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Voices From the Streets

by Carrie Swiggum 

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The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allocated $1.5 billion “for homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing activities.” New temporary shelters are cropping up in vacant foreclosed properties. The capitol building in Madison, WI has opened its doors to homeless residents (until 6 pm that is, and then they have to find somewhere else to sleep).

The burgeoning homeless population has been getting more attention in the media lately. More often we hear about homelessness issues through politicians or religious organizations. What we never hear or read areSpare Change the homeless speaking for themselves. Now is as good a time as ever to listen to what they have to say.

Spare Change News (blog available on-line), is a fortnightly street paper written by a mix of formerly homeless and freelancers and sold by generally homeless vendors in the Cambridge, Massachusetts area. James Shearer, co-founder of the paper and once a homeless vendor turned board president says on-line: new regulations for homeless families in MA have less funding but one good thing is that "the regulations have also been revised to allow minors to stay in shelters with their families, wheareas before they could not."

Street Spirit (current issue not on-line) is a monthly publication by the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization covering “Justice News & Homeless Blues in the Bay Area.” Inside the current issue is a piece reporting a National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty finding that 40 percent of families facing eviction due to foreclosure are not homeowners, but renters.

The North American Street Newspaper Association counts 27 papers from 14 U.S. states and 4 Canadian Provinces with a combined monthly circulation of over 287,000. The NASNA provides workshops and professional advice to vendors about improving content and day-to-day operations.

The International Network of Street Papers website profiles 98 papers from around the world, each trying to “create employment for homeless people,” and letting the disenfranchised have a voice--whether they are from America, Malawi or Iraq.

Utne Reader wrote "The Word on the Curb" in a Sep/Oct 2000 article and gives a brief history of street papers and highlights a few that have inspired other start-ups.  

Besides articles written on topics that concern their communities, these papers are also filled with: poetry, photos of men and women pushing over-flowing shopping carts and sitting on sidewalks, directories of organizations providing services, and of course a sodoku and crossword puzzle.

street spirit resizedIn her poem, "Thread," Joan Clair writes:

To hold onto life

by a thread

is not weak.

A thread is

amazingly strong

and lasts long.

Sources: Spare Change NewsHomeless Empowerment ProjectStreet Spirit, American Friends Service Committee, National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, The International Network of Street PapersNorth American Street Newspaper Association 

 (Thanks, Journal Sentinel.)

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