Five years, half a decade - wow! Back on the dreary morning of Nov. 15, 2003 when our first issue was released, I could not have even imagined that Street Sense would be going so strong and would have grown so much in just five years. I think I have said something similar on every anniversary of Street Sense, but its worth repeating as the success of Street Sense continuously amazes me.
But it’s not just the success that amazes me, but that we have done so staying true to a foundation that me and cofounder Ted Henson established even before this scrappy little paper had a name. The first tenet was that the content of the newspaper would present as objective articles as possible and would not advocate for one issue or another.
Over the course of five years, this foundation has helped Street Sense become known as a reliable and credible news source when it comes to issues related to poverty and homelessness. Several news outlets – including NBC4 and WAMU - now call us when they want background on a homelessness topic or if they want a homeless person to talk to for an article or news segment. Additionally, over the last year our articles have been reprinted in a handful of smaller publications including the Pew Charitable Trust’s Election Weekly.
The second tenet we had was that Street Sense would not simply use homeless people to sell papers (or “pimp the homeless” as many terminated vendors like to say) but that they would be involved at every level and we would try at every level to help them to get off the streets.
Most Street Sense vendors now view the organization as more than just an employer, but as a caring, family-like environment where they can not only get help but also get respect. We currently have one vendor on the board of directors, two vendors that train new recruits, three vendors that help in the office, and dozens more that write and help with the production of the paper. And over the last year we started connecting vendors to readers looking for help with odd jobs and we are working to better train our vendors to transfer their newspaper sales skills into other sales jobs.
Holding true to these foundations, Street Sense has been able to grow from a project of the National Coalition for the Homeless with a dozen vendors and five thousand issues a month to a stable nonprofit with three staff members, 80 active vendors and more than 30,000 issues each month. And in the last year alone the growth of vendors and newspaper is astounding and has already passed our expectations with still two months left in the year. And in just a few short months we will print our millionth copy!
This growth is not because of expensive strategic marketing, recruiting or promotion plans. But it simply came through the grassroots word of mouth promotion from reader to new reader, donor to potential donor and vendors to vendor recruits. Street Sense indeed began as a very grassroots effort. And holding true to our editorial and vendor tenets, we are and will remain a very grassroots organization.
Thanks to all our readers, donors, volunteers and – especially - vendors for contributing to Street Sense’s success and growth over the last five years. And please continue to spread the word over the next five years.
I can hardly imagine a decade of Street Sense in Washington D.C. But as the first five went by lightning fast, Street Sense will be in the double digits before we know it.
-- Laura Thomspon Osuri