On a cold, spitting December afternoon Paul Ortiz walks from the food carts at Southwest Third Avenue and Stark Street back to the Street Roots office to check his mail and pick up more papers.
Paul began selling the Portland street paper in August 2014 and has become a familiar face on his regular pitch. He uses the money he earns to buy basic necessities and help his girlfriend pay her bills.
His style of selling is understated but visible – he holds the paper out to the side and says “Best paper in town, one dollar” as people walk past. The key, he says, is to be there day after day, so that people know he’s serious about the work.
He says the people who pass by his turf are all kinds, ranging from openly cold or snobbish to remarkably kind.
The vendor has an accepting attitude toward people in general, having experienced both the charitable and cruel sides of humanity from living on the streets.
When a potential customer gives him the cold shoulder or says something nasty, he just shrugs it off and gets back to work. There’s always the next person.
With a past blighted by drugs and crime in California, Paul started a new life when he found a steady job
riding with a travelling carnival, setting up the booths and stages and rides in towns across California and southern Oregon.
The job took him to Salem, where he quit and settled for a few years. He got married, got divorced, and decided to head for Portland, where he got clean for good. Eventually, Paul began selling Street Roots which became his main source of income and also an opportunity to network and build friendships.
He attends writing workshops at the street paper’s offices and takes the time to meet vendors new and old, because he knows and cares about the people he shares the streets with.
“I give what I got,” he says. “If I have more than I need, there’s plenty of people out here who can use that.”
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