by Mark Hopkins
Between the vendors’ stands and the rear parking lot of the West Side Market, Arthur Price is working a double shift on a cold March morning, selling The Homeless Grapevine.
Some passersby purchase a copy, others nod “Hello,” but no one seems to ignore the man in the green fatigue jacket and red wool cap, stroking his gray beard as he welcomes all comments and observations.
Who would guess that he is a survivor of the city’s streets and, more recently, of prostate cancer? Or that he thanks God every day for granting him the opportunity of urging others to purchase the Homeless Grapevine? “It keeps me alive,” he says. “Otherwise, I’d be home, getting sicker, just watching TV.”
He has not had an easy or an ordinary life. Both his mother and daughter died of cancer, and he had spent the last four years caring for his dying brother.
For Arthur, life is all about maintaining a sense of optimism in the face of adversity. Selling the Homeless Grapevine is a part of that maintenance program: “It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning,” he remarks.
And that is something he has dedicated his time and energy to for over two years now.
“It’s really saved my life,” he repeats. “Without this to look forward to, and without my wife, I’d be dead.”
Arthur was born in Franklin County, outside of Columbus, in 1927. Because of family problems, he entered the Children’s Home, where he resided from 1939 until the mid -1940s. Homeless at 17, following the death of his mother, he worked sporadically, including jobs as a roofer, and, later, for the Volunteers of America on Cleveland’s West Side. It was during this time that he met his friend, Tony, who introduced him to the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Homeless Grapevine.
As we spoke, I could sense the strength of his enthusiasm and the urgency he musters about informing others about the plight of the homeless. He is confident in his belief that it is possible to find deliverance from the many mean streets of an often-uncaring city.
“This morning, people said to me that I help make them feel good, like I am an enchanter or something. I love talking to people; I work here not for me, but for others, especially for my wife. If it weren’t for her, I couldn’t do this. I share the Homeless Grapevine with people to help make them aware of the homeless, to remind them so they know we’re here. If you pass a Homeless Grapevine vendor, remember, don’t just pass by, buy a copy or listen to that person’s story.”
For Arthur Price, survival is all about optimism.
“It’s all with the Lord,” he said, just as on this Saturday morning, by way of example, he said his wife was concerned that he may not hear the alarm at 5:00 a.m. because of an electrical problem. His response? “The Lord will wake me up.”
It was uplifting to meet such an approachable and inspiring person as Arthur Price. He was forthcoming, demonstrative, and unapologetic about the hard and winding road. He’d taken to bring him home. He is glad to be alive and to be doing such purposeful work. The homeless are not anonymous, he says; they have their faces, their histories, and their stories. And Arthur’s story is one of many that confront the question of persistence and survival. He gives us hope. He helps us to realize that homeless people are not just the people we see sleeping under a bridge as we drive across on our way downtown or the anonymous people who huddle in the crevice of an overpass, all of their worldly belongings strewn about them.
This morning at the West Side Market, amid the din of the cacophonous, foreign voices, Arthur’s voice is clear: These people, the homeless, those who may who have fallen beneath the radar of hope deserve a chance to find a home. And home, as has been so often said, is where the heart is.
Arthur Price exudes the confidence of a survivor and is a man who wants to share the story of that survival. The city’s streets won’t present an argument for defeat: they’ll present a welcome challenge born of the confidence, of hope for a better future and the faith that deliverance may be forthcoming.
The city may possess sadness and defeat, but it also holds the springs of hope flowing beneath its hard streets, which hope that is said to ever spring Eternal.
Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio published April 2003 Issue 60