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Read all about it: street papers flourish across the US

(Page 2 of 2)

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

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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."