Eric, known to many as E-Tee, has lived here in San Francisco since he was 27 years old. When he first arrived to the city, he had high hopes to work for the Cement Mason Union doing work laying brick and concrete. However, in order to work for that Union, he needed to pay union dues, or the cost of membership needed to fund the activities and services that unions typically engage in. At the time, union dues were $500, which was an amount beyond E-Tee’s means. Nonetheless, he had a family to feed, so he did his best to find labor work for under the table pay, and he did. Everyday, he worked hard, but the under the table work had its drawbacks: E-Tee’s employers weren’t willing to pay union rates, which left him needing to supplement his income in order to feed and clothe his family.
Cue the Street Sheet. E-Tee has been selling the Street Sheet since 1989, when it was first created. He remembers when it was only one sheet of paper, which has now grown to an eight-page newspaper with thousands of readers in the San Francisco area. E-Tee usually sells the paper in the same spot on the corner of Van Ness and Turk; you can spot him by his gray fedora hat that you’ll never catch him without.
When I asked E-Tee about what it’s like to sell the Street Sheet, he told me that some days he can’t sell very many papers because a lot of people snap at him and say: “Take the money and leave me alone.” However, he’s not only interested in being employed. He cares a lot about the issues that the paper brings to light and wants people to be made aware of them.
“People read it and say, this is not in the regular newspaper.” Some people ask him what the paper is about, and he happily obliges and tells them about each issue specifically. During our interview, he mentions two that were about tensions between law enforcement and homeless people, and poetry of homeless people. E-Tee is especially excited to sell as many copies as he can of the poetry issue, which will be published this upcoming January, because he has also written for the paper and has published a poem in our annual poetry edition of the Street Sheet.
If you know E-Tee, you would say that on the surface he seems like a pretty happy guy. He might tip his hat toward you or jokingly offer a marriage proposal like the way he did when he first met me.
Eric has fourteen kids but doesn’t get to see them much. They live all over the country: in Florida, Washington, Kansas City, and here in the Bay Area. The ones that do live here he gets to see once a month or so. Although he has struggled with housing instability in the past, E-Tee is currently temporarily housed in an SRO (Single Room Occupancy) at the Le Nain hotel on Eddy and Van Ness. Still, he has a hard time making rent because even as an SRO, the rent is over $1,000 dollars. Most of the tenants can’t come up with that much and need government subsidies. However, he is still grateful to have a roof over his head and does not take it for granted.
E-Tee has been selling the Street Sheet for 27 years, and plans to continue selling it for as long as he is able. He sits in the metal folding chairs at the Street Sheet office every morning. More often than not, we bring him hot water so that he can make his Cup-a-Noodle. More often than not, he is cracking a joke and a comment at all of us as we pass by.
I asked him why he sells the Street Sheet. “It gives me enough to get by on.” ≠