Tag: Real Change

Street Newspapers Are Struggling To Survive Societal Shutdown

Real Change vendor Shelly Cohen.

The story excerpted here originally appeared at Huffington Post.

One week ago, before Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) issued a “stay at home” order shutting down all but the most “essential” businesses in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the office of Real Change, a street newspaper sold by homeless and low-income people in Seattle, was still bustling.

As one vendor collected papers from a staffer at the walk-up counter, another slipped a copy of the latest edition ― cover line: “SILENT SPRING: The City Shuts Down” ― into its clear plastic display case, upside down. “Because the world is upside down!” said vendor Shelly Cohen.

Nearby, a staffer handed a bowl of chili to a vendor who had just stopped by to take a load off.

But once the stay-at-home order came on March 23, the vendors were left with nothing to do ― and, for many of them, no way to make money.

The weekly paper’s founder, Tim Harris, said the staff had already decided to stop publishing a print edition earlier this month, but had still been letting vendors buy papers to sell on the streets up until the stay-at-home order.

Harris founded the Boston street paper Spare Change News before moving to Seattle and starting Real Change in 1994. This is the first time in the paper’s 26-year history that it’s skipped a scheduled publication date.

A similar story is playing out in cities across the country, where street papers ― newspapers that report on poverty and homelessness, and are sold on the street by low-income or homeless vendors ― are disappearing, as vendors fold their chairs, abandon their perches outside grocery stores and downtown businesses, and vanish.

“Currently, I believe that 100% [of street papers] have either stopped publication or are transitioning into halting their physical” press runs, said Israel Bayer, director of the International Network of Street Papers North America, a bureau of the International Network of Street Papers.

Some, like Real Change, have shifted to online-only publication, but about three-quarters of street newspapers have never had an online edition, and are facing a choice between ceasing publication or adapting quickly. “We usually feature a few of the stories online, but we don’t have a PDF version of our paper, so [publishing online] will be a little bit different,” said Jennifer Seybold, executive director of the monthly Denver Voice.

Brian Carome, CEO of the Street Sense newspaper in Washington, D.C., said he was “adamantly against” the idea of shutting down publication when it came up earlier this month, “because for most of the 130 men and women who sell our newspaper, it’s their only source of income.” Gradually, he said, “we came to the conclusion that, given what’s happening in other cities, that the person-to-person selling of the newspaper was a public health concern ― both for our vendors, many of whom have underlying conditions, and for the public.” This will be the first time in 17 years that the twice-monthly paper has not been published on schedule.

Read the whole story at Huffington Post.

Selling Newspapers In a Ghost Town

This post originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

It’s the middle of the morning on Friday, March 20, and First Avenue in Pioneer Square is, unsurprisingly, a ghost town. The only people out on the streets are people who have to be there, or with nowhere else to be—a few construction guys in vests, a restaurant staffer, and several people wrapped in blankets, sitting on the sidewalk in front of shuttered storefronts.

But around the corner on South Main St., at the offices of street newspaper and homeless advocacy group Real Change, the scene is still bustling, as vendors file in to collect papers at the walkup counter, use the restroom (one of the few that’s still open downtown), and grab paper bowls of chili from a staffer.

Shelly Cohen, a vendor and Real Change board member who can often be found testifying at city hall against homeless encampment sweeps and human-service budget cuts, is preparing to head out with a new stack of the most recent edition. The cover line: “SILENT SPRING: The City Shuts Down.”

Cohen, who sells papers at a PCC store in Bothell Canyon, says his sales are down, but contributions are up, so “my numbers per hour are pretty consistent” so far. “I’m very fortunate that way,” he says. Lately, he’s been displaying the paper upside down—“because the world is upside down right now”—and letting people grab their own papers, and make their own change, from a box underneath his chair.

Real Change director Tim Harris says the paper will keep printing, and the office will stay partially open, until or unless Gov. Jay Inslee issues an order to “shelter in place,” which would close down most nonessential businesses and make one-on-one sales impossible.  In the meantime, Real Change has set up a vendor relief fund, is allowing customers to donate to specific vendors via Venmo, and is preparing to move to online-only publication. The paper is also waiving the usual requirement that vendors buy a certain number of papers to retain the right to sell in a specific spot.

Lisa Sawyer, a vendor who usually sells papers at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Union Street downtown, recently moved to a spot in Greenwood, but sales are way down there, too. She says she’d prefer to be indoors, “taking care of my health and everything, but this is the only way that I could get by. Especially my most of my income is going towards my room that I’m renting right now.” Sawyer has lived outdoors, off and on, for the last seven years; in February, she celebrated one year in her new home.

Like Cohen, Sawyers says some customers are giving more generously, sometimes without asking for a paper in return. “I had a customer that put money in a grocery cart and pushed it [toward me] and said, ‘I don’t need a paper, I’m giving you this to support you. I’ll put it in the cart because I’m practicing my social distance.’ I totally respect that.” Sawyers says she’s been wearing gloves and sanitizing her hands after every sale. “I’m being more cautious, too.”

David, a vendor who preferred to give his first name only, had only sold a handful of papers at his spot on the Ave in the University District on Thursday, and about a dozen the day before that—a huge drop from the 40 or 50 papers per day he usually sells. He says the U District has emptied out—“there’s nothing but homeless people and business owners looking across the street at other business owners.”

The biggest problem David sees right now is that with all the stores and libraries shut down, people have no place to use the restroom. “The University Bookstore is shut down. The library is shut down. Starbucks won’t let you use the restroom.” Mayor Jenny Durkan announced last week that the Human Services Department and Seattle Public Utilities would soon deploy four mobile hygiene trailers that were funded last year and place portable toilets “at locations across Seattle.” As of Friday, according to mayoral spokeswoman Stephanie Formas, SPU was still “working on a detailed plan for locations across the city for each type of facility, budget, and staffing.”

Cohen says the city’s slow rollout of portable toilets (and shelters—so far, the city has promised just 50 new shelter spaces, plus 50 new spots in tiny house villages) shows that, as usual, people experiencing homelessness are simply not a priority for the city. “Where are our port-a-potties? Where are the trailers we fought for and won [in last year’s budget]? That’s what needs to be done, like, now. And it creates work for people [staffing the trailers]. What a concept.”