Wednesday, November 28, 2007
“Homeless season” is the time of the year when everybody suddenly seems to take notice of those less fortunate, notably homeless individuals. Newspapers run more stories about homelessness, particularly on children and families; volunteers flood organizations that serve the homeless hoping to get at least one day in making sandwiches or handing out hygiene supplies; and donations upon donations of clothing come pouring in to all human service nonprofits, regardless of if they can even accommodate such items.
The reason for this sudden recognition of homeless individuals is quite obvious: the holidays are a time of giving and sharing happiness, so people want to give to those who have the least. Also the holidays fall conveniently at the end of the year when the forthcoming tax exemptions from charitable donations are at the top of many people’s minds.
But while all this attention to the homeless population is encouraging, it’s simply far too much of a good thing. Our vendors report becoming overweight because of all the donated food during the holidays. Also during the holidays, I have seen many vendors just throw out sweaters and hats instead of cleaning them because of their abundance at this time. Soup kitchens also throw out and turn away more food than ever during this time. And other service providers say their volunteer rosters for the holiday season are booked months in advance.
All this giving, unfortunately, is also fleeting. Inevitably, at the end of January, when people pack up their holiday decorations for the next year, so, too, do they pack up their giving spirit. Donations of cash and goods suddenly dry up and the volunteer numbers dwindle. And the media coverage of the homeless strangely stops for another 10 months.
Unlike the Christmas lights and holly wreaths, homeless individuals cannot be packed up for next season; they are with us all year long. On any given night – even outside the holiday season – in the D.C. area there are about 12,000 homeless individuals, a little under half of whom are in the District alone.
So as you consider giving your time, goods or funds this holiday season, consider holding off on that gift until another time in the year. Contribute a little extra money in April when you get your tax refund; donate bottled water, t-shirts and fans in July when the hyperthermia season is at its peak; take an extra day of vacation during the summer and spend it serving the homeless. Or better yet, sustain your giving throughout the year. Volunteer to tutor a homeless child once a week, help teach a skills training course once a month, or during your bi-weekly grocery store trip, buy a little extra to donate to the food pantry.
And most nonprofits, including Street Sense, offer automatically recurring deductions when you donate online with a credit card.
Thanks to everyone for thinking of homeless individuals this holiday season. But please, please, keep them in your thoughts, prayers and donations more than just six weeks out of the year.
If you need more information on volunteer opportunities, look at the directory on page 15. You can also contact D.C. Cares for other volunteer opportunities at www.dc-cares.org.
If you would like to volunteer for Street Sense throughout the year, please email Koki Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info. Or if you want to set up recurring donations to Street Sense please visit www.streetsense.org and click on “donate.”
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
It seems like only a few weeks ago that Street Sense co–founder Ted Henson and I were waiting outside the offices of the National Coalition for the Homeless in a cold drizzle with a couple of bundles of papers and a box of bagels, hoping that at least one vendor would come by during the first two hours of Street Sense’s first day in print.
Although the course of events over the last four years seems so compressed, the contrast between where Street Sense was on that drizzly day and where it is now is phenomenal.
Compared to that let–down of our first morning, consider the first day of our Nov. 1, 2007, issue.
Thirty–four different vendors came by to purchase nearly 2,000 papers. Eight vendors even showed up before I got there at 8 a.m.
It’s easy to note the numerical differences in Street Sense then and now, especially over the course of the last year.
In the last year, Street Sense has
• increased the number of papers sold per month by 69%, from approximately 13,000 to 22,000
• raised the average number of vendors each month by 33% to 60 and
• tripled its staff to three people.
Four years ago, we started with 5,000 issues a month, 10 vendors and no paid staff.
While the numerical measurements are important, they are not what truly matters here at Street Sense. The achievements that really matter are the changes in our vendors’ lives and the impact of our news stories.
What matters is that vendor Jeffery McNeil came to Street Sense this summer with empty pockets and hardly any hope, and today he is in a corporate mentoring program and his self-confidence is sky high.
What matters is that the attitude and work ethic at Street Sense inspired vendor Martin Walker to go into a treatment program late this summer to get clean and that he is now working in the trucking industry.
What matters is that through Street Sense, vendor Moyo Onibuje discovered his hidden writing talent. Through a story about him in our paper, he was able to connect to family in England with whom he had not spoken in eight years.
What also matters is that the Street Sense article, “Slow Progress on D.C.’s Homeless Plan,” which cited dozens of unanswered calls to D.C. government officials about what they were doing on the 10-year plan to end homelessness, came out one week before Mayor Adrian Fenty announced he was taking action to increase affordable housing and shelter space.
What matters is that the article “Libraries: The De Facto Day Shelter” prompted the D.C. library system to properly train its staff to deal with homeless patrons.
What also matters is that Street Sense was the first to report on the closing of D.C. Village, the city’s only emergency family shelter, and the first to put the mayor’s promise of apartment-style housing for all the families on record.
These are the real accomplishments of the past year. While numbers matter, these personal and political stories are much more telling.
Such great accomplishments on the service and editorial sides of the paper could not have been possible without the support of our loyal readers and donors, nor without the wonderful volunteers and vendors of Street Sense.
Although our staff has increased three–fold in the last year, we still truly rely on our close network of supporters and volunteers to keep us afloat.
Thanks to everyone for making the last year so successful in many ways. I hope that in the next year Street Sense expands its accomplishments and successes even more and continues to empower the homeless and change public perceptions for the better.
After David retired from a 40-year career in journalism covering the likes of the Supreme Court, he dedicated his time to the more humble matters of homelessness. He started helping out with Street Sense in early 2005 as a volunteer editor, and soon transitioned into volunteering at the office. At the beginning of last year, David joined the Street Sense board of directors.
David came to the office faithfully every Tuesday morning and was known in the office for his helpfulness, his meticulous editing, his Panama hat, his gently rasping voice and his vegetarian diet. David also had a very dry sense of humor. Whether it was a wry comment about August Mallory’s lack of punctuation or an imitation of Conrad Cheek Jr.’s sales pitch, David always knew when to chime in at the right moment.
As he helped out in the office for nearly three years, he got to know many vendors quite well, and had a vested interest in a handful of them.
For the past year, David would purposely arrive about 10 minutes early to his office shift so he could spend time talking to Charles Nelson, the vendor at Metro Center, before coming in. And when Charles was having medical problems, David searched online to find him the appropriate assistance.
As a board member, David will be remembered for his self-effacing manner, his insight and his true commitment to our mission.
I always appreciated that David would carefully read over all the meeting notes and come to meetings armed with questions.
At board meetings, David would often share his Street Sense office experiences and speak on behalf of vendors.
David was also responsible for editing most of our grant proposals and always added his two cents along with many corrections.
What I loved about David, though, was that anyone who talked to David for more than five minutes would inevitably find out about Street Sense.
David was truly passionate about Street Sense and he spread the word whenever he got the chance.
In fact, he was planning to marry his longtime partner Caroline Gabel at the end of November, and in place of wedding gifts, was asking friends and relatives to make a donation to Street Sense.
But David was more than just a board member, volunteer and advocate.
He was also a dear friend. During the summer, when Street Sense was going through a rough time with staffing issues, David was there with an ear to listen and wise words of advice.
We swapped stories about cats, joked about marriage, and got to know each other’s families.
David Pike left his mark on Street Sense and helped make the organization and the world a better place through his efforts.
--Laura Thompson Osuri
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
We are still in shock at the Street Sense office. Please keep David's family, especially his fiancee Caroline, in your thoughts and prayers.
-- Laura Thompson Osuri
Thursday, November 1, 2007
On Oct. 30, at around 3 a.m., an arsonist set fire to a large church room where Miriam’s Kitchen, a homeless services provider, serves meals to the homeless in northwest D.C. Police are investigating.
“Apparently, someone had broken into a window in our dining area...[used] some kind of accelerant like gasoline and lit it,” Scott Schenkelberg, executive director of Miriam’s Kitchen, said.
A sprinkler system in the building had put out most of the blaze by the time firefighters arrived.
"Fortunately, there was relatively minor damage,” Schenkelberg said. “[There was] fire damage and three inches of water from the sprinkler system.”
The kitchen opened its doors about 15 minutes late the next morning as a result of the fire.
“[We’ve] been able to adapt,” Schenkelberg said. Miriam’s Kitchen will try to repair damages outside normal hours of operation to minimize disruption to program guests, he said.
There are no suspects at this time. “Obviously, it’s somebody that needs help,” Schenkelberg said.
Miriam’s Kitchen’s services include breakfast, case management and social services for the chronically homeless.
By Desiree Perez
By Laura Thompson Osuri
From the start Street Sense has been a very grassroots organization, getting input from the homeless people we serve, making decisions on a consensus basis, and taking our successes and challenges one at a time. Consequently, besides a very rough business plan at the start and annual budgets in subsequent years, Street Sense has done very little long–term planning in its four–year existence.
But on Monday, Oct. 24, Street Sense entered the strange new world of strategic planning. For five hours in a very warm conference room, the board and staff of Street Sense tossed around their ideas for the future of our newspaper.
With the help of giant Post–Its, Sharpie markers, a flip chart, and several large and small group discussions, we determined our top goals for the organization.
The goals for 2008 and early 2009 include:
• Hiring an advertising sales manager and formalizing the ad sales program for vendors
• Forming partnerships with other providers to assist vendors in finding jobs, housing, treatment and other help
• Expanding the marketing of Street Sense through public service announcements and other advertising
• Developing the board of directors, including creating committees, adding members and improving transparency
• Expanding content to include suburban news and expanding the vendor network into the suburbs through partnerships with service providers in outlying areas
• Improving internal technology and developing the Web site to make it more interactive for readers and more beneficial to vendors
• Hiring a community development director and editorial assistant
While this planning process made me quite excited about the future, it also showed me there is a lot of work to be done to build a strong foundation for the organization. In the past four years, we have come a long way toward developing a structure for this foundation.
With a strong foundation hopefully in place by 2010, Street Sense will be prepared to creatively expand its outreach by providing vendors with micro–financing options and scholarships, encouraging local teachers to integrate our articles and poetry into their classrooms and holding regular community forums on issues related to poverty.
I am very much looking forward to the next few years of developing Street Sense and building it into an innovative organization that will go even further in accomplishing our mission of empowering the homeless and educating the public. And I definitely think we have the momentum and the commitment from the board, staff, vendors and volunteers to make all of our goals a reality.
So plan to be wowed by Street Sense in the next few years. If you have some ideas of your own for the organization, please share them. Though we might have crossed into the flip chart–world of corporate planning, we have definitely not forgotten our (grass)roots. As always, we seek –– and appreciate — input and feedback from all who are affected by Street Sense.
E–mail any ideas or comments you have on the Street Sense strategic plan to email@example.com.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
The Post, however? Not so generous. There was no money in the budget to pay Melanie for the photo, she was told. So Melanie made the best call she could. As she put it, "Not getting paid for your freelance work: negative $50. Seeing your grandmother's face when she opens the newspaper: priceless :)."
Check out Melanie's photo for the story "District Closing 'Inhumane' D.C. Village" in the Metro section of today's Post. It's on page B2 of the District edition -- in full color and nearly six inches by six inches!
Watch for Melanie's own story on the DC Village closure, and her coverage of the Dalai Lama's visit to N Street Village, the women's shelter, in our Nov. 1 issue.
-- Koki Smith
Friday, October 19, 2007
Thanks to the HTML skills (and infinite patience) of our intern Desiree Perez, you can download entire past issues of Street Sense in PDF form on our Web site streetsense.org. Just click the archives link on our homepage, then choose the year, month and issue you want to read.
It's an easy way to get a little more Street Sense from the comfort of your own home.
P.S. Some pdfs from 2004 and 2005 are not online yet. We're working on it!
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
I was reading an article in the Washington Post the other morning. It caught my attention because it mentioned Skid Row in Los Angeles, and that’s close to where I live.
The article said Skid Row was becoming, well, trendy. L.A. is infamous for its trends and celebrity, but that’s near Hollywood, Beverly Hills or Rodeo Drive – not Skid Row.
What Skid Row is famous – or infamous – for is homelessness, poverty, drugs and crime. That neighborhood, contained by 3rd Street and 7th Street from north to south, and Main Street and Alameda Street from west to east, is tough.
And apparently, it’s exactly that edginess that’s drawing the new influx of trendsetters. Hipsters, art dealers and the rest of the pseudo–counterculture are migrating to the seedy streets of Skid Row in droves, searching for that sketchy bohemian lifestyle.
When I read this, I thought, "Sounds interesting. Maybe I’ll go check it out when I get home." But then a short paragraph caught my eye: it dealt with the displacement of the homeless population in Skid Row. That’s when my experience at Street Sense kicked in.
There are a lot of homeless people in Skid Row. Within its borders, there are roughly half a dozen homeless shelters and transitional housing buildings. Churches do outreach ministry, and even run clean needle distribution centers.
However, as more of the industrialized neighborhood is converted into warehouse lofts for the 20– to 30–somethings with a couple million dollars to burn, the homeless population will be forced to look for aid elsewhere.
What’s even more outrageous is the city’s assessment of the situation. They’ve upped the police force in Skid Row by 50 officers over the last year. The cops, though, seem to have more incentive to hassle the homeless than anything else.
The mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, is drawing attention to the opening of big chain supermarkets in the neighborhood rather than to the fact that more money is spent harassing a vulnerable population than helping them.
It would make a lot more sense to use the funds to expand housing and care programs for the homeless. Instead, that money is used to beef up the police force to kick the homeless out.
What’s more, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton acknowledges the displacement, but brushes it off as a necessary – and minor – problem. "Is there some displacement? Certainly," Bratton said. "But what’s wrong with that in some respects? Why should one square mile of the city be impacted by something that’s effectively a countywide problem?" He continued, "So if there is displacement, all well and good."
Mayor Villaraigosa takes a more compassionate approach, stating that the Safer City Initiative will maintain affordable housing in the places where it is most needed. It’s clear, however, that the burgeoning city renaissance does not include taking care of homelessness. Rather, it sweeps it under the rug and out of Skid Row.
Before working at Street Sense, I would have probably overlooked the bigger picture. The development of Skid Row and the increased police force would have seemed like positive and welcome initiatives. Since becoming familiar with the people and the issues here, though, I’m able to see the real problems at stake.
Desiree Perez is from Corona, Calif., and is a fall intern with Street Sense through the Fund for American Studies.
Monday, October 15, 2007
I began this story in Eugene, Ore. After I arrived in town, I checked into the Best Western hotel before I went out on the town to talk to the area's local homeless community. As the day grew later, I focused on where I would make my first trip. I jotted down some notes and a few questions to ask the people I’d interview.
The next day, I went out into the city. As I left my hotel room, I happened to spot a homeless man near West 1st Avenue. I wanted to talk to him. I went inside a local corner store to buy two sodas and offered this gentleman one. He gladly accepted.
We struck up a pretty good conversation. He said his name was Luther and that he was from Alabama. I could certainly tell from that southern drawl. He told me he came to the west coast to see something different. He said that he had been homeless for eight years. A bad marriage and a lost job caused him to lose his home because he was unable keep up on the mortgage payments.
I told him I was stranded and asked about the local shelters. I didn't tell him I was with a street paper for fear of him running away. I really wanted to talk to him. Luther pointed me in the direction of the Eugene Mission, but it didn't open until 7 p.m. to take in new clients. So it was Luther and me all day. We went all over Eugene and Lane County.
Luther showed me all of the soup kitchens and other homeless hangouts. I actually had a very good time with Luther. He said he was about 60 years old. He has stayed at the Eugene Mission from time to time. While Luther and I were hanging out, I saw an all too familiar scene: the homeless carrying around sleeping bags and blanket rolls. Overall, however, the homeless situation didn't seem as bad as it was in D.C., Seattle, or Los Angeles. The numbers did not seem as high in Eugene.
As it grows later, Luther and I make our way back to the Mission. I decide to check in for dinner and have a nice evening meal, and what a meal it was. Even breakfast the next day was delicious. There was bacon, eggs, ham, milk, pastries, doughnuts, juices and all sorts of cereals and fruits. For a minute, I thought I was eating at Miriam’s Kitchen in D.C.
Then we were sent on our way to do what ever. I met up with Luther again and we hung out some more.
The weather was chilly, but not viciously cold. To get out of the elements, Luther and I went to the public library downtown to read newspapers and keep warm until the shelter opened up again. This is exactly what I used to do when I was living on the streets. The public library was the place to go when the weather got too cold.
We roamed around the library looking at books and reading papers from other cities for a while. Then we just sat and talked. Luther was very hurt by losing his wife and family. His wife left him and he had no idea where she went. He really poured his heart out.
As we talked we saw the local police roust homeless people for sitting in one place too long.
I wanted to make a call to Mayor Kitty Piercy's office. Harassment of the homeless is in every city and needs to stop.
I understand private property, but a city park bench should not be taken away just because a person is homeless. I see dividers on park benches to keep the homeless from sleeping on them, but the homeless will sleep on them anyway.
As I continue my story from Eugene the drama carries on. Tempers flare at the American Red Cross shelter—living in close quarters just isn’t for everybody.
Coming up next month: I attempt to talk to More Betterman from Eugene, Oregon. Please tune in on WOL-AM1450 the More Betterman Show.
August Mallory was the first vendor for Street Sense. He now lives in Seattle and is on the board of directors for Real Change, the Seattle street paper.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
You may have noticed the nifty new box on our Web site that asks if you'd like to join our mailing list. Every two weeks, we'll send the top stories from the latest Street Sense issue right to your inbox. We won't spam you, honest. In fact, our e-mail service makes us promise up and down and sideways that every person on our mailing list is absolutely, positively sure he or she wants to receive our newsletters. You can always unsubscribe if you don't like what you read.
So, c'mon. Sign up. Get Street Sense in your inbox. And if you like what you read, buy a paper from your favorite vendor. Your dollar will help a homeless person earn an income with dignity.
-- Koki Smith
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Click here to check up on your favorite vendors, see who has joined our ranks, and get to know the stories behind the faces of Street Sense.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
We've also created a Causes application on Facebook. Add our button to your profile to help support our paper and raise online donations.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
Ivory usually sells papers at the corner of 7th and E streets, NW, and recently published a poem about his regular customers. One of them, a local writer, recently blogged about her impressions of Ivory and her struggle to reconcile their friendship with his past as a pimp. Read her post here.
Read Ivory's latest short story, about a merciless genie in a lamp, here.
And click here to read more about Ivory's colorful past.
Friday, August 31, 2007
Melanie Lidman, a senior at the University of Maryland, College Park, is fluent in Spanish and Hebrew and writes for the Hyattsville Life & Times and for her school paper, The Diamondback. Melanie was a big help for our Aug. 15 issue, coming by to help Street Sense vendor and photographer Cliff Carle download his photographs and write his captions.
Desiree Perez joins us from Riverside Community College in California through the internship program at Georgetown University’s Institute on Political Journalism. She’s the co–founder of an independent music and art magazine in Corona, Calif., and the opinions editor of her school paper. She arrived from California last night. Today, while visiting the Street Sense office with her dad, Desiree jumped in to help. She photographed Street Sense vendor Patty Smith with actress Charlayne Woodard, who plays Katherine in the Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of The Taming of the Shrew, for our Sept. 15 issue.
Matt Johnson, a senior at the University of Maryland, College Park, writes for the Greenbelt News Review and The Black Explosion and spent last summer coordinating a team of 20 editors for the Washington Spark. Matt also participated in a journalism program last summer in Hong Kong. Matt's been volunteering as a writer for Street Sense for a while. You can find his story on a clean-up effort at Franklin School Shelter in our Aug. 31 issue. Matt came in earlier this week to work on his story.
Our talented, intrepid interns will put in between 15 and 30 hours a week at Street Sense, covering news around town, writing, editing and proofreading stories, helping design the newspaper and updating our Web site and this blog. Please wish them a warm welcome and a fulfilling experience on our team! We're delighted at their enthusiasm and energy and expect great things this fall.
– Koki Smith
Thursday, August 23, 2007
You may have read Lance Cheslock's editorial and a vendor's accompanying testimonial in our current issue about being bitten by bedbugs at Franklin School Shelter. And you may have read in our July 15 issue how the residents at the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA complained of bedbugs in their rooms and managed to get city inspectors out to the property.
But in all fairness, bedbugs can be anywhere. According to this NPR story, they're making a comeback, hitching rides on suitcases or used furniture or nestling down into your mattress.
Exterminator Richard Kramer tells NPR he found one of the first new infestations in a Washington, D.C. hotel in 1998. "And ever since then, it's been exponentially increasing — that's the only way to describe it," Karmer said.
There is some good news: "Bedbugs aren't venomous, they don't spread dangerous disease, and they aren't linked to filth or moral decay," the story says. But Kramer agrees they're "creepy." "'They live in your bed,' he says. 'I mean, having your wife in your bed, your husband in your bed — but having your bedbug in your bed?'"
NPR's Jamie Rosen talked to Dini Miller, a pest management specialist at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., to get recommendations on how to keep bedbugs out. Random fact: apparently you can kill the bugs by freezing them for a week. Read her advice here.
(This post has been edited and originally quoted more extensively from the NPR story.)
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
"Out of curiosity, I picked up a copy of Street Sense this week. Until now I'd been walking by vendors near Whole Foods and the Dupont Metro almost daily. I'm happy to share that it appears to be a legitimate paper backed by a great pro-homeless organization. (Admittedly, I had originally expected to deride the publication as a load of bunk, and my motivation for purchasing Street Sense was mostly to provide fodder for this blog.)
"What's very cool about Street Sense is that 75 cents on the dollar goes to the person selling it. All of the vendors are indeed homeless who work as independent contractors, and some also serve as contributing writers. I was very pleased to learn that this paper has provided a more dignified alternative to panhandling as a source of income for those on the streets.
"The organization itself is an above-board 501 (c)3. (I haven't conducted any serious investigative journalism, but I have confirmed that they are listed by the IRS as a non-profit.) Page two of the paper gives a full disclosure of their donors, vendor code of conduct, board members, contact information, mission, and editorial policy. Better still, the inside back page is used for a "Community Service Index" of shelters, food banks, and other services for the homeless.
"The content mostly relates to issues of concern for the homeless and low-income communities such as the location for the new Central Union Mission and Fenty's poverty agenda. For those who are not personally involved in issues of social justice or homeless advocacy, it could be a little overwhelming to regularly read the biweekly paper. But perhaps it could be an occasional alternative to passing time on the Metro with the Express."
Considering the Express comes out every day and we come out every two weeks, serving as "an occasional alternative to the Express" works for us. It sure beats being mistaken for "a load of bunk" any day.
We'll get more such conversions as more people become aware of our unique publication. We're at nearly 11,000 readers per issue and counting. Please spread the word!
-- Koki Smith
We’ve taken some steps to remedy this, although we have a long way to go. We’ve updated the organizational information on the site, www.streetsense.org, and reactivated our blog, where we’ll be posting fresh content, including videos, anecdotes and newsy tidbits, about three times a week. Check it out at www.streetsenseoffice.blogspot.com or visit www.streetsense.org and click on the nifty little application that streams our blog entries straight to the main page. It’s called a blidget in geekspeak, I believe.
We’ve also begun to track our site traffic for the first time, so that we can better monitor the popularity of individual pages and better understand our online readership. So if you visit, we’ll be watching you.
We’ve also taken some first steps toward improving our online outreach. We’ve beefed up our Wikipedia entry, so that readers of the online encyclopedia will leave better informed. And we’re exploring ways to use social networking sites like Facebook to market our events and products, like our annual reception and silent auction on Sept. 27. And soon, we’ll be offering readers the ability to sign up for paper subscriptions online.
I’ll be the first to admit we could be using our site, www.streetsense.org, a lot more to develop vendors’ voices, tell stories in multimedia, encourage reader interactivity, build a subscriber base and provide a comprehensive newspaper archive. We hope to completely revamp it to do all these things. But we need your help.
We need feedback on how we can make www.streetsense.org easier to use and navigate, and how to make its content meaningful to regular readers of the paper. We’d eventually like to redesign it and move to a content management system that would allow users with no HTML skills to make updates.
Until then, I and volunteer Jake Geissinger will continue to update the site by coding each page by hand – and continue to curse the bug in our server that lets us upload an updated page only once every 24 hours. Sometimes, as a result, we have to live with mistakes or broken links on the site for an entire day because of this bug. It’s not an ideal situation here at www.streetsense.org.
If you were counting, you’d see I used our Web site address no less than five times in this little space. It’s a catchy little url. Please visit it and tell us how we can do better.
We welcome your e-mails at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Koki Smith
Friday, August 17, 2007
“Daniel was awarded this honor because of his dedication to the Street Sense newspaper. Arriving a week before the program even began to start his internship, Daniel saw his internship not as just a job but as a service to the homeless of the D.C. area,” Jessica Taylor, a program assistant with the Institute on Political Journalism, explained. “Daniel showed a true passion for print journalism, but more importantly [he] demonstrated how important it was to tell the stories of those the mainstream media often overlooks.”
Daniel, who often described his experiences with the homeless community to his classes, was chosen out of 65 print interns in the program. The program is sponsored by the Fund for American Studies and Georgetown University.
Daniel is only the second intern the Institute on Political Journalism has assigned to Street Sense, so our 2-to-1 award rate ain’t too shabby!
But seriously, we here at Street Sense are very proud of Daniel and know he will go far as a journalist. We wish him the best as he returns for his junior year at Abilene Christian University.
James, who has served on the board before, said he's excited about being back. He said, grinning, "Let's get this paper moving!" See Tuesday's blog post for Leslie Couch's video on James' life or just click here.
The board of directors will hold a strategic planning retreat in October. Ideas and suggestions for Street Sense's long-term growth are welcome. Please e-mail us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Street Sense board members are:
Robert Egger, president
Ted Henson, co-founder of Street Sense
-- Koki Smith
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Friday, August 10, 2007
I was given the distinct privilege and honor to read the poem, “What I Want For Christmas,” by David Harris. We were treated to a stirring performance by Don Gardner of his poem, “The Streets” which aroused the emotions of the audience. Poet James Davis gave a memorable rendition of his creation titled “Skyward” and the magnificent David Harris chose his poem “Kindness” to recite. His poems must be experienced by the individual reader in order to feel the full force of his creations. The man is talented beyond words.
The event was intended to make people think about what they could do to give service to the disadvantaged and poverty-stricken persons in our community, and how we could create awareness of those conditions among the general public.
Look for other events sponsored by the National Community Church. I do believe that they are beneficial to this and many other communities.
-- Jesse Smith
Thursday, August 9, 2007
Street Sense is participating in the Week of Social Justice sponsored by National Community Church and other local churches. For Urban Poverty night on August 9, we will have vendors -- including the elusive David Harris -- read poetry from our book Street Verses at Senate Park, located at North Capitol Street between D Street and Constitution Avenue, just a block south of Union Station.
So if you live near by and/or are looking for something to do on Thursday night, please stop by to hear some great poetry and also learn more about urban poverty in D.C.
Saturday, August 4, 2007
Sponsored by Street Roots, Portland’s street paper, and the Society of Professional Journalists, the conference helped more than 40 writers, editors and volunteers from 19 papers across the U.S. and Canada share ideas and best practices for improving fundraising, editorial content and organizational planning.
The papers spanned a wide spectrum: from Real Change, the Seattle-based weekly paper which sells nearly 50,000 copies every month, to Street Corner, a 1,000-circulation monthly paper based in Vancouver, British Columbia, to the Denver Voice, a new paper to launch in Colorado in August.
All share the goal of promoting public awareness of poverty and homelessness while providing opportunities for homeless vendors to earn an income. But most employ widely differing formats, printing quality and editorial philosophies, as Koki learned much to her fascination.
Our very own Laura, who serves as the association’s president, was re-elected to the board for another two years at the conference.
The 28 papers of the North American Street Newspaper Association reach nearly 300,000 people each month. The association recently partnered with the International Network of Street Papers, based in Glasgow, Scotland, to share resources and content. The resulting Street News Service, a compilation of stories from street papers across the world, reaches nearly 32 million people each month. Street Sense is a frequent contributor to the service.
The next North American street paper conference is scheduled for 2009 so that members can attend the international conference, to be held in either Australia or Scotland, next year.
Friday, August 3, 2007
Since that transition time, he has continued to shine, writing a half-dozen quality stories, attending several last-minute press conferences and helping lay out half the issue for the past five issues. And during his last week, he plans to create several new videos for a Street Sense YouTube site he created.
Daniel will be sorely missed here at Street Sense, but with two new interns starting in the fall, hopefully we can fill at least part of his shoes. We wish him all the best when he goes back to Abilene Christian University and want him to know he will not be forgotten.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
With half-opened eyes and a folded Street Sense newspaper in his right hand, Charles stood silently at the 13th Street exit while daily hordes of downtown workers walked past him.
He doesn’t say much and is easy to miss, but every morning Charles is there with a handful of papers, a Street Sense badge and a tired face.
Had it not been for my internship at Street Sense this summer, I probably would not have noticed Charles. I would have walked by with the crowd, never knowing what Street Sense was or who was behind the small newspaper. And I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to witness the power this small newspaper has to turn a broken man or woman on the streets into someone with hope.
While other students in my internship program, Georgetown University’s Institute on Political Journalism, may be able to brag about covering Capitol Hill, interviewing politicians and landing front page bylines, I can tell my friends back home about the homeless men and women like Charles I met and will never forget.
At Street Sense, I interviewed panhandlers, hounded the mayor’s office with questions about the 10-year plan to end homelessness and covered presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) speech on how he planned to battle urban poverty.
But the biggest achievement I have made this summer is learning that homelessness is a real problem in this country. Thanks to the readers, writers and producers of Street Sense, it is a problem that is no longer overlooked by the media.
Every stereotype I ever had about homeless people, homelessness and poverty was thrown out the window after my work at Street Sense. And although the past two months sped by, a part of me feels like I’ll always belong at Street Sense.
I cannot thank Executive Director Laura Thompson Osuri and Editor Koki Smith enough for having faith in me and giving me the opportunity to use my skills to help Street Sense.
I will miss our small office. When I come back to visit, I hope I’ll be greeted by an old friend at the top of the Metro Center exit, selling the latest edition of Street Sense.
Thanks for the great summer, Street Sense.
-- Daniel Johnson
So this is just a reminder to NEVER buy a paper from a vendor without a Street Sense badge. Please also make sure to check the date of the paper you buy.
If a badged vendor does sell you an old issue, or you see a person selling Street Sense without a badge, please report them to us immediately at email@example.com or (202) 347-2006.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
You can read the article here(scroll down past the first story).
After three months of solid practice, four of the five regular members of the team put their skills to the test during a mini-tournament in Charlotte, N.C., at the end of July. Though the competition was stiff, goalie Maurice King (of the Maurice Speaks column) and field players Michael Knight, Eric Olander and Larry Hudson put on a great show. They also really improved their skills over the course of three days.
The D.C. team even got to kick the ball around with the U.S. National Street Soccer Team in Charlotte and on the National Mall in D.C. a week earlier. They also scrimmaged with the coaches and organizers from D.C., including myself, Phillip Ruzycki, Megan Hustings, Aaron Hannah and Brad Terry.
The U.S. national street soccer team is now headed to Copenhagen, Denmark, for the Homeless World Cup, where they hope to do much better than their 46th out of 48 ranking last year. For more information on the Homeless World Cup, visit www.homelessworldcup.org.
The D.C. team plans to continue practice throughout the winter and is looking for an indoor league to join and/or an indoor space to practice. If you have space or a league to recommend, or if you are interested in joining the team and are homeless or formerly homeless, please contact Laura at 202-347-2006 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
And look for the Homeless USA Cup to come to D.C. in May 2008, sponsored by Street Sense and the National Coalition for the Homeless!
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Congratulations are in order for Jake Ashford, a veteran vendor of Street Sense, who has landed a job at Insight Global in Chantilly, Va. After a long and trying search, he will finally be starting full-time employment. He will be helping out with warehouse shipping and receiving. He is excited to finally get into a work routine, and would like to thank all his customers for supporting him over the years. Even though he will be working 40 hours, he still plans on selling Street Sense at his favorite spot at Whole Foods on P Street.
Ivory the Writer
Ivory Wilson, a Street Sense vendor of six months, has caught the writing bug and is now writing about three stories a week for Street Sense. The first of his many stories, the coming-of-age short story "Black and White," ran in the last issue and this current issue includes the exciting thriller "Don’t Answer the Phone." Others in the works include "Black Cowboy," "The Fat Rat Under Union Station," and "Stacy from Malibu." He has also recently written several poems including an ode to his customers at 7 and E streets, NW.
Street Sense is publishing a piece of Ivory’s fiction each issue, but he is well ahead of the game already. After self-publishing his first full-length book, "A Player’s World," he is looking for a person or company to help publish his short stories in a compilation or someone to help him flesh out one of the stories into a full-length book.
The Heat is On
With the terribly hot weather in the past few weeks, please be mindful of the vendors that have to be out in the heat in order to earn an income. They do their best to find a shady spot and dress in lightweight clothes, but anything you as customers could do to help them stay cool would be much appreciated. The occasional bottle of water or cold drink is always welcome, as are a simple hand fan or sweat towel.
And all of us here at Street Sense would like to thank Rita Monjardino, an office volunteer at Street Sense for the last eight months, and wish her the best of luck as she heads back to her home in London. Not only was she a top-notch office volunteer on the dreaded Monday morning shift, but she was also the voice of vendor Martin Walker’s girlfriend on the first few episodes of StreetSense TV.
As she cannot continue to lend her voice to StreeSense TV once back in London, Martin conveniently dumps Rita for another woman in episode four. But we here at Street Sense will never dump Rita and will always welcome her back!
Less than 40 feet away, another lounge looked emptier and somehow different. There were far fewer travelers but they were all in a deep, stretched-out sleep. They had surprisingly little luggage, if you could call their few plastic bags luggage. Where were these people going with their beat-up looking CVS bags?
I hesitated. An unwashed smell drifted by.
They weren’t catching a train. They were homeless. They were catching up on their sleep under these fluorescent lights, using their hands or a balled-up shirt for a pillow.
Less than a month ago, I would probably have sat somewhere else. This Thursday, two weeks after I took over as editor of Street Sense, I mentally shrugged and settled into a stretch of empty seats, taking care to avoid the source of the smell.
It made me think of “Gotta Go,” the pilot episode of Street Sense TV, a 13-part series put together by a homeless crew that’s due to air on District cable this fall. “Gotta Go” illustrates a devastatingly simple problem: where do you go to the bathroom if you’re homeless? And how do you avoid smelling bad if you don’t have a regular place to wash and change your clothes?
Less than a month ago, I would not have looked as deeply at the people stretched out around me and wondered about their daily rituals of survival. I’ve never been homeless. But since joining Street Sense, I’ve been doing some serious learning.
Some of the learning has been professional, like taking an intensive weekend class in New York City to learn our page-layout program, or attending workshops on affordable housing at a homelessness conference on Capitol Hill.
But much of the learning has been based on personal interactions with the vendors and volunteers who frequent our little office in the Church of the Epiphany every day.
So far, I’ve found Street Sense to be a unique little animal, more challenging and multitudinous than any place I’ve worked in my 12 years in journalism. I’ve learned creative ways to survive when our computer network crashes and we have no technical help available in the face of a looming printer deadline.
I’ve re-learned that powerful storytelling and beautifully fragile poetry can come from unexpected sources. I’ve understood that despite their best intentions, sometimes people will break promises and let each other down. But I’ve also seen them try to rise again.
I think of Walt Whitman when I think of Street Sense.
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you…
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then, I contradict myself.
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
-- Koki Smith
Monday, July 2, 2007
Vendors Herman Lee Mayse and James Davis have recently become employed with established organizations. Lee Mayse secured a position as an assistant in the Food and Nutrition Services Department with the George Washington University Hospital. This is a part-time position with benefits. Lee says the position is perfect as his medical condition does not allow him to work 40 hours per week. He said it allows him to pace himself and to concentrate on improving his health. His appearance is certainly a testimony to that fact. He says he will still sell Street Sense when time is available. That idea is right in line with our Vendor Code of Conduct.
Another vendor, James Davis, is now working for Ritz Camera. James recently returned to the Street Sense family approximately two months ago and has used his connections to attract the manager of the store to offer him a position. He also intends to sell the paper when he is not working at the store.
These two gentlemen set an example we hope many other vendors will follow. Congratulations, guys, we are very proud of you.
Vendor Muriel Dixon took the initiative to pursue the Goodwill Training program to get a better job. She got it. She pressed forward to get a better place. She got it. And she prayed to get a car. You guessed it, she has it. Someone who will remain nameless for this issue took note of all the hard work and life changes Muriel had made and presented her with a car with one condition, and that was that she get new tires and tags. The last time I spoke to Muriel she was on her way to the DMV. I don't know about you, but I am going to double up on my prayers.
Street Sense held a book launch on June 24 for its poetry book, “Street Verses,” at the coffeehouse Busboys and Poets. We had a grand time. Brenda Karyl Lee-Wilson, James Davis, Conrad Cheek Jr. and I had the opportunity to present some of the poems in the book. I recited two creations authored by David Harris. They were “What I want for Christmas” and “Pride.”
The best presentation in my estimation was by Conrad Cheek Jr. for his poem “The Upper Echelon of the Homeless.” This poem not only had to be heard but the visual experience was something to behold. His use of the term “Street Sense” drove home the enormous talent that this man possesses. In addition to the poetry, clips from the first episode of Street Sense TV were presented by our own star-in-residence, Martin Walker. I can say that they are extremely well-done. Watch out Sundance Film Festival, Street Sense T.V. is on the horizon.
We are truly fortunate to have a wonderful replacement editor for Charles Jackson. Her name is Kaukab Smith, nicknamed Koki. She has a pleasing personality and will make a great fit with Street Sense. Again welcome, Kaukab, we hope your stay will be a long and pleasant one.
-- Jesse Smith
Sunday, July 1, 2007
Consequently, the past few weeks have been rather crazy around the Street Sense office and inside my head as well. (Last month was also marred by one of our formerly homeless volunteers using the Street Sense credit card to steal $3,000 of computer merchandise, but that's another story all together.) But thanks to the help of all our wonderful volunteers and the outstanding Street Sense board of directors, we were able to get through it all, with me still have (most of) my sanity in place.
Despite the nuttiness, I think Charles departure is for the better, and the timing – in retrospect – could not have been more perfect. On Friday June 23, we hired a new editor, Kaukab “Koki” Smith, who has some wonderful ideas and great energy and thankfully could start right away.
And on Sunday June 24, we had a thank you reception for our volunteers and top donors. The event also was to promote our new poetry book “Street Verses” and including some powerful readings from vendors. While the reception was in honor the support over the last year, it really was appropriate to close out the last month when every volunteer and board member really stepped up in all ways.
The Monday after Charles left, I sent an email around to all the volunteers, letting them know, and I got 22 responses from volunteers offering to help out in anyway from rewriting stories to helping to organize the office. Below is just one of them that illustrates our volunteers' dedication:
So sorry to hear the news! That's pretty unbelievable. Hang in there!
I'm at a crunch time with work, but let me know if I can help and I'll try to get it done.
In fact, in my email, I mentioned that we needed a last book review done, and five different people offered to review it, including one who already read the book.
Also, Street Sense could not have come out successfully these past two issues without the help of our fabulous summer intern Daniel Johnson. Thankfully he started helping out at Street Sense two weeks before his internship began. This was critical as he got to meet Charles and see what we are about before being thrown into writing a last minute article, laying out half the paper, and making all final editing changes to the paper.
I could personally have not made it through this last month without the support of the dedicated Street Sense board of directors. They offered up their support and shared stories of other their experience with employing jumping ship last minute. I appreciated comments like “I would work for you and wouldn't mind you being my boss,” and “It clearly wasn't meant to be and perhaps the absolutely most perfect person is now waiting in the wings.”
Boardmemer and co-founder Ted Henson was a lifesaver, helping with coordinating the editing process for the June 15 issue. Boardmember John Snellgrove really stepped up to help logistically pull off the thank you reception and poetry event. And all the board member really came through in force with the financial support for the thank you reception and future operations.
And obviously I would be remiss not to mention the help and encouragementfrom vendor manager Jesse Smith. Though this last month included a few rough days with him as well, we have pulled through it all and the organization and Jesse are looking to be much better off for it.
With this large network of support, Street Sense has made it through a rough month and is finally on the up and up. And I am finally looking forward to see what the next few week will hold.
As our board president Robert Egger told me when everything seemed bleak for Street Sense a few weeks ago: “It'll be a rough climb, but if we work together we can climb out of this ditch and build and even stronger Street Sense.”
And, indeed, with our dedicated volunteers, staff and board, a stronger Street Sense is where we are at. -- LAURA
Friday, June 1, 2007
We acknowledge the American Bar Association, especially Eric Modavan, for generously donating canvas brief cases and carrying bags, which will be distributed to our vendors. This donation will be very valuable in reducing the replacement of damaged papers due to the ever-changing weather conditions. Thank you very much.
Warning Vendors and Customers
Please notify us of anyone you may suspect anyone who is not a certified Street Sense vendor. There have been a number of cases reported persons selling our newspaper acting in a manner contrary to the attitudes of our vendors or the training they’ve received. These bogus vendors have been reportedly selling back issues as current. We ask the customer to examine the date on the paper before you make the purchase. The dates would indicate either the first or the 15th of the current month. Legitimate vendors can be easily identified by the photo badge or the bright yellow Street Sense vest. If in doubt, please do not purchase papers from that person. Call the Street Sense office at (202) 347-2006 if you have any concerns.
Street Sense TV
I am happy to say that the Street Sense TV project is alive and well. I had the privilege of viewing some of the skits of the first episode. They are quite interesting. The most satisfying aspect is the professionalism of the participants who are all homeless. What I viewed was in its raw stages, and if that is any indication of what is to come, we certainly have a winner.
Vendor Chris Sellman who has been with us for nine months, has decided to return to Minnesota. He has been a valuable member of the Street Sense team both as a vendor and our resident computer geek. We use this term in an affectionate manner because he has an uncanny knack to solve many of our system problems without any formal training. This can be considered another blow to the stereotype of homeless people lacking skills, formal or otherwise. In addition to being an active vendor, Chris served as a member of the National Coalition for the Homeless Speakers Bureau. He was the treasurer for Until You are Home Inc., and just a very nice guy. Chris, we wish you all the best and hope you do well. Good luck!
Attention All Vendors
Please register your birthday with staff at the Street Sense office. We’d like to recognize the occasion as well as issue you 20 free papers in your honor. Any vendor needing a canvas bag to carry papers should check with Laura, Charles or Jesse.
Monday, January 22, 2007
Thanks to the help of many volunteers around the office, including David Hammond, we at Street Sense strongly encourage the vendors to put their thoughts to paper. When they start ranting about conditions in the shelter or treatment they get in the public because they are homeless or a kind gesture a customer offered, we respond with, "You should really write about that for the next issue." And many of the vendors usually take us up on this offer.
For this issue I hand a thick folder filled with legal pad paper and white printer paper, all covered with hand written articles and editorials from vendors. A few were turned in via e-mail, but the majority of vendors still prefer the old fashion way of writing.
And the thought and effort that went into these pieces was amazing. Brenda Lee-Wilson spend a whole day composing her piece about the inaugural events for the mayor, checking the dictionary often for spelling and synonyms and occasionally asking to anyone in the office that was there for a better way to say certain phrase. And while Cliff Carle dictated his thank you piece to me and read it over after I was through, he came back twice with changes and additions he thought of later in the day. And Jake spent a good four hours comprising his Pathways piece, listening over and over to his interview on tape and calling the organizations several times to check and recheck information he had heard during his interview with its director.
The scene in the office the Friday before the new issue came out was a true hardworking newsroom. Myself, Jesse, Brenda and Cliff were all writing away getting pieces ready for the paper. And it was particularly amusing because Cliff was on picture duty for the "Thank You" picture. And every time a vendor would come in he would ask, "Do you have second to take a picture with an H?" or whatever letter we were on, and the vendor would then stare and Cliff confused and Cliff would then try and explain the photo idea we had.
With all the vendor involvement this month, the issue was much fun to put together and it also made me realize that our vendors can do just about anything when it comes to writing, especially if something they care deeply about.
So look forward to many more vendor pieces in the upcoming months and hopefully we will do another all vendor issue in the not too distant future, LAURA
Monday, January 8, 2007
See, during all that time when most everyone was relaxing, gorging on Christmas cookies and spending quality time with family and friends, we here at Street Sense were working hard to raise money so we could indeed go semi-monthly and meet our goal of 2 by 2/2 (that's two issue by Feb. 2, 2007.)
And I am happy to report that we were indeed successful as of Friday Jan. 5 we surpassed our goal of raising $22,500 and we did it in a month and a half. So come February 2, 2007, Street Sense will indeed be releasing its first of many, many more second issues each month.
I am excited and also nervous about this huge step Street Sense will be taking. It means a lot more income for vendors but it also means lots more work for me and all of the already hard working Street Sense volunteers and vendor writers.
But to help with this work load we are currently in the process of hiring a full-time editor. I expected a good deal of response from the "editor wanted" ad I put on journalismjobs.com as if I was looking at the websites postings, (as I often did before coming fulltime to Street Sense) I would find the job appealing, but I honestly never expected the surge of applications that came. I already have about 30 applications in hand, and most are from very qualified candidates with years of experience, coming from quality paper like the Houston Chronicle and the Legal Times.
And its very exciting and heartwarming to read their cover letters. Professional journalist are talking about this one job a scrappy street paper in DC being their dream job, a perfect merging of their career and calling, and an experience they have been looking for for years. Its great that so many people in the professional media world really do respect a publication like Street Sense and want to be a part of it to make it better.
So, now its onto reviewing resumes. Its a tough task ahead. So far I have narrowed it down to about seven candidates but still there is a lot of analysis ahead.
Anyway, big things are to come for Street Sense and I am truly excited. Me and Jesse have passed along the official "2 by 2/2" word along to vendors and everyone is giddy. They are bursting to tell their customers and plotting with other vendors about how to take advantage of this new opportunities. And I cannot wait to see what else the 2 by 2/2 news produces!