Our vendors: William Howard (Street Roots – Portland, Oregon, USA)

By Leonora Ko

This article was originally published in Street Roots and on the INSP News Service

It’s Friday, new edition day, and inside the Street Roots office vendors are coming and going with stacks of the freshly printed newspaper. Getting out the door is a priority to all – except vendor William Howard (below), who sits calm and relaxed.

Make that former Street Roots vendor William Howard.


Today is one of his two days off a week and William is resting up from his “80 hours every two weeks” job. Through a Central City Concern program called Clean and Safe and a contract with Portland Mall Management, William has a fulltime job. He is part of the cleaning crew that works to keep the sidewalks litter free. His cleaning beat is Fifth and Sixth avenues from Portland State University to the Greyhound station.

While William has been successful in transforming his life, he says, “It hasn’t been an easy road. I’m determined. I’m a Taurus, so I’m stubborn. I’m going to keep on doing what I got to do.”

What William has been doing is meeting the requirements of his work experience program. Through Central City Concern, he finished Part 1 of the nonprofit’s self-sufficiency program by volunteering 80 hours at Free Geek and got work experience and a free personal computer to boot. William is now halfway through Part 2 of the program and gets janitorial training through a paid, six-month job.

In the past, William was a cook, worked at the carnival and did some general labor work. “I learned how to cook in the Army and I can make just about anything.” While he likes his current job, he is looking for more work experience. William says, “I’ve got a job specialist that I’m working with at Access Employment which is part of Central City Concern.”

“I’m keeping my head up and doing what I got to do. I’m sorry that I can’t be there selling Street Roots, but I’m moving on, and it was a pleasure and a joy.”

Before his current job, William was a Streets Roots vendor on Third Avenue and Southwest Jefferson Street. He says Street Roots “made me feel good. It gave me respect for myself and people respected me for what I was doing and what I was trying to do.

He told Street Roots staff “I’m going to sell papers, get off the streets and be a productive citizen.”

William has made good on that vow. When he was a vendor, William was homeless. He signed up for housing, and six months later, got the keys to an apartment through the Home First Veteran Per Diem Transitional Housing program. The housing program also has requirements and William has met every one of them, such as: Get a job, apply for six different housing lists and put money in a move-out account. After two years, the Veteran Per Diem housing period ends and William, 61, hopes to move into senior housing.

While William sometimes wonders if he has time to do it all, he says it is a relief to be off of the streets and is determined to stay clean and sober. “Dragging my stuff around, making sure nobody stole it, making sure they didn’t confiscate it. Now I don’t have to do that because I’ve got a roof over my head. I’ve got my own keys to swing, I know I’m not going to the side of a wall to lay down.” He says, “Street Roots was a stepping stone to where I’m at now.”

William no longer has time to sell Street Roots, but he has a message for his former customers: “Tell everybody who goes to Starbucks on Third and Jefferson, folks from the courthouse, and the federal court, from the apartment building that was next to Starbucks, even the post office lady – I’m still in my apartment. I’m keeping my head up and doing what I got to do. I’m sorry that I can’t be there selling Street Roots, but I’m moving on, and it was a pleasure and a joy.”

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