Maneuvering through the airport illustrates the wide breadth of the general population quite clearly. Among people, one sees all kinds. Some are familiar-looking, some boisterous, some shy.
Alex Briggs is a talker. He requires little prompting to get going, is full of ideas and observations. Much unlike the (thankfully) silent older lady reading Nora Roberts to my right, and the larger, sleeping passenger-pilot to my left. It occured to me that if Alex Briggs were in either seat beside me this flight, there would be no isolating silence.
Not that our conversation wouldn’t be an enjoyable experience. Alex has led a colorful life for one still relatively young, and has an easy smile as he tells me stories and his thoughts on the future. Intelligent, on the move — conversation with him is non-stop.
Originally from Denver, he moved to Seattle in his early 20s. A self-proclaimed jack of all trades, Alex has done everything from jail time to security. He’s been a painter and stripper of airplane parts, has worked reconstruction for historic homes, and has even put in some office hours.
Working as a guard at the Denver Zoo was his favorite, he tells me, his eyes lighting up as he remembered giraffes who ate out of his hand.
Right now, Alex is working toward getting off the streets. “I don’t want to be a lifer,” he says, adamant.
On Mother’s Day this year he became homeless again. Someone gave him a Street Roots Rose City Resource, and between the social service guide he calls “a lifesaver” and an ad at Blanchet House, Alex found his way into Street Roots.
“I can’t panhandle,” Alex tells me. “It’s not in my nature to beg. My self-esteem takes a huge hit to have to do it.”
Street Roots, he says, has taught him positivity. Like many homeless vendors, Alex appreciates having the opportunity to talk to people, interact with others and create tangible relationships.
“To have people come up and ask me honestly how I’m doing, and share their lives with me,” he says, with an intense amount of sincerity, “that’s why I love (selling Street Roots). That’s the biggest thing.
“Even if it’s just to say hello, that gives me back my dignity … reminds me of my own humanity.”
Back at the airport, I think about that. Here, people go at lengths to ignore each other, as an act of tolerance. Yet, on the streets, homeless are often ignored as a direct act of intolerance. That’s a paradox of social behaviors and expectations we seem to let slide.
Recently, Alex was robbed of his backpack and all of his clothes, and it was his customers who helped him out. He is immensely grateful. “I would like to say a very special thanks to my customers for their sympathy, compassion and help.”
Nearly all the vendors I know at Street Roots genuinely enjoy the excuse selling the paper gives them to form friendships with others. Good or bad, we are programmed as a species to build our self worth, in large part, on these connections. It is a strong common theme, the idea of community, and one that Street Roots is happy to foster.
“When you sleep under a bridge,” Alex emphasizes, “to have a normal person come up and talk to you, it means the whole world, it really does.”