Spare Change News
Upon first meeting with Carlos Robinson, there is an immediate feeling of optimism radiating from him. He wheels his bike around with him and grins when he speaks. And he is ecstatic that he gets to tell his story.
Born and raised in Cambridge, Carlos has been selling Spare Change News for some time now. “Since 1992,” he exclaims, “a long time now.” He grew up in a family of six and now helps his mother, 81, who still resides in Cambridge.
Carlos worked a multitude of jobs throughout his life, but Spare Change is nothing like any other profession he has done before, “I like to work for myself,” he says. “I like to be a salesperson.” His hands-on approach to work explains why he has been selling this paper for so long.
“The paper is great. I like selling [it],” he grins. “I meet good people … they keep me above water.” He expresses gratitude to the people he meets during his work and likes interacting with his customers.
He notes that many people have given him generous donations in the past, donations of hundreds of dollars. He recalls a story of a man who went into a bank and upon exiting, gave him the largest donation he has ever received.
“One thousand dollars for one paper,” he says. Although that was years ago, he tells me, it was the nicest thing a customer had ever done for him and definitely one of the most shocking moments he experienced during his long career as a vendor.
Carlos still has his struggles, although he is an established vendor. His mother has diabetes and had a stroke. Therefore, she is practically paralyzed on one side of her body. Carlos supports her daily, from cooking to taking her blood pressure. He expresses that his “mom is very important” to him. He currently stays with her to make sure she can do her daily routines and keep on her medication.
How does a man like this remain optimistic? There is another strong characteristic he possesses: faith. “I serve the Lord,” he says. Carlos, a member of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, is a strong believer and attendee. He even says during the interview that he will be going to church that night at 7 p.m.
“God is real to me,” he explains. “We all belong to God, no matter color.” His success, although with struggles, he attributes to God. “He keeps me afloat.”
Carlos admits that early on, when he first started selling the paper, he used the money to support a drug habit. But he has since turned around. “I’m not getting any younger,” he jokes. Carlos, who is 53, noticed his changes during those early years.
“I was getting weak, drugs were making me weak,” he recalls. He remembers thinking, I don’t want to look like [this]. “Drugs make you not want to do anything, even wash your clothes.”
Eventually, with support from faith, Carlos concluded: “It was time for me to wake up.”
Carlos can be seen in Harvard Square selling Spare Change. He is often near Brattle Street. Recently, it seems to him to be a slow season, especially during winter months, which is unfortunate. This is generally when it is most difficult for the homeless to find shelter as temperatures drop and bed space is limited.
He also notes that students are the ones who buy the paper the most.
“The students are involved. They help us,” he says. “[They’re] a big part of Spare Change.” He believes that students are more aware of the problem of homelessness than some of the other professionals in the Harvard Square area. He notices that when the college students are on break, he sells less.
Carlos is currently working with his caseworker and waiting for the housing authority to contact him so that he can have a place of his own. When asked how long he has been waiting for housing he sighs, “A very long time.”
But Carlos remains optimistic. “Life is a struggle,” he says. “But if I don’t get up and do something for me, I won’t be anywhere.” This resilience and resolve to be successful are admirable traits that drive him to do what he does.
MICHAEL AHERN writes for Spare Change News.