“You’re interviewing me now?” says Michael, with disbelief in his voice, when I corner him after the weekly vendor meeting at the Spare Change News headquarters.
Michael is in the office to pick up his papers and the last thing on his mind is an interview with me. However, when we get started, he has no problem opening up.
Michael grew up on the North Shore in Hamilton, Mass., with his adopted family. His father was an architect who restored old houses, his mother was a teacher and together they raised six siblings. “Three white kids and three black kids,” says Michael. “Our family always lived on the water,” he adds. “I’m a New Englander.”
Michael’s family was Episcopalian and he speaks fondly of the Episcopalian monks who live in the monastery on the Charles River in Cambridge: the Society of St. John the Evangelist.
“They used to deliver sandwiches to us vendors,” he says. “One of the brothers would come to Harvard Square and would mentor all the homeless people … When he died, I went to his funeral at the monastery.”
Before Michael started selling Spare Change News, he used to panhandle in Harvard Square. Algia Benjamin, one of the newspaper’s first vendors and most well-known faces, encouraged Michael to start selling the paper and eventually he came on board. “I’ve been selling Spare Change News for 18 years,” he says.
At first, Michael says he was a “bad vendor” adding: “I was really in people’s face. I was even suspended for a whole year once.”
All this changed when Michael got sober, and later, he was given the most improved vendor of the year award.
He continues: “If it wasn’t for Spare Change News, I would probably be getting in lots of trouble. This is a good outlet to earn a few bucks. It has paid a lot of bills and rent and even vet bills. I’m just very grateful for the paper.”
With Boston Pride fast approaching, I ask Michael if he’ll be marching in or watching the parade. “I usually walk my dog in the parade. But this year it’s gonna be difficult because I don’t have my dog. I tried to borrow a dog!” he says sadly.
The thing is that Michael is now homeless again after running into difficulties with his living situation in December and now he’s living between the Salvation Army and the Woods-Mullen shelter. One of the most painful things for Michael about his situation right now is that he can’t see his dog.
“My dog [is my best friend],” he says, showing me a picture on his phone of a sleepy-eyed dog. “He’s a collie, hound and beagle mix … He doesn’t talk back to me and he’s always there. It’s been the hardest thing—not having my dog.”
Looking back on his life, Michael is proud of how much he’s accomplished and how far he’s come. “Being able to sell the paper while being homeless and getting housing. Getting sober and clean from drugs,” he says. “Before, I was using every day but now I’m one of those vendors who won’t go away. I’ll always come here,” he adds.
So if you’re ever passing through Harvard Square, say hello to Michael. I’m sure you’ll find him one of our friendliest vendors.