For many people around campus, seeing Joseph Ramirez outside the Starbucks on High Street has become part of their daily routine. Whether he’s known as Joe, Joey or simply that guy selling newspapers, Ramirez has made his presence known.
“Joey is probably one of the highlights of my day, it’s always nice to come to Starbucks and to see him,” said Aaron Clapper, a third-year in public affairs, as he high-fived Ramirez on his way to complete a midterm.
Ramirez can often be spotted greeting passersby as people go about their day. While Ramirez said he is “the nicest guy you’ll ever meet” it wasn’t always that way.
“I was a bad guy before I learned about the paper, you would never know who I was,” said Ramirez, a Chicago native. He has been living in Columbus for the past 20 years, selling papers on and off since the newspaper Street Speech began publication in 2008.
Street Speech is published bimonthly by the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless and employs low-income individuals through a vendor program, according to its website. Upon completing training, vendors are issued a badge in order to sell papers, which they purchase for 25 cents and sell for $1.
“We’re all responsible for our own lives and we can make it good or we can make it bad, and I decided to make mine better by selling this newspaper,” Ramirez said.
Ian Craig, a graduate student in mathematics and an employee at Urban Outfitters, said Ramirez’s presence in front of the High Street store has become positive.
“I think initially it was a negative effect — a lot of people don’t want to be bothered if they think they’re just being panhandled for money — but once you have an encounter with Joseph, it is definitely a positive effect,” Craig said.
Ray Daigle, Street Speech vendor manager, said Ramirez has “done very well, he’s staked out his territory, his turf, if you will.”
“It’s just amazing, how long he’ll stand out there. There are some people who stand out for half an hour and quit and go home for the day,” Daigle said.
Ramirez can usually be spotted working from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. four days a week and said there is a strategy behind his schedule.
“I try to give two, three days off so the students don’t get too tired of me, too sick of me,” Ramirez said, adding he tries to find other work in construction, moving or security.
On an average day, Ramirez said he sells about 40 papers, which translates to roughly $5 an hour when cost of the paper is deducted from his sales. Ohio minimum wage is $7.70.
According to its website, Street Speech generated more than $33,000 in its first 16 months for those who needed money to meet their basic needs.
Included in Street Speech’s code of conduct is a strict no drugs and alcohol policy, and Ramirez said he doesn’t want any “bad apples messing up the program.”
“I’m a very, very strict individual when it comes to people doing drugs ‘cause I don’t want people to misuse other people’s money that they worked so hard for. Especially the students, they’re not always rich and I know struggle too with high tuition,” Ramirez said.
Morgan Edelman, a third-year in speech and hearing science, lived on 14th Avenue last year and said although Ramirez is friendly when he asks for money, it does become repetitive.
“I don’t see a problem with him being near campus, but it gets annoying when you are trying to just walk down the street and you are constantly being asked for money,” Edelman said.
“We do get emails from time to time saying, ‘This guy won’t stop asking me every day’ and I say, ‘Well how would you like it if you were trying to make a bit of money? If you don’t want to talk to him, don’t. Say no,’” Daigle said, not specifically referring to Ramirez but to email complaints in general.
Though Edelman said she often doesn’t have cash on hand to buy a paper, Ramirez is never disrespectful.
“The one thing about Joe is that he is never mean about not giving, but he puts a lot of pressure on when he asks every person that walks past him at Starbucks,” Edelman said.
Despite being visually impaired, Ramirez said he recognizes just about everyone who regularly walks by, “not by name, but by face.”
Though undergoing five surgeries to correct his sight, there is no cure for his uncontrolled glaucoma, a disease that leaves Ramirez blind in his left eye. Because of his difficulty with seeing at a distance, he feels embarrassed if he tries to sell a paper to the same person twice.
Despite his setbacks, Ramirez prefers to maintain a positive attitude.
“I always keep an open mind. People can’t always afford to buy the paper, but when they can, it’s a blessing,” Ramirez said. “It’s a free gift to be nice, why be mean? Life’s too short to be mean.”