Wednesday, November 21, 2007

DIRECTOR'S NOTE: Four Years of Changing Lives and Perceptions

In concept, four years seems like a long block of time: it’s your high school years or college days or a presidential term. But the last 48 months have flown by.

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.

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