News Commentary By Ellen Kriz
In November 2011, the City of Cleveland revised the “Peddling and Produce Dealers” law (Chapter 675) and renamed it the “Street Vendors” chapter. A few months ago, a Cleveland Street Chronicle vendor was ticketed under amendments made to this chapter of Cleveland’s codified ordinances. This vendor, according to the City, did not have the proper licensure that is required under the revised law to sell the street newspaper downtown. There were letters and calls back and forth between NEOCH (publisher of the paper) and the City of Cleveland. In the end, the incident was nothing more than a misunderstanding.
The Department of Finance has clearly admitted that NEOCH’s street newspaper vendors are exempt from the law under Section 675.01 (b) which states that “The provisions of this chapter shall not apply to sales…by charitable organizations in conjunction with solicitations for charity.” In a media inquiry to the Division of Assessments and Licenses, the City said that due to this clause, “The November 2011 amendments to Chapter 675 of the codified ordinances of the City do not affect NEOCH’s street newspaper vendors, given that NEOCH is a charitable organization soliciting for charity.”
Nonetheless, the revision of the “Street Vendors” law excludes explicit guidelines for the sale of street newspapers which is just one example of how communities largely ignore the issues faced by low-income and homeless populations. “If the law had been clearer about the specifics of street newspaper vending and the role it plays in free speech, perhaps the situation could have been avoided all together. Street newspapers have been sold in Cleveland for twenty years, and the Street Vendors Law has not been revised in thirty years,” said Brian Davis editor of the Street Chronicle. In correspondence to the City, Davis said that there is no reason that the Street Chronicle could not be considered when the changes took place. He went on to question the City’s commitment to free speech. Oversight has again made it unclear whether the City of Cleveland fully supports or even cares about the street newspaper and its role in empowering the homeless and others who are often overlooked.
The street newspaper is one of the easiest ways low-income individuals can make their voices heard in Cleveland. And they are most easily managed by NEOCH itself. When the City starts to regulate the vendors, the entire street newspaper is threatened. This is mainly because the bureaucracy of government makes it much more difficult to manage and monitor licensed vendors versus frauds, not to mention that the cost of the city licenses are too high for a low-income individual—more than $250 for a stationary and mobile license.
And when a street newspaper is threatened, the free speech of people who otherwise struggle to be heard is also threatened. The individuals who sell the Street Chronicle often publish their own writing, an opportunity that is often hard to come by even for the affluent. The newspaper gives low-income people an outlet. It is a small way for these people to make an impact while so many other opportunities are barred from them. The newspaper also raises awareness about what homeless people experience in our community, and what others can do to help. If vending becomes too difficult, getting the word out about homelessness would take a significant hit.
Not everyone needs to devote themselves to eliminating homelessness, but at the very least, citizens should feel obligated to understand what is happening in their communities on all levels. They should have an appreciation for the complexity of poverty and the right of impoverished people to make their voices heard. The City’s failure to recognize the Street Chronicle in its revised vendor’s law should be a reminder that the homeless do not receive the attention they deserve in the government and otherwise. And this problem is exactly why the Street Chronicle is so important in Cleveland. It is one of the few publications in the area that puts the spotlight on homelessness and keeps this vital issue in the minds and hearts of the community.
Copyright NEOCH October 2012 Cleveland, Ohio