[Hpn] street newspaper offers hope

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Fri, 28 Apr 2000 23:57:00 -0400


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Czech Republic: Street Newspaper Provides Work For Homeless
By Jeremy Bransten=20


One of the most visible changes in Eastern Europe following the collapse =
of communism has been the surging number of beggars and homeless people. =
Always present to some degree under the former regime, but kept out of =
sight by the police, the homeless are now as prevalent here as in =
Western Europe -- but few mechanisms exist to care for them. RFE/RL =
correspondent Jeremy Bransten investigates a new project in Prague that =
aims to reintegrate the homeless into mainstream society.=20

Prague, 27 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The homeless: they are the underside =
of the Eastern European success story. In cities like Prague, where new =
shops and cafes open almost daily, competing for the attention of =
tourists and the newly-monied locals, the homeless are a reminder that =
an entire class of people is failing in the transition to a market =
economy.=20

And that group is growing. Precise statistics are not kept, but staffers =
at shelters around the city put the number of homeless in Prague -- a =
city of 1.2 million -- at several thousand. Most are middle-aged men, =
poorly educated and thus of little interest to private employers. Some =
lost their homes after the death of a family member, others were evicted =
after sliding into drink or failing to pay rent. Whatever their personal =
tragedies, most homeless subsist on a few coins a day -- the donations =
of a few passers-by.=20

A new project that draws its inspiration from programs in the West aims =
to change things and give employment to those homeless who want it, =
while helping them to re-enter society.=20

The idea is simple and has already been put to work in scores of cities =
across the United States and Western Europe. It is what is known as a =
"street paper." Since February, local journalists in cooperation with a =
non-governmental organization have published a 32-page magazine that =
homeless people can sell on the street -- earning both the NGO and the =
homeless a small profit.=20

The magazine -- called "Patron" -- comes out twice a month and is sold =
in Prague and three other Czech cities. In the two months it has been =
operating, "Patron" has already changed the lives of at least 250 =
homeless people, providing them with a job and a steady, if small, =
income.=20

Robert Sztarovics, coordinator of the project, says the idea for =
"Patron" came to him in 1998, during a visit to Britain. There, a street =
paper called "The Big Issue" has been operating in several cities for a =
few years and claims a total readership of over 1 million people. =
Sztarovics told the paper's editors that he was interested in adapting =
the model to the Czech Republic. They put him in touch with the =
Budapest-based No Borders foundation, started by the British government =
in 1995 specifically to help establish street papers in Eastern Europe.=20

The No Borders foundation helped Sztarovics and his colleagues set up =
their own Czech NGO, and schooled them in how to run a magazine. A year =
later and with initial start-up capital of 600,000 crowns ($16,000) =
donated by Britain, the Soros Foundation and the European Union, =
"Patron" hit the streets, with a print run of 20,000 copies.=20

Ondrej Cihak is "Patron's" street manager. He is in charge of recruiting =
magazine sellers, supplying them with new issues, and collecting the =
profits. In Prague, 80 to 90 homeless sellers make a living from this =
work. Cihak says the conditions for applying are simple:=20

"A person who wants to sell has to be in need, either without a roof =
over his head or without work or without enough finances. Each person =
signs a declaration pledging that they are in such a situation and that =
they are older than 16 and that they agree to respect our rules, which =
are printed in the magazine. On that basis of this registration, we give =
them a numbered card which they must display when selling the papers and =
we assign them a selling place."=20

Each issue sells for 20 crowns ($0.53 dollars). When starting out, a =
homeless applicant receives five issues for free. When he or she has =
managed to sell those and collect 100 crowns, Cihak doles out more =
magazines. Thereafter, the homeless seller keeps half of the profits. =
The other half goes back to the publisher. After only two months in =
business, Patron is breaking even on its print run of 20,000 copies. =
Plans to expand the magazine and add color and better type are already =
in the works.=20

Patron employs only one full-time editor, but most articles in the =
magazine are written by professional journalists. Sztarovics says the =
magazine is "non-political," with articles focusing on cultural and =
social issues such as music, the arts scene, the environment, housing, =
drugs, religion, and human rights.=20

The palette is broad and Sztarovics says many Czech journalists welcome =
the chance to write about topics other than the standard fare of =
parliamentary scandals. All journalists are paid for their work. =
Sztarovics says the philosophy behind "Patron" is that it should operate =
as a business rather than a charity -- so that both writers and sellers =
are motivated to work hard and see the magazine as a professionally =
worthwhile experience.=20

As for worries that some people might abuse the system, Sztarovics says =
the magazine's business philosophy helps sort this out.=20

"This whole project is built on market principles, de facto. This market =
principle is self-controlling and works in such a way that if a seller =
doesn't look right -- people won't buy from him and will seek out =
another whom they believe is truly in need. So if someone gets in -- a =
student let's say -- who just wants to make a little extra beer money, =
people won't buy from him."=20

That view is confirmed by Josef Horak. Aged 34 and on the street since =
last December when the construction firm he worked for went bankrupt =
without paying him for months of labor, Horak became one of "Patron"'s =
first sellers. On a good day, Horak says he can sell up to 50 copies, =
earning him enough to pay for a bed at a city shelter and three meals a =
day while he looks for a steadier job.=20

Horak says fakers and drunks don't last long in the newspaper-selling =
business. He ascribes his success to the rapport he has been able to =
build with local customers, who have become regulars and impatiently =
wait for each new issue. Indeed, Horak jokes, looking professional and =
taking his job seriously has won him many clients -- although sometimes =
they can be initially skeptical.=20

"If they smell beer coming from you, they immediately think you want the =
money for booze and no one will give you anything. Some people don't =
know I'm homeless. They ask me 'You're selling a homeless paper?' and I =
tell them 'That's because I am homeless.' One day I'll be wearing =
shorts, the next day a pair of jeans, a shirt and sweatshirt. I wash all =
my own stuff at the shelter -- so I'm washed and my clothes are =
laundered -- everything."=20

Horak has come to pick up more copies of "Patron" from a distribution =
point in the center of Prague. He is excited about tomorrow -- that's =
when the new issue comes out sales are always best. Horak already has =
plans for improving the magazine. He would like to see pages added in =
English and German, so he could sell more issues to tourists -- some of =
whom already buy Patron out of solidarity. "It sure beats begging," he =
smiles as he walks off to start another work day.=20


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Czech Republic: Street Newspaper Provides Work For Homeless

By Jeremy Bransten=20

One of the most visible changes in Eastern Europe following the = collapse of=20 communism has been the surging number of beggars and homeless people. = Always=20 present to some degree under the former regime, but kept out of sight by = the=20 police, the homeless are now as prevalent here as in Western Europe -- = but few=20 mechanisms exist to care for them. RFE/RL correspondent Jeremy Bransten=20 investigates a new project in Prague that aims to reintegrate the = homeless into=20 mainstream society.=20

Prague, 27 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The homeless: they are the = underside of the=20 Eastern European success story. In cities like Prague, where new shops = and cafes=20 open almost daily, competing for the attention of tourists and the = newly-monied=20 locals, the homeless are a reminder that an entire class of people is = failing in=20 the transition to a market economy.=20

And that group is growing. Precise statistics are not kept, but = staffers at=20 shelters around the city put the number of homeless in Prague -- a city = of 1.2=20 million -- at several thousand. Most are middle-aged men, poorly = educated and=20 thus of little interest to private employers. Some lost their homes = after the=20 death of a family member, others were evicted after sliding into drink = or=20 failing to pay rent. Whatever their personal tragedies, most homeless = subsist on=20 a few coins a day -- the donations of a few passers-by.=20

A new project that draws its inspiration from programs in the West = aims to=20 change things and give employment to those homeless who want it, while = helping=20 them to re-enter society.=20

The idea is simple and has already been put to work in scores of = cities=20 across the United States and Western Europe. It is what is known as a=20 "street paper." Since February, local journalists in = cooperation with=20 a non-governmental organization have published a 32-page magazine that = homeless=20 people can sell on the street -- earning both the NGO and the homeless a = small=20 profit.=20

The magazine -- called "Patron" -- comes out twice a month = and is=20 sold in Prague and three other Czech cities. In the two months it has = been=20 operating, "Patron" has already changed the lives of at least = 250=20 homeless people, providing them with a job and a steady, if small, = income.=20

Robert Sztarovics, coordinator of the project, says the idea for=20 "Patron" came to him in 1998, during a visit to Britain. = There, a=20 street paper called "The Big Issue" has been operating in = several=20 cities for a few years and claims a total readership of over 1 million = people.=20 Sztarovics told the paper's editors that he was interested in adapting = the model=20 to the Czech Republic. They put him in touch with the Budapest-based No = Borders=20 foundation, started by the British government in 1995 specifically to = help=20 establish street papers in Eastern Europe.=20

The No Borders foundation helped Sztarovics and his colleagues set up = their=20 own Czech NGO, and schooled them in how to run a magazine. A year later = and with=20 initial start-up capital of 600,000 crowns ($16,000) donated by Britain, = the=20 Soros Foundation and the European Union, "Patron" hit the = streets,=20 with a print run of 20,000 copies.=20

Ondrej Cihak is "Patron's" street manager. He is in charge = of=20 recruiting magazine sellers, supplying them with new issues, and = collecting the=20 profits. In Prague, 80 to 90 homeless sellers make a living from this = work.=20 Cihak says the conditions for applying are simple:=20

"A person who wants to sell has to be in need, either without a = roof=20 over his head or without work or without enough finances. Each person = signs a=20 declaration pledging that they are in such a situation and that they are = older=20 than 16 and that they agree to respect our rules, which are printed in = the=20 magazine. On that basis of this registration, we give them a numbered = card which=20 they must display when selling the papers and we assign them a selling=20 place."=20

Each issue sells for 20 crowns ($0.53 dollars). When starting out, a = homeless=20 applicant receives five issues for free. When he or she has managed to = sell=20 those and collect 100 crowns, Cihak doles out more magazines. = Thereafter, the=20 homeless seller keeps half of the profits. The other half goes back to = the=20 publisher. After only two months in business, Patron is breaking even on = its=20 print run of 20,000 copies. Plans to expand the magazine and add color = and=20 better type are already in the works.=20

Patron employs only one full-time editor, but most articles in the = magazine=20 are written by professional journalists. Sztarovics says the magazine is = "non-political," with articles focusing on cultural and social = issues=20 such as music, the arts scene, the environment, housing, drugs, = religion, and=20 human rights.=20

The palette is broad and Sztarovics says many Czech journalists = welcome the=20 chance to write about topics other than the standard fare of = parliamentary=20 scandals. All journalists are paid for their work. Sztarovics says the=20 philosophy behind "Patron" is that it should operate as a = business=20 rather than a charity -- so that both writers and sellers are motivated = to work=20 hard and see the magazine as a professionally worthwhile experience.=20

As for worries that some people might abuse the system, Sztarovics = says the=20 magazine's business philosophy helps sort this out.=20

"This whole project is built on market principles, de facto. = This market=20 principle is self-controlling and works in such a way that if a seller = doesn't=20 look right -- people won't buy from him and will seek out another whom = they=20 believe is truly in need. So if someone gets in -- a student let's say = -- who=20 just wants to make a little extra beer money, people won't buy from = him."=20

That view is confirmed by Josef Horak. Aged 34 and on the street = since last=20 December when the construction firm he worked for went bankrupt without = paying=20 him for months of labor, Horak became one of "Patron"'s first = sellers.=20 On a good day, Horak says he can sell up to 50 copies, earning him = enough to pay=20 for a bed at a city shelter and three meals a day while he looks for a = steadier=20 job.=20

Horak says fakers and drunks don't last long in the newspaper-selling = business. He ascribes his success to the rapport he has been able to = build with=20 local customers, who have become regulars and impatiently wait for each = new=20 issue. Indeed, Horak jokes, looking professional and taking his job = seriously=20 has won him many clients -- although sometimes they can be initially = skeptical.=20

"If they smell beer coming from you, they immediately think you = want the=20 money for booze and no one will give you anything. Some people don't = know I'm=20 homeless. They ask me 'You're selling a homeless paper?' and I tell them = 'That's=20 because I am homeless.' One day I'll be wearing shorts, the next day a = pair of=20 jeans, a shirt and sweatshirt. I wash all my own stuff at the shelter -- = so I'm=20 washed and my clothes are laundered -- everything."=20

Horak has come to pick up more copies of "Patron" from a=20 distribution point in the center of Prague. He is excited about tomorrow = --=20 that's when the new issue comes out sales are always best. Horak already = has=20 plans for improving the magazine. He would like to see pages added in = English=20 and German, so he could sell more issues to tourists -- some of whom = already buy=20 Patron out of solidarity. "It sure beats begging," he smiles = as he=20 walks off to start another work day.

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