for one meeting or many — to discover the transformative power of writing. The rules are easy: After reading a selected poem or short story, participants can write whatever they want, even if it doesn’t follow the prompt, and then share their work with the group.

The results have been profound with writers discovering new voice every week through poetry and short stories on subjects ranging from cats to patriotism to the holidays. Each participant brings his or her own unique experience and point of view and uses these perspectives to compose poem and narrative that reflects his or her place in life on a particular day. The group is often a safe place to escape: one hour every week where participants can put aside the harsh realities of living on the streets, enter the open, non-judgmental atmosphere of the Street Roots office and connect human-to-human over the basic, healing power of writing and personal reflection. This page features a sampling of some of the word composed in the group. Continue reading

Vendor profile: A traveling poet finds a place in Portland

By Cole Merkel, Staff Writer

Like most Street Roots vendors, Harold Thompson has experienced poverty up close. In 30 years of traveling, he says he has visited all 50 states and has spent extended amounts of time in Los Angeles, Chicago and other major American cities with starkly disparate economic gaps. What sets him apart from most other vendors, though, is that Harold has lived in a place with the most severely entrenched poverty in the United States. Harold is Native American — mostly Sioux, part Chippewa — and spent many years of his life on the Sisseton Reservation in South Dakota. Continue reading

Vendor Profile: ‘There’s room for everything’

By Cole Merkel, Contributing Writer

Jonathan Cornelison is not a typical street artist. He seamlessly blurs the boundaries between traditional art, psychedelic imagery, painting, drawing, graffiti and, when he can, teaching. At 26 years old, Jonathan has already produced an impressive body of work with a unique style that incorporates the natural environment, the supernatural and the universal realities of human existence: death, life, love. Continue reading

A positive outlook, good turf keep vendor smiling

By Cole Merkel, Contributing Writer

Nestled in the Park Blocks two streets west of the always busy stretch of Southwest Broadway, is a hidden gem of a vendor location: Starbucks at Southwest 9th and Taylor. It’s quieter here than most places downtown, and on sunny days, as people relax at outdoor tables sipping java with dogs at their feet, the location feels more like a European street corner than the stoop of a typical American coffee chain. Continue reading

Vendor Profile: Staying positive, rain or shine

By Cole Merkel, Contributing Writer

Waking up to sell Street Roots day in and day out is hard work. Vendors have to brave the elements — seemingly endless rain in the winter, unrelenting sun in the summer. They are required to regularly explain the paper’s mission to new customers and have to wear emotional armor to endure the constant uncertainty about when their next sale will come. Continue reading

Vendor profile: A New York state of mind

By Cole Merkel, Contributing Writer

Earl Bennett speaks frankly about homelessness, poverty, the American government and the need for social change. Perhaps he derives these perspectives from a lifetime of living in large and diverse cities, or maybe they come from a synthesis of the many publications Earl reads each week. Either way, his blend of self-assurance and optimism feels refreshing during our 20-minute conversation over a cup of coffee. Continue reading

Vendor profile: Building real relationships with each sale

By Cole Merkel, Contributing Writer

The morning rush hour traffic on Northeast Broadway is almost deafening. Automobiles accelerate toward the I-5 on-ramps at the Rose Quarter, cyclists commute toward the Broadway Bridge on their way downtown and pedestrians move quickly into the Lloyd Center Safeway on Northeast 11th Avenue.

Jim Dienes is not the first Street Roots vendor to call this spot his own, but in recent memory, he is one of the more consistent ones. Dienes started selling at this Safeway in January and is onsite most mornings by 7 a.m., building relationships with the individuals who pass him coming in and out of the store. He says he has twenty or more regular customers and many others who buy from him as they pass through the neighborhood. Continue reading

Vendor Profile: Passing the blessings forward

By Cole Merkel, Contributing Writer

Cynthia can be brought to tears when she witnesses the goodness in people. “The other day I started crying because of my customer,” Cynthia explains, tears filling her eyes again. “She gave me a buck, then her grandma, who she was with, pulled out money and said she didn’t want the paper, but she wanted to donate to me. After I thanked them, the customer said,  ‘Anything for you. That’s why we’re here; to help you.’ That touched my heart. She just brightened my day.”

Cynthia sells on NW 23rd Ave, typically at the Starbucks on Hoyt. There the baristas know her by name. “I’ve got this one for you,” the man behind the counter tells her with a smile giving her a free refill.

“The people here are awesome,” Cynthia says enthusiastically, “They brighten my day. That’s why I love this job. It’s like a blessing from God. God decides what he wants me to live on for the day.”

A strong faith in Christianity has helped Cynthia get through tough times in her life. She is an active member of Carus United Methodist Church and attends most weekends when she visits her parents in Oregon City. Cynthia’s faith in people has gotten her into trouble in the past. “I have an innocent mind. I believe everybody’s word and everybody’s word down here isn’t always true.” Continue reading

Vendor profile: Never give up hope

By Cole Merkel, Contributing Writer

Willie Bradford has strong, defined features: large hands, broad shoulders, a tall body, a deep voice and a big smile. When Bradford speaks, his words trail out softly. He smiles a lot and laughs often, alluding to a calm, collected sense of spirit that he has found over the course of 56 years of life.

“It feels good when you have peace in your life,” Bradford says. “We all have problems but I never give up on hope. That’s one of my things: never give up on hope for nothing.”

Three elements that truly drive Bradford’s existence are spirituality, sports and community, which tend to overlap. Continue reading

Vendor joins Street Roots board of directors

By Cole Merkel, Contributing Writer

With three years as a Street Roots vendor under his belt, Darren Alexander has been steadily building on a good thing. He has been selling at the Alberta Food Co-op since summer 2009 and over the past few years, has become a respected ambassador with Street Roots, always selling with a smile on his face, recruiting new vendors and spreading the word about the newspaper and the organization.

Now, Darren brings his perspective to the Street Roots board of directors, joining the nonprofit’s leadership in February. A self-described introvert, Alexander hopes to bring his experiences to the organization’s governing body as Street Roots moves into a new era.

“In my own unique way I can contribute to just making the paper better. If I have any ideas, I bring them to the table. As we transition into a new phase of the paper, I want to help make it better.” Continue reading

Vendor profile: A welcoming sight for new arrival

By Cole Merkel, Contributing Writer

Union Station, often bustling with activity, is a gateway to the city for many commuters and visitors. Situated adjacent to the Bud Clark Commons, it is also at a crossroads of people who are homeless in the downtown core. Eric Bradley, a Street Roots vendor for the past six months, who has been selling at Union Station since before Christmas, is an ambassador between these two worlds.

Bradley stands quietly under the awning of Union Station with papers under his arm and a smile on his face. He greets people as they come out of the building with a short, friendly welcome, “New Street Roots. Hot off the press.” Even if the potential customers don’t acknowledge him in their haste, he still keeps smiling. Continue reading

Vendor Profile: Inspired from within and without

By Cole Merkel, Contributing writer

Oregon’s relentless rainy months between late summer and late spring are difficult for many, including Debra Knauf, who admits that the winter is probably the hardest time to sell Street Roots. “Not very many people want to come out in the rain and buy a paper,” she says. “You have more luck in the snow than in the rain.” Continue reading

Vendor Profile: ‘It’s not the cards you’re dealt, it’s how you play them’

by Cole Merkel, Contributing Writer

At 19 years old, Jacob Anderson may look young, but a difficult past has forced him to grow and brought him a lot of wisdom in the process. “I’ve said it many times before: It’s not the cards you’re dealt, it’s how you decide to play them,” Jacob says. “I could see myself doing so much better than being at a homeless shelter, and slowly I’m taking that step to making it in society.” Continue reading

Vendor profile: Staying positive a rewarding role for vendor

By Cole Merkel, Staff Writer

Brian Schmidt sells Street Roots like a corner newsman at the turn of the 20th century. “Great articles in today’s Street Roots, read all about it for a couple quarters!” he yells, waving his bag of papers high above his head.  He calls out headlines and lets readers know what the newspaper is about: “Focus on vendors in today’s Street Roots!”

“I believe more in excitement and positivity than any kind of depth of reason,” Schmidt says, laughing with a deep, authentic trill. “I believe that excitement reveals the truth.” Excitement: that one word is the distillation of Brian’s life philosophy. “When we really get excited and we’re really engaged, we perform and produce at our peak and we’re happier.” Continue reading

Vendor Profile: Northwest’s Shaman in training

By Cole Merkel, Staff Writer

Saul Cortes watches over the community around him. During our interview at his sales location, the Whole Foods at Northwest 13th Avenue and Couch Street, he had conversations with many passersby. It was a cold day and he asked a friend who passed, “You need some handwarmers?”  She was fine, but the offer opened five minutes of conversation between the two. A few minutes later he yelled, Hey! Check your bag!” to a mail carrier up the block who had dropped a few letters from his pack. Continue reading