I got a call from a pedestrian who bought a Street Chronicle newspaper today from one of our vendors and wanted a few questions answered. He confirmed all the information that is on page 2 of the paper (Code of Conduct and newspaper operations). How much do they pay for the paper--$.35? Where does the money go when a pedestrian buys a paper--into the pocket of the vendor? Then he asked, "Do you verify where this money is going to assure that it does not go to drugs or alcohol?" This is an amazing question.
Have you ever asked the guy at Starbucks serving coffee if any of their salary goes to alcohol or drugs? Have you every asked your cab driver or the UPS driver? Would you have the nerve to ask your doctor during a physical if he uses any of his income for alcohol or drugs or your postal carrier or the woman at the DMV? Setting aside the fact that alcohol is a legal drug, it is none of your business what a vendor does with his or her money. The guy was incredulous when I indicated that he got a product (a paper) for his money. He said, "But common you know what I mean, I didn't want the paper." Actually, no I did not know that.
The Street Newspaper is 15 pages of solid material written by people with experience of homelessness along with our volunteers. The content is worth $1.25 to find out what homeless people have to say about issues. The paper is an alternative to panhandling. Would you rather have a guy begging on the streets or someone with a product to sell? Some of the founders of our country would write down their words and sell them on the streets of Boston and Philadelphia. Isn't this something valuable to our society--making money off of your own words when times are tough? You have a right to walk by the vendor and give your money to the guy working at McDonalds or Walmart or the local Chinese Restaurant. If you don't want to take the paper that is your right in this society. If you don't want to support an alternative to panhandling that is your right.
The reason that I became involved in the struggle to end homelessness in America was the street newspaper sold in Cleveland. I bought a paper from a guy in University Circle while attending college, and he was so enthusiastic that it had his story and picture in the paper. I thought it was a cool concept that you would sell your own words to make some change. I know that Bob who sold me that first paper was an alcoholic and was struggling with finding help, but he was also a man in need. Who was I to say what he did with his money. He earned it, and it is a tough living. It is hard to have 90% of the people walk by and say "No." It is hard to go out in 18 degree winter storm to sell papers in the morning to people on their way to work. The vendor has rain and the heat to deal with and dramatic changes in weather that is a staple of the Cleveland landscape. They deserve every dollar they earn.
So, Mr. Pedestrian caller, you don't have to buy a paper from our vendors, but you have no right to know their personal history. They are independent business contractors who are trying to make a living in the face of health issues, financial disasters and broken marriages. Support the paper as an alternative to begging or don't, but please don't be so judgmental about your fellow travellers downtown.
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