Joe Jackson was my Street Sense vendor yesterday. He is a tall skinny Black man with not great teeth. He stood in front of the Best Buy in his yellow vest and ID badge around his neck to show he is an authorized seller of the newspaper Street Sense. He also had on a tall green Seussian hat with stars on it in honor of approaching St. Patrick’s Day, and he had acquired a battery operated microphone that he was using to hawk his papers, greet passers-by, and even to hail a cab for someone.
Street Sense is a newspaper written by homeless people. There is an office with some staff, some interns and volunteers. The paper is written by those staff and by the homeless clients. The vendors buy copies of the paper for 50 cents each and sell them for $2 each. While many, like me, pay more than that, the vendor is not allowed to ask for more. They adhere to strict guidelines that keep them from being panhandlers, pressuring or deceiving people. (Although a few years back a vendor was discovered to be selling drugs to our local high school students, so of course it is not so simple.)
I buy Street Sense to support the homeless people in my neighborhood in this small way. I admire the program. But I also read it.
This issue has cover stories about a library closed for renovation that was an important place many homeless individuals used as a warm safe space with access to bathrooms and computers. Also about a federal housing bill and an interesting article about eviction companies using homeless day laborers to evict others- there’s an ethical dilemma for you! And also on the front page- “March 8 is International Women’s Day- Let’s talk challenges of poverty and periods. “ Yes- you read that right. Imagine having your period and no reliable bathroom or laundry access or money for supplies.
You get the picture. It’s real and kind of raw. And then you open up the paper further to read the Opinions, comics, and creative writing. Reflections on deaths of loved ones, Trump’s first 100 days, and depression. Poetry and pencil sketches. Historical and religious musings. “Proud of My Brother part 2.” A short piece by one man about where he finds warm spots to sleep and how “I been surviving although sometimes I feel like dying. But God won’t let me. I gotta think I must be one of his angels.”
It occurs to me to compare this writing community with the one we are a part of at Two Writing Teachers. In both communities, the writing is varied in subject, genre and quality. Honest. But while we are in a supportive cocoon with warm commenters, these Street Sense authors put it all out there – they live on the street and their writing is for sale on the street.
Whenever I buy Street Sense I tell my vendor that I enjoy reading it. I want them to know I am buying it to read, not to donate and trash it. I want to support the writers.