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Worldwide Vendor Spotlight

 Street News Service 13 May 2019

(Originally published: 04/2010) This month’s featured vendor is Michael Labrie from US street paper The Contributor. Labrie has had periods of homelessness during his life, both in his teens and as an adult. (620 words) - By Street News Service

Vendor Spotlight

Photo courtesy of The Contributor

Michael Labrie - The Contributor, Nashville, Tennessee USA

I've had periods of homelessness throughout my adult life and periods while I was still a teen. As a teenager I stayed with my older sister and also with friends. I've battled alcoholism from the age of 13. I cut school 135 days out of 158 my freshman year of high school and failed dismally with straight zeros. I did however have some inspirational people in my life, including teachers, and resolved to graduate no matter what the status of my personal life. I somehow graduated on time, making up the lost year, and felt proud.

Every time I left a school my English teacher would comment about losing his favourite writer. These comments touched me and I endeavoured to learn more, read more and write more. However, the alcoholism I battled was horrendous. I sank deeper into myself and became more and more angry. I was hurting everyone I loved and who loved me. I constantly obsessed about it and hated myself to the point I couldn't look in a mirror. I was very sick.

Throughout my life I've had good people step up and try to help me. They just didn't know I had to do it myself. The one thing they did do is keep me alive until I was able to do so. My health had deteriorated out of neglect as well as my dental condition. My self-esteem was at an all time low. In my life, I've seen the inside of mental health institutions, detox programmes and hospitals dozens of times - the last time being over 15 years ago. Although I have experienced some setbacks, I've made great strides and continue to be vigilant. I don't think I'm a complainer, I've been touched by some blessed people.

When I came to Nashville I knew beforehand I would be homeless. I was going to be homeless anyway, but I felt I needed to move where it would be warm. I found Nashville on my way to Florida.

I'd never heard of a street newspaper before The Contributor. I saw the vendors and thought to myself, how could they be doing that? Out of curiosity, I went to a vendor orientation one day and decided to give it a try. It seemed a bit goofy to me but I signed up.

Nobody puts on a sign and becomes an immediate success. The street is hard and people are sceptical. I've stood out there in the pouring rain and blinding snow - my philosophy being if my customers had to go to work then so did I. I didn't want a hand out; I wanted a hand up. I started writing for The Contributor and letting my customers know when I had an article in the issue so they would be sure to take the paper. I met more of the staff and the behind-the-scenes people and grew very fond of them.

I lived in a tent throughout the winter. Everyone made me feel I was home. I didn't need four walls and a roof. I was given so many presents during Christmas time I had no hope of toting them off to my tent - they were piling up on the sidewalk! Even a captain from the local police department bought me a nice coat.

I have subsidized housing now and a dentist, who is also a new friend, is giving me my smile back. The Contributor has given more than a way out - it has given me a way of life I don't want to lose. Everything I have is owed to that paper.

If there's anything I could say to other vendors throughout this world it's this: be honest, be yourself and become involved with your paper

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