[Hpn] Endless Choices - Dallas STREETPAPER gives HOMELESS a chance to vend & write (fwd) vend & write (fwd)

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Tue, 2 Jan 2001 01:37:52 -0800 (PST)

http://www.dallasnews.com/metro/250532_newspaper_31me.html FWD Dallas Morning News - 12/31/2000 PAPER GIVES HOMELESS CHANCE TO IMPROVE THEIR SITUATIONS By Kendall Anderson / The Dallas Morning News Michael and Mary Jones have worked nearly every day for the last year, accumulating just enough to buy dinner and a place to sleep each night. That's why it hurt them so much recently when an unknown passer-by cussed out Mrs. Jones, demanding that she get a job. The married couple are among the 20 mostly homeless people who earn their paychecks on Dallas streets selling Endless Choices, a newspaper about poverty, the homeless and social services. The bimonthly paper celebrates its second anniversary this month. The paper, written mostly by homeless people, started with a circulation of 1,500 and is now at 7,000. "After I was yelled at, I was afraid to approach anyone for a week," recalled Mrs. Jones, 47, her eyes tearing up. "Some people think we're stinky, a nuisance or on drugs, and we're none of those. We're trying to earn a living like everyone else." Together, the couple earns about $50 to $65 a day. That's been enough to move them from homeless shelters and food handouts to a hotel room and dinner on their own. And it's often more than the paychecks for some of the minimum-wage jobs they've been offered. Each morning after they shower and dress, the Joneses check out of their $40-a-night hotel on Harry Hines Boulevard by 11 a.m., lugging four backpacks that hold all they own. They ride a bus to the Stewpot, a food pantry and center for the homeless in downtown Dallas, and buy dozens of papers for 30 cents each. Then the couple heads to Market and Corbin streets in the West End, hoping to earn enough to pay for bus fares, that night's dinner, a hotel room and the next day's papers. They also try to put aside a little extra for savings. The Joneses and other official vendors for Endless Choices wear badges identifying themselves. They've been trained to approach people politely and never be pushy, said the newspaper's founder, Clora Hogan. Those who get the paper usually give a dollar - the donation suggested on the paper - but some give more, and a few give nothing. It all works out, says Mr. Jones, a charismatic man with a wide smile and large eyes. "This paper has been a real good deal for us. I thank God for giving me the strength to endure this," said Mr. Jones, 43, shielding himself from rain and wind one recent afternoon. Mr. Jones dreams of running a stand that sells newspapers, magazines and books. He said he loves encouraging people to read. Ron Cowart, who manages the city's Day Resource Center for the Homeless, loves Endless Choices for those reasons - everyone's reading and Mr. Jones' dreaming. "Most people who sell Endless Choices have a tremendous amount of entrepreneurial spirit," he said. "There is nothing worse we could do than dampen that [spirit]." Vital messages The messages in Endless Choices are just as important as the messengers, Mr. Cowart said. "I can't think of a greater way to keep us all informed about life on the streets - we certainly don't find those perspectives in mainstream newspapers and radio," said Mr. Cowart, a retired Dallas police officer. "There is a tremendous amount of intelligence, talent and a wonderful pulsating life out here." The most recent issue of Endless Choices included an in-depth story by a homeless man about another homeless person who froze to death last month in downtown Dallas. Other news organizations didn't give the death the same attention. The December-January issue also included essays on what Christmas meant to youths at a local emergency shelter, an editorial, poems and letters to the editor. A letter from a Beaumont man expressed appreciation for Endless Choices. "I flew to Dallas on business yesterday ... and had the good fortune of buying your publication from one of your vendors. As I read the articles, it brought to mind things. ... You really do improve the quality of life for all of us." Not everyone agrees. The first year of operation for Endless Choices included some run-ins with police. Some vendors have been fired for showing up drunk or breaking rules. A few, including Mr. Jones, have been given tickets for selling the papers in the street. And the growing pains have occurred at the same time vendors such as Mr. and Mrs. Jones get harassed, paper officials say. Fewer problems But city officials say that the number of problems associated with the paper has dropped. And Ms. Hogan said she's committed to ensuring that her employees provide the best service and get rewarded for it. More than 1,000 people have worked as vendors since Endless Choices began. The Joneses have their own story. Mr. Jones used to be addicted to drugs. His wife was in two physically abusive marriages before they met. Their work histories are spotty, but they note that their resolve - evident in a year's worth of steady employment - outweighs that. Ben Girma, a waiter at TGI Friday's in the West End, said Mr. Jones' attitude has won him and his wife over. The couple buys Endless Choices regularly. "I just like the whole idea of him trying to do something," said Mr. Girma, 21. "Like me, he's just trying to take care of himself and his wife." Unlike the visiting businessman from Beaumont, Mr. Girma said he rarely reads the paper. His dollars, along with those of others, have helped the Joneses improve their situation. But the couple has more progress to make, Mr. Jones notes. They don't yet have enough to cover a security deposit and first month's rent at an apartment - their long-term goal. An apartment would provide the two with a permanent address - a must-have for the jobs they want, the Joneses have learned. "They think you're unstable or something if you don't have one," he said, recalling a potential employer who gave him a weird look just last week when he said he had no permanent address. A helping hand Securing a permanent address is just one of many steps some of Dallas' estimated 5,000 homeless people take in their quests to get off the street, Ms. Hogan said. Getting food, education, legal advice and medical treatment are others. Ms. Hogan started the paper two years ago because she wanted to give Dallas' homeless residents a helping hand with those steps, which are often taken for granted. "Giving them a cot to sleep on doesn't help them to get an ID or get food. With the newspaper, anyone can work as a vendor," Ms. Hogan, 53. "Many of these people just need some help taking that first step." Ms. Hogan practices what she preaches. As she talks, a homeless man approaches her for some change. She tells him to show up at the Stewpot the next day if he wants a job. To those who think her paper is discouraging the homeless from getting "real" jobs, Endless Choices is a real job, she says. And to those who think it's not, she tells them it can lead to a so-called real job. "Everything starts with baby steps," she said. Mr. Jones said he's thankful he can take them. "God knows, I sure can't change my past, but I can change my future," Mr. Jones said. "We're working for a better tomorrow for us." 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