At first, Scott Landauer is nervous. He sits across from me, shy, barely making eye contact, forearms crossed, guarding his chest. It took some convincing to get him in the interview. I ask him why.
“My story is nothing special,” he says, shrugging.
Almost all the vendors say that. Just regular people, who have fallen on hard times, or perhaps never knew anything different. Perhaps, in this sense, none of us are special. But then, that is being human. And bringing humanity to the face of homelessness is what Street Roots is all about.
The message is startling, but not new. Anyone could be in Scott’s shoes, alternating between sleeping in his truck and on a worn mat shared by countless others in a shelter. Battling depression, struggling to keep the confidence necessary to keep looking for a job, despite personal and external setbacks. Sleeping on the sidewalk, exposed not only to nature’s elements, but humans' too.
“So many people just walk by, look the other way,” Scott says, another common experience I have heard from people on the street. As if merely looking at the homeless is shameful.
“It gets lonely — it’s nice to have someone say hello, and smile. I look for that interaction more now that I’m homeless.”
Of course, many vendors also say this, pointing out how selling the paper is not only beneficial financially, but socially as well. A regular customer becomes a familiar face. Suddenly the question of “How are you?” is sincere, and thus more meaningful.
There are long silences in our interview. Very rarely do I approach a vendor for a profile equipped with preconceived questions. I prefer to let an individual’s character slip through idly, to allow our conversation to shape what should be asked. Common questions like “What caused your homelessness?” seem almost trite at times, and make me feel like a social worker, which I am not. Rarely is there a simple answer to that one, anyway.
But Scott is astute, and asks me if I want to know about his current position.
The profile is just about who you are, I tell Scott. Just so readers get a glimpse of the person. We can talk about your homelessness, if you want.
Oh, Scott says, nodding.
He tells me he is from Oregon City. He has been homeless before, briefly, and right now is trying to find a way to get back on his medications for anxiety and depression. He says staying at the shelter is hard sometimes because of how early he has to show up in order to get a bed, and how that exacerbates the job-hunting process by relegating a large part of the day to the queue.
Time passes, and Scott opens up to me more. His eyes are friendly, a sheepish smile finds his face. We talk about our mutual fondness for “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and recent movie releases.
“Is this going to be enough?” he asks.
“Sure,” I say.
Scott smiles again, and I am glad we have become more comfortable with each other. He thanks me and leaves the office, only to return a minute later.
“I just remembered,” he tells me, “that the first place I learned about Street Roots was reading the obituary for the man in that center picture there, in the Oregonian.”
Pointing behind him, I see he means Roger Gates. Gates, who died in a hotel room of natural causes in July of 2008, exemplified the promise of Street Roots in many ways. He is remembered for his depth of caring, and, by believing so much in the product he sold, inspired others, customers and vendors alike.
It is completely awesome that almost two years later another man down on his luck saw an advertisement to work for Street Roots and is inspired by remembering the impact of one vendor. That’s the human connection we all strive for.
Scott sells the paper at NE 15th and Broadway. Stop by and say hello.