STREET SHEET turns 10 - Homeless newspaper in San Francisco rocks

Tom Boland (
Thu, 9 Dec 1999 23:32:55 -0800 (PST)

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FWD  San Francisco Examiner - Thursday, December 9, 1999 -11:34 PST


     CRAIG MARINE, San Francisco Examiner

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Paul Boden, director of the Coalition on
Homelessness, owes it all to Phil Collins.

Yes, Collins, that gnomish singer who used to show up on ``Miami Vice.''
Ten years ago, Collins was inspired to write a song about homelessness. The
result, titled ironically, ``Another Day in Paradise,'' was the centerpiece
for his tour, and it was then he heard about Boden's organization.

Soon, the coalition -- a nonprofit set up in 1987 to advocate for the
homeless -- was staffing a table at the Shoreline Amphitheatre to educate
the public about how rough life is without a roof.

And thus was born the Street Sheet, a newsletter that grew into an
excellent newspaper that uses homeless and formerly homeless writers,
artists and poets to describe the ugliness of the streets. The paper
celebrates its 10th anniversary this month.

``We already had an internal newsletter,'' Boden said, ``so we put it in
newspaper form for the tour. When people came by the table, they would take
a paper and give us some money. I remember thinking, ``Whoa, we're on to
something here! People like getting something when they give.' We made

Then Boden came up with the idea of selling the papers left over on the
street, ``as a dignified alternative to panhandling.''

To commemorate its milestone, the coalition has put out ``The View From
Here,'' a collection of art, poems and articles that have graced the paper
during its 10-year run. An impressive collection with a foreword (and poem)
by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the book displays an assertive, nonvictim
approach that characterizes the coalition's stance: Don't feel sorry for
the homeless; change things so they don't have to be homeless.

``The Street Sheet is an arm of the coalition, it reflects our position on
the issues,'' Boden said. ``We do our best, through the voices of the
homeless and former homeless whenever possible, to tell what it's like to
try to survive on the streets when it seems that everything is stacked
against you -- from the government trying to cut what little money they
give you to the police who wake you up with nightsticks and take away your

Today, Street Sheet has a monthly budget of $1,400, due largely to the
generosity of companies such as DC Typography and Reproman, which donate
the most expensive aspects of the production costs. The paper distributes
36,000 papers a month and is a model for similar papers around the country.
Boden deliberately keeps the press run low so things don't get out of hand.

``We could be running off 100,000 papers easily, if that's what we wanted
to do,'' says Boden. ``But then the paper becomes larger than life,
beholden to advertisers and all the things we've been able to avoid by
keeping it manageable.''

The coalition is funded by donations and grants from groups such as the
Vanguard Foundation, the LEF Foundation and the McKay Foundation. Bowden
says the coalition squeaks by on an annual budget of $500,000.

Editors of other homeless papers clearly hold the San Francisco paper in
high regard. Harold Chapman of the Denver Voice says the Street Sheet is a
role model.

``We're in our third year, and knowing that the Street Sheet has been
carrying on for 10 years is an inspiration to us and to street papers
around the country,'' he said.

In Dallas, Clora Hogan, editor of the 9-month-old Endless Choices,
concurred: ``It's a well-written paper that focuses on the issues instead
of whining,'' she said.

In San Francisco, Elliott Caldwell, 34, has been a Street Sheet vendor on
and off for seven years.

``It's supplemental income,'' said Caldwell, 34, as he hawked papers near
the Powell Street BART station. ``There's no way I could get by without the
money I make from selling these.

``And this is so different from just holding a cup -- I tried to do that
and didn't last two weeks. This is an honest living, and people treat me
differently than when I just had my hand out. I'm not stealing, I'm not
selling drugs -- I may not get a 401(k) plan out of this, but if I'm in
between jobs, it keeps me off the pavement.''

Randy Cooper and Vicki Towle are relative newcomers to selling the Street
Sheet. Cooper, 50, and Towle, 44, have been selling the paper for the past
two months, using the money they raise to find food and shelter.

``It's work,'' said Towle, ``but it's encouraging to find so many people
with good hearts.''

``We average about $13 dollars a day,'' Cooper said. ``It's not a lot, but
every bit helps.''

Anthony Camel used to sell the Street Sheet. Now he's the coalition's
vending project coordinator.

``It's a positive alternative to panhandling. It kept me afloat when I
needed it and helped me turn the corner when I was ready,'' Camel, 31,
remembered. ``The people at the coalition are dedicated to change, and that
rubbed off on me. I was able to change my life, and eventually I found
myself working with them. It's really a rags-to-riches story for me, except
that of course nobody at the coalition is going to get rich.''

The Street Sheet has been a consistent thorn in the side of local
politicians, who publicly try to pretend it doesn't exist.

``Oh, they read us, that's for sure,'' Boden said, laughing. ``Sometimes
we'll be in a meeting or a public hearing and one of them will ask, ``Is
this going to end up in the Street Sheet?' We have the luxury of being able
to spend a little time on stories, where most of the mainstream media is
looking for a sound bite or trying to make a quick deadline.''

Boden became media savvy the hard way. He remembers years back, when he was
down and out and homeless, and he spilled his guts to a sympathetic-seeming

``I just poured it out there, every last thing,'' he remembered, shaking
his head. ``Then you look at it in the harsh print, and parts are missing
and it seems so cold and distant. Or else I would spend half an hour
talking to a television reporter and maybe a sentence would get on the air.
I figured it would be better if we put out our own paper.''


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