Read all about it: street papers flourish across the US
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.Skip to next paragraph
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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."