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Director's Desk: Everyone is equal at Street Roots

"Bill is a hero!”

That’s how the email ended from an employee at Powell’s who recently communicated a story that unfolded with a Street Roots vendor.

Earlier this month, Bill found what turned out to be a Bronze Star issued to a local military veteran. William let Powell’s know that he had found the medal and that he had placed it on a cross in his apartment. If the owner were to call, he had the medal waiting for the person.

A couple of days later, the owner of the medal did in fact call Powell’s as a last resort, thinking possibly someone might have found it. It was a prized family keepsake.

Realizing that the family was coming back for the medal, Bill put it in a small, black jewelry box for a nice presentation.

According to the Powell’s employee, he witnessed the exchange between the woman and Bill. “I could see from afar, handshakes, hugs and tears. It was a beautiful site to behold.”

This is just one of many stories that come through the Street Roots door from customers and local businesses. On dozens of neighborhood street corners throughout Portland, you’ll find a local vendor who has become a staple in the community.

But aren’t homeless and poor people supposed to be scary? Don’t homeless people just sit around and drink and take from society? Aren’t they a menace to commerce?

We believe Street Roots is shattering those myths.

We’ll be the first to admit we’re not perfect. One bad interaction with a Street Roots vendor probably equals 100 great interactions, especially for people that might not know about the paper. You could also probably argue that Street Roots is made up of dozens of people, including myself, that aren’t polished and are rough around the edges.

Street Roots is a community. In the face of some of the most brutal conditions that one can face in the United States, we watch vendors come together every day to better themselves. They choose to work hard, to make a dime and to change the way people see the face of homelessness in this city.

We’re not talking about some survival-of-the-fittest mumbo-jumbo or how one rugged individualist can conquer all. We’re talking about how a collective group of people can come together and do better for themselves and the larger community.

We believe everyone is equal at Street Roots. It’s not always easy.

Bill is a long-time drugstore cowboy. Jimmy is a former Crip and coming off 4-year run in the pen and wants to leave street life behind. George use to run with the Aryan Nation, and turning his life and belief system around. Bobby has cancer and is dying a slow death without adequate treatment. Tammy just became homeless and is running from domestic violence. Carol has finally got it together enough to try to kick the dope. Tom is coming back from two tours in Afghanistan and is fighting demons in his head. Dick has been homeless for 20 years after growing up in abuse. The names have been changed for privacy, but the list goes on and on.

What we all have in common is Street Roots. More important than this is the love for one another regardless of our past. Today is a new day, and together we can do great things. Believe.

Great things show themselves in many different ways at Street Roots. In the case of Bill, it was returning a Bronze Star to a family. In the case of all of the vendors, it’s the idea that with each newspaper or interaction that all of us — including you the reader — can help individuals overcome the tragedy and heartache that poverty brings. We are a tribe of 15,000 readers and vendors, and together we are making a difference, literally.