Union Station, often bustling with activity, is a gateway to the city for many commuters and visitors. Situated adjacent to the Bud Clark Commons, it is also at a crossroads of people who are homeless in the downtown core. Eric Bradley, a Street Roots vendor for the past six months, who has been selling at Union Station since before Christmas, is an ambassador between these two worlds.
Bradley stands quietly under the awning of Union Station with papers under his arm and a smile on his face. He greets people as they come out of the building with a short, friendly welcome, “New Street Roots. Hot off the press.” Even if the potential customers don’t acknowledge him in their haste, he still keeps smiling.
Bradley knows the security guards and bellhops of Union Station by their first names and they all get along well with him. Each morning, he memorizes the schedules of the trains and buses to know when his peak sales times will be. He engages with a customer who was delayed for three hours outside Seattle.
As the only vendor at the train station, Bradley has many regular customers — people who travel to Portland regularly on business from Eugene or Vancouver. He also encounters many individuals who have never heard of a street newspaper before. His solution is to educate them.
“I explain to them that it’s a paper that helps people in poverty and people who are homeless, to give them jobs so they’re not out here just begging, they’re actually working and doing something with their lives so they can earn income,” he says.
He is fluent in sign language, the result of volunteering at a deaf camp in his late teens, and has been able to engage with some deaf customers as a result.
“Help a family in poverty today,” Bradley says to a person leaving the building. Family is his main motivation for selling the newspaper. Six months ago, after losing his job in Eugene as a maintenance mechanic, Bradley had to move away from his wife of three years and 18-month-old son Elijah in order to find work. “It’s hard,” he says. “I send them money every week, if I can, and I try to get down there and visit them as much as I can. We talk to each other a lot.”
Bradley is working toward relocating his family to Portland. “I’m trying my hardest, trying to get back on my feet so I can get back with my wife and son again. That’s the main thing. There is more opportunity up here,” he says.
As our interview drew to a close and I took Bradley’s picture for this article, a man who was homeless asked if I could take a similar picture of him with his wife. “This is for Street Roots,” Bradley told the man. “I’m going to be in the paper. But you could do it too and make some money. Come to an orientation.”
With that, Bradley sent out a little hope to a stranger, reaching out to others to help them help themselves.