Street Roots

for those who cannot afford free speech

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Street Roots creates income opportunities for people experiencing homelessness and poverty by producing a newspaper and other media that are catalysts for individual and social change.

Steven Hill


Larry Hill Jr., the Street Roots vendor at Whole Foods in the Pearl District, is a man with a tumultuous past and a future in which he hopes to flourish with inner strength and calm. After undergoing 10 days of intense self reflection, he is determined to act, as he puts it, “more like water and less like wind.”

Hill was born in Roseburg, Ore., to a family plagued by drug use and domestic violence. His family moved to Reno when he was 6 years old, and he became a part of a dysfunctional school system, where he says “the kids were just seen as throwaways.” As his parents’ condition worsened, so too did his attitude toward adults. He was badly in need of dental work, he had problems at school and, by age 8, he had two concussions. His teachers expected nothing more out of him than a job at McDonald’s or serving time in prison.

Hill says his family life improved when his parents split up and he and his mother moved to the Portland/Beaverton area. The schools in this district were more supportive of their students, and Hill says he was able to seek out assistance. His teachers became proactive in his education, though his parents remained, for the most part, passive in his upbringing.

“Luckily I had a lot of adults who were invested in me,” says Hill. While he says that his teachers took interest in his future, he found that he was fighting his way into educational programs and trying to force himself to succeed. “I am somewhat successful and I am not in jail. My dog is healthy and I am not mentally ill. I can hold a job, I can communicate with people. I have been able to think ahead and plan for my life.”

After graduating high school, Hill joined the Air Force. He aspired to get his life in order and to receive a higher education. He was stationed in Anchorage, Alaska, to study mechanics and it was there that he learned how to listen to instructions and work with others as a team. “That was the best thing that the military did for me,” says Hill. “It was a maturing process.” His positive performance did not last, however.

“When you grow up with these dysfunctional behaviors shown to you, you tend to sabotage things,” says Hill. “You tend to feel comfortable in chaos, you feel comfortable around stress. So when things start to succeed and calm down you tend to freak out because you can start analyzing yourself and thinking about your past and that is not comfortable.” After two years he was given a general discharge, albeit under honorable conditions. “I accepted the consequences. I was being kind of goofy, I was getting disorganized and I was showing up late.”

Despite the circumstances with which he left the military, Hill says that he still retains some lasting lessons. “I went in there as this goofy kid and I came out somewhat organized, with the ability to predict where my actions are going to lead me and a good understanding and respect of other people.” He once again tried to infuse order into his life, and sought employment. He worked at several jobs, with varying degrees of success. He says he developed the pattern of working and living stably for two years, but then he would “collapse it, destroy it and start over again.”

After several years of this detrimental cycle, Hill says he came to terms with his past and with his combative attitude toward life. He says that two months agos he was in extreme pain for 10 days; it hurt to talk, to eat and even to breathe. He likened the experience to something almost Biblical and he concludes that this was how his body finally dealt with the emotional pain of his childhood. “The only thing that would take the pain away was if I just laid down with my dog and thought about the past,” says Hill. “Ten days of raw pain brought it all into focus and I could see that if you are alive you are blessed.” The experience helped him to face his dysfunctional behavior and to accept order and calmness in his life, he says.

His situation now is by no means free of chaos, but he refuses to revert back to past habits. He says that he is now engaging in conversations, not arguments and that, instead of fighting for success, he is going to control how he reacts to outside influences. He says that this is a “different way of planning ahead” from what he is used to, but he is drawing on the wisdom of his extensive readings, especially with regards to Taoist elemental traditions. He is henceforth altering his mien to that of being “more like water, less like wind,” in that he is acting in a more flexible manner, but with more potency and less chaos.

The future holds no guarantees of comfort and stability for Hill, but he intends to put the pieces of his life back together and to live every day as it comes to him.

Leah Ingram, Contributing Writer

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