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Street Paper – By Paridon Williams
To live within the lowest level of comfort as a houseless/homeless person, the average street paper vendor in Washington State in a 5 -7 day working week sets a goal to sell at the least 20 – 40 papers a day and for a lot of them, that’s barely getting by. Some people see it as an admirable action when a vendor is up early in the morning, out late at night, or on their corner/spot/turf for up to eight+ hours a day, however this is rarely possible because a lot of the vendor’s days are filled with other necessaries.
Being a vendor is sort of an undertaking but more of a necessary “Task” for the individuals that are out there selling the papers. This task is usually tied around a person trying to get their life together; some of the vendors are in school or other training programs, some have more than one “Odd” job, and a lot of them have days filled with Health Care appointments, not to mention eating and securing a place to store their belongings and/or to lie their head. A large percentage of the vendors have lurking mental issues either long existing or caused and extended by the realities of the “Real world”. The frustration that some of you may see when a vendor is selling, is mostly because of broken promises; if someone promises to buy one later (Within up to 30 minutes) and then doesn’t, that vendor may have chosen between being late for an appointment and waiting for that promise.
Probably most of the people that sell street papers didn’t show up with elaborate resumes, (It is not required or necessary) they were down on the other options of life, or perhaps mentally and/or physically unable to have a job. A lot of the vendors have no sales skills at all, some have little patience for the task, some are extremely shy, and most wish they could do or had an opportunity to do something else; however there are those that grow to love the venture. The non-profit (Street paper) organizations extend the opportunity to anyone who needs it and signs up along with an agreement to follow the rules and guidelines of the organization. This is when the words “A person got to do what a person got to do” come to play. Some vendors are subjects of ridicule, rumors, mockery, and disrespect, however most eventually gain admiration and become surrounded by respectful advocates just trying to lend a heart to each situation.
Most of the vendors meticulously plan their days around being able to sell the paper; rain, cold, hot, windy, etc.; either sell in the elements or sleep in them, this has become the choice of some. A lot of them have convinced their own minds to be content about not having permanent or even transitional housing, however there are those that have gotten lucky or earned breaks and have landed a “Safe” place to live; cheap hotels, a trusting persons couch or garage, subsidized housing, etc. some even work hard and long enough to be able to live in a small apartment; having some extra cash in pocket can and has literally open some doors.
It’s not always all about the money, some people just need to feel as though they belong to something or are a part of the solution. There are times when vendors are out there just to talk to or greet people, some of the vendors have even indirectly traded a paper or more for brief conversations. Just by having the identifying badge vendors become a beacon for compassionate hearts looking to use a bit of their precious time to momentarily shine their lights their way. For some, it’s making the difference that counts.
I try not to feel sorry for people rather do what I can to help, I actually recruited a lot of street paper vendors; they were either down on their luck, panhandling, or just plain ole “Lost”. If it’s done “Right”, just being a vendor can be a gigantic plus in a person’s life, simply by reading the paper themselves, by knowing what’s in it and having knowledge of what they’re selling. Whether it’s sharing stories and/or exchanging comments and opinions with readers and customers, explaining the mission statement and things about the papers organization, or gaining pertinent information for their own life, etc. reading the paper can be very helpful … for everyone. Other than reading the paper, some of the Street Paper organizations involve themselves in other social activities, marches, rallies, and various forums open to vendor attendance and participation.
Speaking of feeling sorry, a few years ago I was in another city in another state, as a matter of fact one of the largest cities in California. There were street signs forbidding giving money to people on the streets, I first thought it may have been only unlawful to ask but later I found out that it was just as unlawful to give; helping someone on those streets was not an accepted option and to top it off, they didn’t even have a street paper. I sincerely felt sorry because I couldn’t offer at the least that one option. On my visit to that city, I had taken close to 200 of Seattle’s “Real Change” papers with me and I sold them in a few short days at a “Trader Joe’s” in the city (The days seem shorter when more people are talking with you and less are ignoring you). The good sales came most likely because I had a great product and secondly because I had no competition and the people that bought from me loved and welcomed the entire concept, I even sold to a couple of on duty police officers. I didn’t just sell the Real Change paper; I sold “Real change!!”
On December 11, 1964 in the auditorium of the University of Oslo, Dr. Martin Luther King in his speech titled; ‘Single garment of destiny’ had this to say.
“In the final analysis, the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and poor are tied in a single garment of destiny. All life is interrelated, and all men are interdependent. The agony of the poor diminishes the spirit of the rich, and the salvation of the poor enlarges the rich.” –M.L.K .Jr.
In a society that thrives on information, a good thorough “Street Paper” is one way of being mutually supportive and staying interconnected … Perhaps the most consistent “Richest” things about a large number of the people that buy the street papers is their heart and spirit along with the knowledge of knowing that in buying editions of the publications, they are making a world of a difference in the lives’ of persons that in turn understand, this effort is a “Two way street.”
Street papers have been circulating for a long time; back in 1879 there was a publication called “The War Cry”, created in London by the Salvation Army and sold by the working poor and the officers of the Salvation Army as a way of drawing attention to the deprived living conditions they were up against. The “Cincinnati Hobo News” was also a precursor to the modern Street Paper; from 1915 to 1930 this paper featured stories, artwork, creative writing, and other articles written by social and labor activists, industrial workers, as well as the hoboes and nomadic vagabonds that sold the paper.
Many different Street Papers now are in circulation in several countries all around the world; generating income, crossing social barriers, and giving a voice to our impoverished populations.
“The Big Issue” is a street newspaper that is published in four continents; it is one of the UK’s leading social bisinesses, the magazine is also produced and sold in Australia, Ireland, South Korea, South Africa, Japan, Namibia, Kenya, Malawi and Taiwan, and exists to offer its destitute communities the opportunity to earn legitimate/ lawful incomes. Founded in 1991, the recipient of numerous journalism and social awards, `The Big issue is the world’s most widely circulated street newspaper.
Seattle’s Real Change street newspaper has received national awards for its writing and contents, for raising awareness and providing pertinent information for supporters, vendors, advocates, and everyday concerned readers, most appreciative for the “Candid” facts and information that is usually hidden between, in, and behind, the “Red tape” of most other media sources. Its germane information pretty much gives it the potential to be sold and distributed just about anywhere … in and out of the state.
Some of our worlds Street paper’s offices are fully staffed with journalists, social workers, volunteers, and other needed personnel. The news papers/ publications are produced weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, depending on the organization and its needs, demands, and circulation. Just like any media source the reporters and journalists are always on the ball finding and reporting what is most pertinent/ relevant/ important and applicable for its audience. All while trying to stay focused on the needs of the vendors, helping them to get closer to another exit or re-entry into mainstream society and regaining the solace of just being an average citizen.
According to statistics from 2008, over 30 million people around the world actively read Street papers and over 250,000 deprived, underprivileged, destitute, and homeless people are making significant differences in their lives by selling and distributing them.
“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link”
Hypothetically speaking; perhaps the weaker links in some communities are the ones that are fighting and putting forth an effort to hold it together despite tragedies, downfalls, and an array of bad influences and temptations. With all of the human ingredients/elements intertwined in each link, these communities that provide extra opportunities for their destitute populations have put together collective formulas that are holding them together and making it work for everyone.
Our World’s “Street paper” organizations are grateful for the customers, donors, supporters, and patrons, most whom have created a readership along with relationships with people simply trying to find and maintain some stability in their lives. Thank you for your growing and continued support for helping to sustain us for as long as you have in our efforts of keeping afloat a sinking society.
As for other cities and places that don’t have this or anything else as a worthy option for your destitute communities, whatever your reasoning for not doing so I strongly encourage you to collectively put something together, set criteria’s, offer some perks, just make something happen; your “Entire” community depends on it.
“When the Tide comes in, all ships will rise!!”
~ Paridon Williams, Author/Former Real Change vendor