To meet George, a Street Roots seller outside of Powell’s Bookstore on Burnside, is an opportunity to experience a theatrical sales pitch for living a good life. Encounter him on your way into Powell’s and you will likely hear him shouting something to the effect of, “Street Roots, it’s the Hollywood Gazette of homeless newspapers. Only we have a crossword puzzle and we’re cheaper.” Whatever his pitch, he delivers it quickly and effortlessly, a true actor and salesman. George is good at grabbing people’s attention with witty, colorful remarks that elicit smiles all around, and he loves what he does. George is definitely a salesman, and though technically it is a paper that he is selling, customers walk away with something more. Hopefully, according to George, what they walk away with is a day made a little brighter.
George grew up in Modesto, Calif., and received his bachelor’s degree in communication studies, including theater and business studies,from San Jose University. Later, he spent time in San Francisco where he worked as a waiter, model and actor before making his way up to Oregon, working as an apartment and property manager and a handyman. During this time, George experienced the hardships of homelessness, which shaped a lot of the way he sees the world today. It has given him a hard work ethic — he says he initially sold Street Roots for 14 hours a day to get on his feet — and a passion for believing in the good in people. “I never met a person I didn’t like,” says George, meaning that you can always find something good in someone if you choose to look for it.
George says that he has found his home selling the paper, which he first heard about while eating at a soup kitchen in Portland. It is through interacting with the diverse array of people in Portland that keeps a smile on George’s face. He says that it was when he found Street Roots he found his true home. “Some of the most interesting people are street people,” he says. He also says street people are his biggest supporters. It is both the support of people on the street and the richness of his experiences with them that is so satisfying to him. Mostly though, George is passionate about sharing news of marginalized people and celebrating those who he feels so privileged to be working among.
He loves Street Roots because it is about celebrating diversity. “Meet Portland street celebrities. We’ve got ’em. It’s not homeless news, it’s about special people that have a temporary stopgap in their living arrangement, which is requiring them to camp for a little bit.” It is this kind of positive spin that invariably makes people smile, that draws out an extra bit of compassion, and hopefully, gets them to buy a paper.
And George has a lot of stories about selling papers. He sold a paper to Fred Armisen, Moby, and a group of amped up fans in line for a ZZ Top concert. He says he rallied their support as a “down-and-out ZZ Top fan,” using the energy of the show to get people excited to buy the paper. However, George says he isn’t personally dazzled by the celebrity likes of Moby. Rather, it is the “street celebrities” that he encounters every day that he is more into. George critiques a cultural norm that celebrates people with wealth and beauty. It isn’t just rich people that have a story worth telling. George points to high-rise condos visible from Powell’s, and says, “You see those condos? Those are like a million dollars. People are living up there, and right across the street is someone sleeping in a doorway.” George makes a visible connection between a deep class divide right off of Burnside. But he isn’t judging. “The people that have money, they deserve happiness too. I’m not putting them down … We’re all God’s children.”
Statements like this are George’s reminder to seek equality for all people, wealthy as well as poor, and not to take anything too seriously. Work hard, make people smile, and revere your own celebrities: you can find one on Burnside, selling Street Roots most evenings.