Minnesota Crossroads street newspaper launches in Twin Cities FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 8 May 1999 17:03:53 -0700 (PDT)


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http://www.pioneerplanet.com/seven-days/1/news/docs/031293.htm
FWD  Pioneer Planet - Saturday, May 8, 1999

     HOMELESS PUT WORDS IN PRINT

     The Minnesota Crossroads newspaper aims to
     `to start a discussion on housing and poverty.'

     Staff writer Pat Burson

   The first 6,000 copies of the state's newest newspaper hit Twin Cities
streets this week, but readers can't buy them from newsstands or
coin-operated newspaper boxes.

   Instead, readers of the monthly Minnesota Crossroads, which covers
issues of poverty and homelessness, will find them being sold on the street
by people who know many of the issues firsthand.

   Its publishers hope to distribute future issues to some other Minnesota
cities by summer and eventually statewide.

   ``Crossroads is kind of a street-related meeting place, a place where
people are coming together,'' founder and director Kristin Livdahl, says of
the publication's name. ``We really wanted the paper to be a forum for
discussion and a place where people who often don't get their views
expressed could express themselves. We thought maybe it could be a
crossroads where people who haven't had that power before could meet with
mainstreet Minnesota.

   ``That's the real goal of the newspaper, to start a discussion on
housing and poverty (and) to get people out there writing about things that
are affecting their lives, ... talking about the different programs and
what's working and what needs to change.''

   Livdahl, 32, said she thought about starting a street newspaper in
Minnesota after her father brought one home from Chicago about five years
ago. She approached several nonprofit agencies about sponsoring an area
version, but interest was lukewarm.

   ``I kept hoping someone else would do it,'' she said. ``It became clear
that we (family, friends and other homeless advocates she knew) would have
to do it on our own.''

   With help from family, a few nonprofit agencies and about $2,000 of her
own savings, she forged ahead, starting Open Sky Press. She also got help
from homeless advocates, including Greg Horan, a formerly homeless man who
once published a street newspaper in St. Paul.

   The new venture operates with a three-member editorial committee that
oversees the content and design of the newspaper and Livdahl as its only
full-time, unpaid staff member. She hopes to attract more volunteers to
help with all aspects of putting out the newspaper -- and to draw a small
salary as soon as the operation begins to grow.

   Livdahl found writers for the newspaper from among people attending
creative writing classes at Simpson Housing Services, a nonprofit agency in
Minneapolis' Whittier neighborhood where she works part time as a shelter
coordinator. Simpson operates a shelter for adults and transitional housing
for homeless families living in Hennepin County.

   The paper, which carries paid advertising, will be sold through mail
subscriptions and on the street by homeless people or those in danger of
becoming homeless. Livdahl said vendors will receive the first 10
newspapers free and then pay 30 cents for each additional copy. The
vendors, in turn, will sell them on the street for $1.

   ``With the housing situation the way it is now ... the income from
selling papers won't be enough on its own to get people out of shelters and
off the street and into housing, but I'm hoping with another job, it'll be
enough (for them) to afford market-rate rents,'' she said.

  All will be assigned numbers and temporary badges when they start. They
earn a permanent badge after selling 50 issues. All vendors are asked to
sign a code of conduct, in which they agree to adhere to certain rules
while selling the newspaper. For example, they must agree to display their
badges, remain sober and behave courteously. They also must agree not to
accept more than $1 for each issue, not to panhandle and not to lend their
newspapers or badges to others. Vendors who violate the rules could be
suspended or fired.

   The content, Livdahl said, is meant to build bridges and foster
understanding among groups that often don't interact.

   For instance, Nelson Miller, a formerly homeless alcoholic and addict
who has been clean and sober for the past 20 months, wrote a personal essay
titled ``Connect the Dots'' for the first issue describing his journey from
chemical abuse to sobriety, a mix of prose and poetry.

   ``Through these articles and, hopefully, through what I've written it
will begin connecting the haves and have-nots,'' he said.

   Rick Kooy, a formerly homeless man who now lives in transitional housing
in south Minneapolis, wrote an article encouraging people to attend Shelter
Providers Action Association meetings and express their opinions about
shelter conditions.

   Kooy said Minnesota Crossroads gives people who are or have been
homeless a way to correct some misconceptions. ``There's a lot of ignorance
about homeless people and people on the street ... that they're lazy and
dirty and stuff,'' he said. ``I think it'll kind of open people's eyes to
see we're regular people. We're just don't have a home.''

   Other features include an article about the efforts by housing advocates
and legislators to lobby the Minnesota Legislature for more state funding
for the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, a state office that provides
affordable housing to low- and moderate-income Minnesotans. Another lists
the kinds of donations and volunteer help that different Twin Cities
agencies need. Other articles describe the internal goings-on at several
nonprofit community agencies.

   Also aiming at a broader audience, the paper will carry monthly columns
on such subjects as landscaping and gardening, and health care. The early
contributors are Lynnette Smith and Fran Kiesling, partners in Doggone
Designs, a landscaping business in Minneapolis, and Dr. Tim Rumsey, a
family physician employed by the Allina Health System at United Family
Health Center near downtown St. Paul.

   Rumsey has worked since 1985 with the city's Homeless Healthcare Team, a
multi-organizational, multi-agency group of health professionals who
provide health care at St. Paul shelters.

   Minnesota Crossroads joins other street newspapers published across the
country. One of the people Livdahl consulted was Timothy Harris, who has
started two -- Spare Change in Boston in 1992 and Real Change in Seattle,
Wash., in 1994. Harris also chairs the North American Street Newspaper
Association, which formed three years ago in Chicago and represents about
40 street newspapers in the United States and Canada.

   Street newspapers date back to the late 1800s but experienced a
resurgence a decade ago with the creation of Street News in New York, he
said. ``The latest incarnation of these papers written by poor people about
poverty issues ... (is) a recent thing.''

   While the content and focus of street newspapers vary from place to
place, they give readers a markedly different view about social issues than
mainstream newspapers, he said.

   ``They'll find depth on poverty issues that they won't usually find in
mainstream papers. You'll find first-hand stories by poor and homeless
people themselves. They also vary in the quality of journalism and the
commitment to journalistic fairness. These papers are all frankly biased on
behalf of poor and homeless people.''

   Harris said getting street newspapers off the ground takes time, but he
has had found that the public is receptive to them. ``People support the
idea of people helping themselves, of a hand up and not a handout,'' he
said. ``It's always a tough sell at first. It feels weird to people. Some
people do wonder what (the vendors are) going to do with the money. You
can't really know that. You can't tell someone how to spend the money that
they make. You just have to have some faith that if somebody's motivated
enough to go out and sell a paper to help themselves, then they're going to
help themselves.''

   Livdahl said she's already recouped most of the start-up costs through
subscription sales. Before the first issue was published, she already had
about 35 subscribers.

   She hopes Minnesota Crossroads will be a vehicle to draw different
segments of the community into the discussion of homelessness and poverty
-- both the problems and the solutions. ``This really is a very large
community. The parts seem isolated,'' she said. ``The housing problem is
only one that we can solve as a community, as a whole. This will be maybe
one step toward that.''

**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior
interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**

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