July 29th, 2009 | by Katie Litvin News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Street Roots Vendor Returns To Selling The Paper After Protesting Director's Column on Addiction, Homelessness

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Mike DeBee is back at work this week selling the Street Roots newspaper in the Hollywood neighborhood after ending his protest over a column written last month by Street Roots director Israel Bayer.

DeBee returned to work Monday in the Northeast Portland neighborhood — three weeks after a suspension that followed his objections to a column written last month by Bayer. DeBee felt Bayer made all vendors look like addicts when Bayer wrote “we shouldn't punish a minority of vendors who may use some money made from the sales of Street Roots for drugs or booze.”

“There are drug-addicted and alcoholic vendors, obvious ones,” DeBee tells WW. “They cut across the mission of our paper, which is to project an image against the ruling mythology ... Ninety percent of the homeless people you see have been put out there by an economy that does not work.”

Street Roots vendor guidelines state that disciplinary action will result for vendors who consume intoxicants before or while selling.

But Bayer says his column is consistent with that Street Roots policy while addressing the fact that the paper's vendors do include individuals who are dealing with addiction. In a follow-up column published July 10, Bayer wrote, “It wasn't my intent to create an environment in which vendors or readers felt they had to defend themselves from stereotypes about people, such as that all street people are drunks and drug addicts.”

“There were a couple vendors who said, ‘don't lump me in with these individuals, we respect the policy and the model you have, but think about the way that you're writing about things and the way they reflect on us,'” Bayer told WW. “There also were multiple vendors who said thank you for putting that issue out there.”

DeBee was suspended as a Street Roots vendor because of a separate incident that DeBee described as “telling vendors [using drugs or alcohol] he would come and picket their sites and let their customers know what they were and what their money was being used for.”

DeBee, who has been homeless since 1991, estimates earning about $25 during each of his five-hour vendor shifts over the last three years. He stands on Saturdays at the Hollywood Farmers Market and near the Hollywood Trader Joe's on weekdays.

DeBee, 57, says he still disapproves of the paper's policy. But after a conflict resolution meeting last week with Street Roots editors, he decided he would continue selling the paper as long as all vendors can read Street Roots articles before they go to print, to avoid another “surprise” article. And he says he will more vigilantly report vendors using drugs or alcohol on site in the Hollywood neighborhood.

“Most certainly am I going to write an article [for Street Roots], to readdress the balance," DeBee says. "Very few articles come out based on the economics of homelessness, with a real nitty-gritty explanation of why so many are homeless.”
 
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