Our vendors: Harry Richards – Street Roots, Portland


Drug addiction led Harry Richards into homelessness and eventually prison. But time behind bars helped him discover a new habit – drawing.

The aspiring artist now earns a living selling Street Roots from his pitch outside the Starbucks at Southwest Ninth Avenue and Taylor Street in Portland, Oregon.

Harry has also drawn caricatures on the street for tips and donations since 2010.

But Harry doesn’t just share his art with people who are willing to tip. Many of his subjects are poor or experiencing homelessness, so he draws them for free.

“I lived my life selfishly for many, many years being a drug addict,” said Harry. “Now that I’ve been off drugs for over six years, I want to give back.”

Harry learned to draw in prison by doing scale drawings and looking at cartoon books. He’s come a long way since then.

He now lives in a two-bedroom apartment with his nephew and nephew’s friend, and has plans to convert the master bedroom into an art studio. He draws and paints abstracts, architectural and spiritual art, and sells it online with the help of his producer, who discovered him in 2008.

Drawing caricatures for money, however, isn’t a viable option for Harry all year round. So when he met someone selling Street Roots in November 2013, he decided to try it for himself.

Since then, Harry has brought four more people to Street Roots. “It’s better than being dependent on other people and having no self-esteem,” he said.

Harry enjoys the people he gets to meet while selling papers – from doctors, lawyers and orchestra musicians, to people from around the world staying in downtown hotels.

He encourages people to seek out Street Roots as a source of income, as well as an opportunity to connect with others.

“Even if you can’t trust right now, you’re still gonna make social friends, which can open you up to show that the world is kind,” Harry said.

“All you gotta do is look at it from a Street Roots point of view, which is don’t judge and you won’t be judged.”

This is a summary of an article by Street Roots reporter Sarah Hansell.