Friday, August 31, 2007

Welcome to our new interns!

We are delighted to welcome three new interns for the fall! They'll start their internships after Labor Day, although all three have already come by the office to help out!

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

Bedbugs Don't Just Bite the Homeless

Bedbugs are democratic little creatures. An NPR story today makes clear that they could happen to you, not just to people who stay at homeless shelters.

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

New 14th Street Blog Gives Street Sense a Thumbs-Up

Check out this 14th Street blogger who picked up a copy of Street Sense thinking it was "a load of bunk" and who wound up recommending that Metro commuters read it as an alternative to Express. Here's what he or she had to say:

"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

Street Sense 2.0

Our reader survey last year revealed rather troubling news: that out of 813 readers who answered the question, 54% didn’t know we had a Web site.

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,, 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 or visit 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,, 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 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

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

-- Koki Smith

Friday, August 17, 2007

Street Sense intern wins award from Institute on Political Journalism

Our fabulous summer intern Daniel Johnson has won the Institute on Political Journalism’s John Chamberlain award for excellence in print journalism, an annual honor given to a newspaper intern who has excelled in his or her internship and has demonstrated the greatest commitment to reporting and writing over the summer.

“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.


Vendor James Davis joins Street Sense board of directors

The Street Sense board of directors voted yesterday to add vendor James Davis as its tenth member. James becomes one of two vendors on the board. Francine Triplett is the other.

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 or

Other Street Sense board members are:

Robert Egger, president
Ted Henson, co-founder of Street Sense
Barbara Kagan
David Pike
John Snellgrove
Michael Stoops
David Walker
Kathy Whelpley

-- Koki Smith

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

James and the Travel Channel

Watch this video on vendor James Davis created by Leslie Couch, a graduate of the Travel Channel Academy. It could be selected to air on the Travel Channel! We'll keep you posted.

Friday, August 10, 2007

A night of street poetry in the park

We at Street Sense were privileged to be part of an event on urban poverty sponsored by the National Community Church at the Senate Park near Union Station last night. Poets Don Gardner, James Davis and David Harris of Street Sense read their work as part of the poetry program for Urban Poverty Night during the church's Week of Social Justice. All of the selections read can be found in our publication "Street Verses: Poems by the Homeless Writers and Vendors of Street Sense."

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

Last minute poetry reading today!

Thursday, August 9, 7 p.m., Senate Park, near Union Station.

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

Street Papers of the World, Unite!

Executive Director Laura Thompson Osuri and Editor Koki Smith lugged dozens of copies of Street Sense to Portland, Ore., the last weekend in July for a conference of street papers across North America.

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.

--Koki Smith

Friday, August 3, 2007

Goodbye, Daniel, the Superstar Intern

Daniel Johnson, an intern with Street Sense since mid-May, will leave us today. Everyone at Street Sense is sad to see him go. Daniel has been a vital asset to Street Sense and is one of the main reasons I was able to keep my sanity during the transition between our old editor suddenly leaving and the new editor Koki Smith joining a month later.

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

Intern Insight: More Than a Summer Job

For two months, my workdays began with the stoic Street Sense vendor Charles Nelson as I rose from the D.C. Metro Center Station escalator.

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

Readers Reporting Illegal Vendors

I just wanted to thank readers for e-mailing and calling to report people who are selling Street Sense without badges or who are selling old issues of the paper. We have gotten three reports in the past few weeks, and, unfortunately, most of these reports are of people who are not vendors but who somehow got hold of old issues and tried to sell them for a quick buck.

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 or (202) 347-2006.


Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Conrad in the News

Conrad Cheek Jr., one of the top Street Sense vendors and a fixture at Eastern Market, was featured in The Hill newspaper on Wednesday, July 25. The article highlighted his unique sales pitch and said he "hawks Street Sense newspapers on Pennsylvania Avenue sidewalks with unrivaled fervor." And while the article speaks quite favorably of Conrad, it does point out one little-known flaw: he barely ever reads Street Sense.

You can read the article here(scroll down past the first story).

D.C. Street Soccer Hits the Turf

Back in mid-April, Street Sense helped organize and sponsor a homeless street soccer team for Washington. Street Soccer is played on a walled field the size of a tennis court with small goals and four players to a side.

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

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

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!