[Hpn] "Read all about it: street papers flourish across the US

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Mon, 17 Nov 2003 20:23:02 -0500


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 Headline:  Read all about it: street papers flourish across the US
Byline:  Danna Harman Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Date: 11/17/2003

 (WASHINGTON)It took longer than expected. The main profile, on a homeless
vet, was
 supposed to have hit the streets on, well, Veterans Day. The spacing
 looked strange, the photos (courtesy of a volunteer's boyfriend) were
 too dark, and, at the very last minute the whole PageMaker file somehow
 got corrupted. Ted Henson, the intern in charge of editing and layout,
 clasps his head at the mere recollection.

 But it came together, all 16 pages, as these things do. And so this
 week Washington, D.C., will get its first newspaper written, produced,
 and distributed by local homeless people. It's called "Street Sense:
 'Where the D.C.'s poor and homeless earn and give their two cent' "
 (or, they hope, "cents" if the typesetting can be fixed in time), and
 it's due out on the streets this morning.

 In the first issue there's a cover story on the homeless community that
 lives around McPherson Square, a long article on hypothermia, and a
 half-dozen poems about life on the streets. There is an interview with
 a crusading congresswoman, reviews of two books on poverty, and a
 thoughtful piece on the pros and cons of taking day-labor jobs. George
 Siletti's "how to" column this month gets into how to sleep on the
 streets ("always put a blanket over your cardboard," he recommends),
 and the Cook's Corner features a local homeless shelter's recipe for
 shepherd's pie.

 The objective of Street Sense is twofold: to help homeless people earn
 income and reenter the working world and to educate the public about
 homelessness and poverty.

 "We want to empower homeless people - build their self-esteem by
 helping them earn a living and encouraging them to take on more
 leadership," says Donald Whitehead, executive director of the National
 Coalition for the Homeless, which is housing and supporting the
 Washington paper. "Just the mere contact with the rest of the world
 gets [homeless] people excited in bigger and brighter things."

 Mr. Whitehead, who today sports a blazer, light purple button-down
 shirt, and a trim and tidy goatee, would know - he was once homeless
 himself, selling the street paper in Cincinnati.

 Like many of the approximately 50 "homeless" papers in the US and the
 60 or so more across the globe, the D.C. paper will be sold for $1 by
 homeless people who then keep most of the profits. Vendors typically
 get their first 10 papers free, and then pay some small percentage -
 usually 10 to 30 cents - back to the paper for production costs.

 At first they expect that many people will buy the paper out of
 sympathy, but they plan to produce a quality paper, the staff says, one
 that will be an important resource on homeless issues and well worth
 the price.

 There are approximately 14,000 homeless people in the Washington area,
 yet only a dozen people showed up at the orientation meetings to
 express interest in hawking the paper. Fred Anderson, who coordinates
 the vendors, says this is typical at the beginning, and he is not
 worried. "We think there will be a snowball effect."

 "Homeless people," explains August Mallory, a Street Sense writer, "are
 not visionaries. They don't have too many dreams of greatness. But when
 they get pointed in the right direction they get into it."

 Working on a street newspaper forces staffers and vendors to assume
 responsibility. Vendors must clean up their acts in order to
 participate.

 Another advantage is that they form a tightknit community.

 A storied history

 Variations on the homeless paper have been around for a century - a
 newsletter called the "Hobo News" was popular in the early 1900s. But
 the first of the modern-day street papers was started in 1989 in New
 York City and called the Street News.

 The movement took off at that time, as public policy toward the poor
 changed and as desktop publishing became more readily available,
 explains Laura Thompson, an editor at Street Sense. An average of five
 papers were started every year in the '90s.

 Several of those publications have since closed - citing problems
 ranging from vendor turnover or irresponsibility to garbled, even
 profane content that turned off potential buyers - but many more have
 stayed the course. Today there are papers in 47 cities across America.

 In 1995, Whitehead, along with Michael Stoops, the coalition's director
 of community organizing, started the North American Street Newspaper
 Association, which brings together writers, editors, and vendors to
 discuss issues of mutual interest. They have also worked to set up a
 wire service to provide all the papers with national stories on
 homelessness.

 "The newspaper movement," says Mr. Stoops, "is the most progressive
 grassroots segment of the homeless world."

 Inspired by the original New York paper, a group in Britain in 1991 put
 together "The Big Issue," a weekly street magazine that today has a
 circulation of 300,000, several regional affiliated papers, and
 branches in Australia and South Africa. The publication makes a profit,
 which goes to the Big Issue Foundation, an organization that supports
 the homeless with alcohol and drug counseling.

 The British variation, unlike most other homeless papers, has chosen to
 move away from coverage of poverty and is mainly known for its
 exclusive celebrity interviews.

 First step toward the future

 Chicago's Street Wise has the largest circulation of any of the
 homeless papers in the US. And its more than 60,000 readers make it the
 third-largest newspaper of any kind in Chicago. It supports 200 vendors
 (each must complete a training program) and it has a referral service
 to provide vendors with drug and alcohol treatment, high school
 equivalency classes, career counseling, and permanent housing.

 "When you start a paper you make a connection with and between homeless
 people," says Beverly Cheuvront, director of communications at New
 York's Partnership for the Homeless. "And that is a start when it comes
 to bringing them in for other social services.

 "You really want to make sure every single interaction with the
 homeless community draws them in for more help," says Ms. Cheuvront.
 "And it can - you hook people into something new and they discover some
 of the things that motivated them long ago ... so it can be a first
 step to a life-changing process."



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