Street Newspapers Gaining in Popularity

by Jean Taddie

 Recently, I was down by the waterfront when a woman approached and asked me to buy one of her street newspapers for a dollar. “Sure,” I said, and she made the sale. When I walked away, I looked over my paper—but it wasn’t The Homeless Grapevine. In fact, what I had just bought was The Street Sheet, which is sold along Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

 Cleveland and San Francisco are not the only cities with street newspapers that support homeless issues. There are more than 50 homeless newspapers in the United States, Canada, and Europe. More than 35 of these can be found in the United States. Many papers are in large cities like New York, Boston, Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Chicago, Milwaukee, Denver, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle, and Los Angeles. Since homelessness is not limited to big cities, however, some smaller communities such as Elkton (MD), Jamaica Plain (NY), Ann Arbor (MI), Spring Lake Park (MN), Bloomington (IN), Eugene (OR), and Garden Grove (CA) also support a homeless newspaper.

 Homeless newspapers are trying to network among each other. Late in 1994, the National Coalition for the Homeless sponsored a survey of homeless newspapers. Twenty newspapers responded to the survey, which gathered information about staffing, financial support, distribution, circulation patterns, and editorial content. The survey showed that there was a lot of diversity with the homeless street newspaper movement. It also uncovered an interest by the newspapers to learn more from and about each other.

Members of the street newspapers got to meet each other face-to-face at the August, 1996 convention in Chicago (Grapevine issue 17, page 1). It was decided at this convention that the street newspapers would create their own organization—the North American Street Newspaper Association—which will meet annually. In addition, street newspapers were encouraged to support the Homeless News Service (HNS), which is a free archive service for homeless newspapers available through the internet (http://csf.colorado.edu/homeless).

 As members of the newspapers get to know more about how other papers work, some similarities and differences are uncovered. For example, Brian Davis, director of NEOCH, states, “Each paper must make decisions about leadership and the role of the vendors.” The structure of leadership differs across different newspapers. For example, some news organizations (such as Cleveland’s Grapevine, Atlanta’s Street Heat, and San Francisco’s Street Sheet) are supported by a coalition for homeless. Other newspapers (New York’s Street News, Boston’s Spare Change, and Milwaukee’s Repairers of the Breach) are self-run non-profit organizations.

 Whether the newspaper is its own organization or sponsored by another, each still must decide who makes the editorial decisions. Some newspapers are planned by an editor who may either be a professional (Street Sheet), a concerned activist (Repairers of the Breach), or a formerly homeless person (Street News). Other newspapers (Street Heat, Spare Change, and Seattle’s Real Change) are planned by editorial committees.

Often, these committees try to recruit homeless and low-income people to help make decisions about the newspaper’s content.

Different papers use different methods of circulation. Some newspapers are like the Grapevine in that they sell papers to homeless vendors who resell them for a profit. Other newspapers give homeless vendors the paper for free. San Francisco’s Street Sheet, for example, is provided free to homeless vendors for one month, but then vendors must wait three more months until they can get more. Some newspapers are like Milwaukee’s Repairers of the Breach in that they do not use vendors to distribute their papers at all.

The number of newspapers printed per issue varied widely, according to the National Coalition’s survey. The fewest copies printed was 400, while the most copies printed was more than 120,000. This large number of copies was reported by Chicago’s StreetWise, which uses a professional, paid staff to produce the paper and homeless vendors to distribute it. Of the survey respondents (not counting Chicago), the average number of copies printed per issue was about 9,000. The Grapevine usually prints about 11,000 copies or more per issue.

Since homeless people are often considered by the public to be an undesirable presence in downtown areas, some homeless newspapers face a variety of pressures from their city officials. In Cleveland, Homeless Grapevine vendors were being ticketed for vending without a license. Fortunately, the ACLU stepped in on the Grapevine’s behalf and filed a lawsuit against the city. The lawsuit explained that the city was restricting the constitutional right of freedom of speech by imposing licensing requirements on newspapers. The judge agreed and forced the city to stop ticketing the vendors. The judgment has set a precedent for other cities where licensing continues to be a problem, but the city of Cleveland has appealed the decision.

 New laws and restrictions for homeless people have had an impact on street newspapers. Lee Stringer, editor of New York’s Street News, explained that his paper has seen a sharp decline circulation ever since homeless people were banned from New York City’s subway system. San Francisco’s new police administration has put pressure on the homeless population as well. In Cincinnati, panhandling was criminalized and advocates there looked for a way to help the homeless population. The Coalition in Cincinnati developed a partnership with Cleveland’s Grapevine so homeless vendors could make money selling the paper in Cincinnati.

Each homeless newspaper has its own organization and its own problems. But as members of the papers are networking more and more, common issues are also uncovered. The North American Street Newspaper Association is just one way that newspapers can work together to develop a cohesive homeless street newspaper movement.

 Editor’s Note: In January 1997, Washington DC will see the first edition of a street newspaper for sale on Pennsylvania Avenue and all around Washington. The National Coalition for the Homeless, the VISTA program, and the National Law Center on Homelessness will collaborate on a street newspaper. Rumor has it that Newt Gingrich is going to be a lead vendor of the newspaper for a little “soft money” for 1998.

 Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #18, November-December 1996

Editorial: Homeless People Do Vote

by Editors of the Grapevine

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless surveyed 167 homeless and the extremely low-income who said that they were registered and were going to exercise their right to vote in the November presidential election. Results show that by an overwhelming margin the homeless and low-income support Democrats for elected office, with many others choosing “None of the Above” when given the choice.

Richard Kiefer, Cleveland State University Intern and Project Director, said, “We went to the local shelters, the overflow shelters, and to the soup kitchens and found that homeless people are going to exercise their right to vote this November. Homeless people are part of the constituency of every elected official in Cuyahoga County and politicians need to start listening to them.”

Democrats were chosen in this straw poll in every single category, but some of the interesting choices were the second-place finishers. The homeless of the 11th District chose “None of the Above” over David Harbarger in the County Commissioner race and “None of the Above” over every other candidate for President except Bill Clinton.

In the 10th District Congressional race homeless people chose Dennis Kucinich 71.4% to Martin Hoke’s 21.4%, with Robert Iverson and “None of the Above” each receiving 3.6% of the vote. In the 11th District, Congressman Louis Stokes easily won the race in this largely unscientific straw poll with 81.3% of those surveyed. James Sykora, the Republican, received 6.3% of the homeless vote and “None of the Above” got 8.2% of the vote, with the Natural Law candidate receiving 4.1% of the vote.

In the other Commissioner race Jane Campbell received 85.5% of the vote and incumbent candidate Lee Weingart took 10.1% of the vote. “None of the Above” received 4.4%

 The poll was conducted October 10 to October 26 in the shelters, transitional shelters, and in the soup kitchens. Volunteers asked only those who said they were registered and were going to vote on November 5. The names on the ballot were in a rotating order similar to the official ballot. The four races surveyed included President, both County Commissioner seats, and the Representative to Congress. All names appearing on the official ballot appeared on the straw-poll ballot, with the addition of “None of the Above” to get some sense of voter dislike of all the candidates on the ballot.

 On the ballot, NEOCH asked if the individual had a fixed or permanent address. Of the 167 who responded, 76 said that they did have a fixed address. This is somewhat misleading, since in talking to the individuals some claimed that a shelter was a fixed address. One woman and her three children who lived under a freeway overpass claimed that they were not “homeless” because they had a shanty with four walls and a “roof” (the freeway). 91 people surveyed did say that they were homeless. The Coalition estimates there are 3,500-5,000 who sleep on the streets or in shelters every night in Cleveland.

The homeless straw poll was part of NEOCH’s R.E.M. project to register homeless, educate them, and attempt to motivate them to actually vote. NEOCH was able to register 350 people to vote. They held two candidate nights for homeless people to introduce them to the candidates, and provided rides to the polls on election day.

 Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #18, November-December 1996

 

 

Commentary on Preserving Abandoned Buildings

by Darian Henderson

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has stated, “Nationwide, there are 6.5 million low-rent units available to accommodate 11.2 million low-income renters. 4.7 million renters cannot find an affordable place to live, the widest gap on record.” A recent Housing and Urban Development (HUD) study found that 5.3 million unassisted, very low-income households had “worst-case needs” for housing assistance in 1993 (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1996). [Worst-case needs refer to those renters with incomes below 50% of the area median income who are involuntarily displaced, pay more than half of their income for rent and utilities, or live in substandard housing.] This figure is an all-time high and represents an 8% increase over the 1989 figure. The same study found that in 1993, almost 95% of those with worst-case housing needs paid over half of their income for housing.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, in 1995 requests for housing assistance increased in 19 of the survey cities. Applicants for public housing in survey cities were forced to wait an average 17 months from the time they applied until the time they received assistance. The average wait for Section 8 housing was 40 months; for vouchers, the average wait was 39 months. In 20 of the surveyed cities, the waiting list for at least one assisted housing program was so long the cities actually stopped accepting applications for that program. Cleveland has actually stopped providing family public housing, Section 8 and vouches.

As the housing environment continues to decay, we as a society are called to action and forced to be more creative and bold in our approach to answering the immediate housing shortages for our nation’s citizens. There are community development corporations which are traditionally non-profit low-income developers. In Cleveland we have the Cleveland Housing Network, Habitat for Humanity, Eden Development Corporation, to name a few.

These are all viable options; however, not even these efforts appear to be enough to curb the tide of housing shortages. Interestingly enough, an avenue of obtaining housing as old as mankind’s existence is showing signs of regaining popularity in cities and countries all over the world. An alternative to standard housing development is called “squatting.” According the Random House Dictionary, squatting is defined as “The act of settling on the land, usually public, without title or legal right.” A squatter is defined as “one who has no legal agreement as far as his/her living situation.”

In the United States squatting became an issue in the early to mid 1880’s. During this period of history, Americans traveled throughout the midwest and west, usurping unsurveyed, not-for-sale land as fast as they could migrate. The migratory movement ultimately resulted in the passage of the 1841 Pre-Emption Act. This policy entitled squatters to ownership of these usurped lands.

Though the passing of this policy silenced some of the unrest in relation to needs for land, the citizens, mainly farmers, were still unhappy with the government’s policy on land ownership. The farmer felt the prices were land were too high, hence the homestead movement was born. This movement “festered like a sore,” ultimately being the root cause of the Homestead Act of 1862.

In May of 1862 Congress enacted this policy into law, allowing persons 21 years of age or older, the head of a family, or a citizen or alien intending to be a citizen to obtain title of 160 acres of public land, as long as they remained on the premises for over five years and, in the process, improved the property. The Homestead Act remained law for 114 years until 1976, when the law was deemed out of date except for Alaska.

In contemporary society the avenue of squatting has taken on an interesting twist. It most often is utilized in the framework of a community of individuals who desire a place of habitation. The contemporary squatting movement is based on organization, sweat equity, willingness to take control of one’s own life, and a desire to do for oneself.

According to Eviction Watch, a publication out of New York, “Squatting is democracy in action. Given that there is no outside authority in the running of a squatted building, it is important that the authority of the group be respected by all and functions smoothly.” Squatting as a major movement has lost some of its vigor since the mid 1980’s, when an organization called ACORN launched a campaign to obtain affordable housing.

According to ACORN’s historical document on the internet, “Noting that economic upheaval had forced many people to default on mortgages, ACORN sought to place needy people in the resulting vacant homes. This required forceful and illegal (though logical and moral) seizing of the properties.” ACORN released to the media advertisements which read, “Do you need a home?” It explained the personal commitment needed to move into a vacant, poorly kept home and refit it for comfortable living.

 They also made a point to let these individuals know they could be arrested if the local authorities refused them legal occupation. Interestingly, the response to the advertisement was high by the public. What also was interesting was the community responded favorably to the squatter movement. According to ACORN, “Vacant houses meant opportunities for rape, drug dealing and arson. Residents of communities in which houses stood vacant wanted responsible neighbors to inhabit and maintain the homes. Before squatting sites were approved, neighborhood approval was obtained. Moreover, neighbors frequently participated in the entry and refitting of houses.”

ACORN made sure their movement was widely publicized, as this was part of the political dimension of squatting. Three steps need to be taken as the process evolved. First, the local officials had to give their blessing to such a project. Second, ACORN attempted to legalize the act itself. Third, local officials were asked to subsidize the costs of squatting in an effort to improve the quality of life for the squatters and their neighbors. The ACORN movement was a very organized, politically motivated campaign. It also ended almost ten years ago. Today, squatters are much more private and more oriented toward establishing a place to habitat.

 The last noteworthy event to occur in relation to squatting was on 13th Street in the Lower East Side in May of 1995. The New York City government spent $3 million dollars to evict 100 people from two buildings which had been refurbished and transformed into a communal squat.

 According to Eviction Watch, “Squatting offers a viable alternative to housing because it allows people to procure a home through their own efforts, even if they have little money. At a time when the government has neither the vision nor the will to solve housing problems in this country, we are taking matters into our own hands. Inspired by our own belief in the resources of the individual and the strength of the community, we are trying to create a living example of how society can be improved.”

 

Here in Cleveland, the city commissioner’s office books state that by the end of September of 1996, there were 626 condemned buildings (homes/larger buildings) in the city of Cleveland alone. Approximately 1/3 of these buildings are then sold to refurbishing companies, non-profit, and for-profit corporations and companies. This leaves 2/3, or approximately 400 buildings that are destroyed this year alone in the city of Cleveland.

 According to Cleveland State University School of Urban Affairs, the total number of commercial and residential lots in Cuyahoga County total 506,182 in 1995. The number of commercial lots that are vacant is 3,692 in 1995. The number of vacant residential lots is 27, 649.

Editor’s Note: For more information about squatting, check the internet. The address for ACORN is www.acorn.org/community. Back copies of Eviction Watch from New York City are available. There are also small advocacy groups that are actively working with squatters in your community.

 Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #18, November-December 1996

Alternative Education Creates Opportunities

by Clark Pratt

 A bus is coming down a mountain pass in Turkey as the sun rises and the little villages beside the highway begin to stir with life. Inside the bus there are computers, a video camera, tools, books about Asia, half-written reports in social science, notes for interviews, a kitchen, beds, 10 restless sleepers, a driver and a co-pilot. They are on their way to India to study some of the most difficult problems and greatest possibilities facing people in the next century.

 Thousands of miles away, outside the town of Huambo in Angola, where once the Portuguese had a trading center in the southern African highlands they called Nova Lisboa (New Lisbon), a group of students is gathering for a morning assembly. The topic is “Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Nelson Mandela—social change and civil rights.” The teacher is from Holland, but he has studied in Denmark the past three years and now teaches Portuguese. The class is made up of young men and women from 4 provinces in Angola, men and women who have lived 20 of their 22 years of life in war, and have just begun education as teachers. Now there is peace again and Angola has need for new schools and new teachers.

 A young man from Guinea Bissau takes the train to Silkeborg in Denmark, meets a van, and drives out to a school where 15 children have been abused. He has huge problems with studying and with his self-confidence. He now has the responsibility for a riding center with 20 horses awaiting him. He will work there for two months as a teacher, friend, father figure, social worker, mechanic, carpenter, sports coach, artist, musician, dance instructor, and student of the art of teaching.

 What is common in these three scenes is that they are all part of the experience of the best teacher training programs in the world—the Necessary Teacher Training College in Denmark. The people in the bus, the Dutch and Guinea Bissauan teachers, are themselves students in extraordinary situations which are an ordinary part of life at the college. The college, which has the acronym DNS, began in 1972. Located outside of the village of Ulfborg [in Denmark], DNS shares land which was once a farm with a primary boarding school and with a training center for adults who carry out health, construction, agricultural, and educational projects in Africa.

 The class of 1999 has 30 students from 15 countries who, during the course of their education, will take the ordinary studies and qualifying exams to be a teacher for first through eighth grade in Denmark—and much, much more. They will be qualified to be global educators.

Some of the ideas behind DNS include

  • Teacher training should help form men and women who will be teachers not only in one classroom in one country but for a whole generation in the whole world.
  • Education is a lifestyle, not a task.
  • Schools are communities, not buildings. The information revolution gives schools the chance for much more responsible, creative, and efficient study, research, and production.

Some of the methods that are used include

  • A personal computer for each student and a network database system for intensive self-studies in 13 basic subjects and 2 major subjects
  • Teaching practice at boarding schools in Denmark and at a teacher training college in Africa.
  • Working periods to develop multiple skills and support the common economy of the year group which pays the school fees.
  • Fundraising periods to discuss international issues with ordinary Europeans and collect hundreds of thousands of dollars for projects in Africa.
  • A “full-time” approach to life at the college, with all practical, cultural, and economic tasks organized with students and teachers together.
  • A four-month study of Asia, with focus on India.

In a world with great injustice, ecological problems, and growing population, the teacher for the first time in human history is moving to the center of historical potential. Teachers can feed or smash dreams. Too often now in the world’s big cities, teachers see themselves as police officers with a job that is too broad for their shoulders. Of course is it difficult to work with people because of their complexity. But it is also the best work one can choose. DNS teachers hold fast to this position.

DNS education is based in Denmark, but the students go out into the world at least seven different times during their four years of study. They do not go out protected by guns or bank accounts or five-star hotels. They hitchhike through Europe, backpack in the Himalayas, raft on the Amazon, build latrines in China, start schools in Mozambique, fundraise in Austria. They go out to be with people of the world in their hard times and good times. And they learn how to learn as well as how to teach from the heart.

 The program is structured so that in the first year they make a school community with their team, learn Danish, begin teaching practices, study for three exams, work and fundraise. In the second year they prepare buses, prepare research projects, travel to Asia by bus, make some presentations in Europe, conduct teaching practices, take more exams, and oversee some fundraising.

The third year is a period of self-development structured as “do what you think is most right to do.” They prepare some long-range teaching practices, and they take exams in the pedagogic subjects and a major subject. Finally, in the fourth year they begin teaching at one of their sister colleges in southern Africa for 8 months, studying and taking a final group of exams.

 This is a picture of alternative education which creates many alternatives for people. It is what is called Education for a Better World.

Editor’s Note: For more information, you can contact DNS by email, telephone, fax, or post:

The Necessary Teacher College Tvind,

Skorkaevej 8

6990 Ulfborg, Denmark

Tel 45-9749-1849; Fax 9749-2209; Email tvinddns@inet.uni-c.dk

The author is an American who has been teaching for the past eight years in the United States, Angola, Zimbabwe, and Denmark.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #18, November-December

1996 Homeless Grapevine Reader Survey

1996 Homeless Grapevine Reader Survey Results

     In Issue #16 The Homeless Grapevine surveyed its reader about Ohio’s street newspaper. While only twenty-three people took the time to complete the survey, those who responded made many comments about the paper. What follows is a compilation of the readers’ opinions and comments. Overall the results were favorable, with 83% giving the paper an overall positive score and only 8% responding with a negative overall impression of the paper.

The Homeless Grapevine will publish a second survey in mid-1997 if you missed the chance to respond. Remember that we are always willing to publish all signed letters that arrive.

Thanks to Jim Patton and Landis Cotton for compiling this survey, and thanks to Max Johnson for the graphs [omitted from this archived story].

  1. How old are you?

0 below 18 9% 26-35

27% 18-25 41% 36-49

22.7% Over 50

 

2. What is your current work status?

13.6% part-time work 63.6% full-time work

9% retired 0 student

9% unemployed/no job 9% underemployed

 

3. What is your city of residence?

33% Cleveland

19% Lakewood

19% Cleveland Heights

4.5% (each) Shaker Heights, South Euclid, Middleburg Heights, Rocky River, Warren, Columbus, Cincinnati

 

4. Other local publications that I read include:

74% Plain Dealer 26% Sun Press

39% Free Times 9% Akron Beacon

39% Other

 

5. How often do you buy a Grapevine?

9% Never 57% Sometimes

43% Always

 

6. Do you read the Grapevine that you buy/pick up?

91% Yes 9% No

 

7. Do you buy more than one of the same issue just to support the concept of the paper?

35% Yes 65% No

 

8. Do you have a hard time finding a Grapevine?

4% Yes 96% No

 

9. Where do you usually buy a Grapevine?

17% Downtown

9% (each) Tower City, Gateway, E. 117th and St. Clair, Coventry, and by subscription

4.5% (each) West Side Market, University Circle, E. 9th and St. Clair, Shaker Square, and Cosgrove meal site

 

10. How have you found our vendors?

74% Pleasant 48% Professional

61% Courteous 0 Surly, rude

0 Unfriendly 13% No opinion

 

11. How much do you usually pay for a Grapevine?

0 Under $.50 0 $.50 to $.99

73% $1.00 4.5% Over $1.00

14% Free 9% Subscription

 

12. Who is your favorite vendor?

Angelo, Bob, Marilyn, and Donald Whitehead all received votes:

“We enjoy them all”

“No favorite”

 

13. Would you hire a vendor of the Grapevine if you had a job available?

61% Yes 9% No 30% No response

 

14. Have you ever had a bad experience with a vendor?

86% No 10% Yes 4% No answer

“Gave a dollar then he told me it was his last one. This happened twice. I don’t know his name.”

“Poor questions [questions 13 and 14]. NO one should hire a stranger because they are homeless. ‘Homeless’ is a buzzword. Too many characters use it. In earlier years they were beggars. Professionals. Once, one was tracked from Detroit to beg and returned home to wealthy living.”

“I believe the Grapevine should be sold in the Columbus area.”

“There’s a couple guys who hang out by the bank machine behind Revco who are rude and pushy. It bothers me that they hang by the [bank machine] and then get pushy.”

“Except those [that] I believe [are not] legitimate who use the paper to panhandle and are rude and aggressive.”

 

15. How often do you see people using the Grapevine to collect money or panhandle?

9% Often 4% Not often

22% Sometimes 52% Never

13% No answer

 

16. Overall, on a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate the vendors (1=They are horrible, 10=They are the best)—

22%-5 4%-6 13%-7 13%-8 26%-9

13%-10 9%-No answer

 

17. How much of the paper do you read?

43% All 26% Most

17% Some 4% Very little

0% I just look at the pictures 10% No answer

 

18. What articles do you enjoy reading?

65% Editorials/commentaries 48% Letters

57% Profiles 65% News

13% Children’s pages 43.4% Poetry

 

19. What areas would you like to see the Grapevine cover?

“You are doing a fine job. . . . You seem to have presented a wide variety of news/feature articles.”

“City housing policy. ‘Bright spots’/examples of working programs (programs that are succeeding and bring people together through the issue of homelessness).”

“How to donate unneeded items so they benefit the homeless.”

“Positive things happening also.”

Grapevine should create some measures to show & publish its impact on the problem.”

“People who are homeless and need a place to stay.”

“Good as it is, unique and compelling, need to give voice to the homeless.”

“First-person stories are attention getters.”

“Perhaps some follow-ups of the stories about the various people we read about in the H.G.”

“Your coverage seems pretty durn good to me!”

“Voting, registration, and education.”

 

20. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the trustworthiness of Grapevine articles (1=I do not trust the Grapevine, 10=The Grapevine is the highest authority)?

4%-4 9%-5 17%-6 13%-7 17%-8

22%-9 4%-10

“A little biased, though usually rightly so.”

“Highest authority??”

 

21. Considering the content of the paper, please indicate your feelings about this statement: “Your paper panders to the liberal ideology in our society, and gives no other point of view” (1=Strongly agree, 10=strongly disagree).

13%-1 9%-2 4%-3 13%-4 13%-5

9%-6 4%-7 4%-8 13%-9

18% No answer

“Anyway, what’s so bad about the ‘liberal ideology’?”

 

22. How could we improve the content of the paper?

“I understand the anger is a normal feature of all our lives but when an article seems to be angry, or has a hostile tone, it is easy for the reader to dismiss the writer as biased.”

“Better training by writers. Better trained editorial staff. Don’t simply glamorize the homeless life, nor pretend the homeless are 100% naïve, innocent, righteous, soothsayers (it’s a little somewhere in the middle, wouldn’t you say?).”

“Encourage your carriers to be more available. I see vendors every once in a great while. If I see I usually buy.”

“Cover the ‘other side’ of the issue. The arguments against endlessly providing help, but rather expecting ‘workfare.’”

“More articles by the homeless.”

“Proofread the damn thing. And refuse submissions from those that can’t write standard English. (Editor’s note: Like the homeless?) Get new editors who actually edit out shit!”

“Columns on small things that people can do to help—little ‘doable’ steps. Perhaps an article on 10 small things you can do to help the homeless. Print new lists periodically. Profile an outstanding volunteer.”

“[I] do not agree with ‘liberal’ in the political sense, but agree you appeal to the emotions of the ‘bleeding heart.’ You could 1) publish interviews with politicians; 2) publish interviews with CEOs; 3) publish about other homeless organizations (good/bad); 4) reduce criticism and ‘finger pointing’; 5) obtain an editorial consultant.”

“The way to improve the paper is not to have it anymore, i.e., no more homeless, no more homeless newspaper.”

“Write more articles about homeless. Put more color in the paper. Have stories about people who were homeless and who have a place to stay now. They can tell others how to become self-sufficient. Have more poems about the homeless.”

“I like the myth and fact article [in issue #16]. Not sure it is necessary to quote people who use foul language. Pictures [like those in issue #16] are quite unsettling, but extremely powerful.”

“Better proofreading?”

“Be more accurate in what is said. Just because someone says something does not make it accurate. [You need] more than just their word. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. [Issue #16] shows improvement in this area. [Bad] language is not acceptable. We need to be more constructive in the articles.”

 

23. Has the Grapevine changed your opinion about any issue?

48% Yes 35% No 17% No answer

 

24. Do you discuss or think about the articles/issues in the Grapevine?

83% Yes 9% No 8% No answer

 

25. Do you enjoy the photographs in the Grapevine?

83% Yes 0 No 17% No answer

 

26. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1=Poor quality, 10=High quality and superior content), how would you rate the content of the articles in the Grapevine?

9%-4 9%-5 4%-6 17%-7 22%-8

9%-9 13%-10 14%-No answer

 

27. Using the same scale as in question 26, how would you rate the photography?

13%-5 13%-6 17%-7 26%-8 13%-9

4%-10 14%-No answer

 

28. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1=Difficult to read, 10=Easy to read), how would you rate the readability of the Grapevine?

4%-3 13%-5 9%-7 26%-8 22%-9

17%-10 9% No answer

 

29. Using the same scale as in question 28, how would you rate the layout of the Grapevine?

4%-4 9%-5 13%-6 4%-7 22%-8

26%-9 9%-10 13% No answer

 

30. Do you have any additional comments about the content or layout?

“For the budget and staff you probably have, it’s just fine.”

“I like the coverage of controversial topics—Project Homeless, that other people are afraid to report. In the Grapevine free speech is truly free! Not like other papers around here.”

“EDIT! EDIT! EDIT! PROOFREAD!”

“Your article on Life Direction/Project Homeless in Issue #16 was good, solid investigative journalism of which this city could use more. (I have contributed to this outfit over the years.) Paid a visit to the 154th St. address and my impression were the same as yours.”

“Yes! If I understand [the term] ‘layout,’ I think it is very good. . . . Re Content: The paper depresses the reader before it informs or educates. No wonder ads are so low. Re Other: Engage, especially vendors, in ‘continuous improvement’ seminars.”

“Perhaps a success story, i.e., from a homeless person through employment and new residence. Profile vendors.”

“I think an advice column would be helpful in education the public as to the plight of the homeless. If homeless people read the Grapevine an advice column might help them too.”

“Picture of Rock Hall of Fame needs a story with it. (Editor’s note: Rock Hall picture caption was not serious, but was intended to make a point. We are sorry for any confusion.) We need to get long-time vendors jobs to show the success, and stop them [from] using the paper to collect, not sell, the paper.”

 

31. Have you ever been to a Grapevine fundraiser?

4% Yes 87% No 9% No answer

 

32. Would you come to a Grapevine fundraiser?

43% Yes 17% No 40% No answer

 

33. Have you ever beaten up a vendor and stolen his or her papers?

4% Yes 65% No 31% No answer

“What a silly question.”

(Editor’s Note: You would be surprised how often this happens.)

 

34. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1=Failure, 10=Ingenious concept), what is your impression of the Grapevine as a business for low income/homeless?

4%-2 9%-3 4%-7 26%-8

13%-9 30%-10 14% No answer

 

35. Does the Grapevine serve its mission as a voice for the homeless?

43% Yes 48% Somewhat 0 No 9% No opinion

 

36. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1=Trash, 10=Excellent), what is your overall impression of The Homeless Grapevine?

4%-3 4%-5 9%-6 9%-7

22%-8 17%-9 26%-10 9% No answer

 

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #18, November-December 1996

The “Homeless Creation Bill” Passes Congress

by Chris Staniscewski

 The new welfare legislation called the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) that Congress passed on August 1 and that the President signed into law on August 22, advocates claim may well contribute to poverty and homelessness through reforms so massive they have not been seen since the 1960s. Mary Ann Gleason of the National Coalition for the Homeless called the bill the “Homeless Creation Bill.”

Basically, the reform sets a federal lifetime limit of five years of welfare for each family and requires adults who are able-bodied to work after two years, though there are some exceptions.

 The emphasis of reform is the movement away from federal to state control, yet states do lose block grant money if they do not implement the provisions of the law accurately. Major effects on homelessness may come in three areas of the reform:

  1. States moving people off welfare rolls in order to maintain federal contributions to new welfare block grants
  2. Changes in food stamp eligibility that could reduce benefits to thousands, and
  3. Changes in SSI eligibility for disabled children and legal immigrants

The new legislation places few limits on the eligibility of states to design programs and set eligibility requirements, thus allowing them to set many rules (to provide fewer years of assistance, for example).

States will not be able to use block grant funds to provide assistance to adults for more than 5 years, although 20% of each state’s caseload can be exempted.

Adults will cease to receive benefits if they do not begin to work within 2 years of joining the welfare rolls. Gleason characterized welfare reform as “the most significant attack on poor people to come out of Congress was the repeal of the federal guarantee of income support.”

Adults who do not cooperate with child support enforcement agencies seeking to establish paternity will have their family benefit reduced by at least 25%, although states may choose to eliminate the benefit entirely.

Individuals convicted of a drug-related felon will be denied welfare benefits and food stamps. States may choose to opt out of this provision; however, Jodie Levin Epstein of the Center on Law and Social Policy said that it is hard to imagine how legislation designed to provide benefits for “convicted drug pushers and addicts” would survive most state legislatures.

States may deny additional assistance to children born to mothers already receiving welfare.

States may require that minor, unmarried parents live with an adult and attend school in order to receive benefits.

People who move to a new state may be provided benefits at the level of the state in which they previously resided, rather than at the level of their new state of residence.

    Block Grants and Work Requirements

 H.R. 3734 (welfare reform) is designed to encourage states to reduce their welfare rolls without necessarily investing in a serious or effective jobs program. Incentives to move people into work and reduce welfare rolls include the following:

In order to receive their full TANF, states will be required to have 25% of their caseload engaged in work at least 20 hours/week by 1997 and 50% by 2002 working at least 30 hours/week. All families receiving assistance are counted in these percentages, although states may exclude those with children under 1 year of age.

States that fail to meet the work targets will have their block grants reduced by 5% initially and 2% each subsequent year, for a total of 21% by 2002.

 Child Care

 Gleason said that the new welfare bill does not provide enough resources for child care to enable poor parents to work. She claims that the goal is to eliminate entitlements and restructure federal funding, not to reduce poverty or enable people to rise above poverty.

H.R. 3734 eliminates the entitlement to child care assistance for families on welfare who are working or in school.

H.R. 3734 also eliminates the guarantee of one year of transitional child care assistance for families who leave welfare.

The child care entitlement programs are replaced by a modified Child Care and Development Block Grant (CDBG), which will be funded through a combination of a capped block grant to the states of close to $14 billion over 7 years and an annual appropriation that may vary from year to year (initially authorized at $1 billion per year).

 Food and Nutrition

 While H.R. 3734 makes significant changes to welfare, it achieves most of its savings through the food stamp program (expected to be half the $54 billion in savings over the next 6 years).

Over the next 6 years, the bill cuts $27.7 billion from the program, including $3.8 billion cut from benefits for immigrants. While food stamps will remain an entitlement (except for immigrants), individual allotments will be reduced.

The shelter deduction cap will increase from $247 in 1997 to $300 in 2000 and remain frozen at that level thereafter. Under current law, families that pay more than 50% of their income for housing have their excess shelter costs taken into account when determining the value of their food stamp benefit. The cap limits the amount of the excess costs that can be taken into account—freezing the cap will gradually erode the value of the deduction. Thus, low-income families with “worst-case housing needs” (those that pay more than 50% of their income for housing, which HUD estimates included 5.3 million households in 1993) will be more likely to be required to choose between food and housing.

Welfare recipients will face additional work requirements in order to continue to receive food stamps. Able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 50 will be required to work at least 20 hours/week or they will be limited to 3 months of food stamps in any 36-month period. Congressional Budget Office estimates that one million unemployed individuals who would work, if work slots were available, will be denied food stamps in an average month under this provision.

 Disabled Children

 Congress has also achieved significant savings by reducing SSI benefits for disabled children and by eliminating eligibility for most programs for legal immigrants. Families with disabled children will be at greater risk of homelessness as they struggle to pay for care along with housing. Elderly and disabled immigrants will be cut off a vital source of income and, lacking any other safety net, may find themselves on the street.

The children’s SSI program will be cut by $8.2 billion over the next 6 years and, according to the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, 315,000 low-income children with disabilities will lose or be denied access to benefits. In addition, CBO calculates that 15% of those who no longer benefit from SSI will also lose eligibility for Medicaid. These savings will be achieved through a substantially narrower definition of disability, eliminating, for instance, many children who are disabled by tuberculosis, arthritis, mental retardation, schizophrenia, and mood disorders.

 Legal Immigrants

 Under this new legislation, legal immigrants are ineligible for most welfare, food stamp, and SSI benefits unless they become citizens. The bill will cut benefits available for legal immigrants by more than $22 billion. This will result in savings for the federal government, but it will also result in substantial difficulties for poor, elderly, and disabled immigrants and their families. CBO estimates that nearly 500,000 elderly and disabled legal immigrants will find their SSI benefits terminated under this change. Furthermore, 260,000 elderly immigrants, 65,000 disabled people, 175,000 other adults, and 140,000 children will lose Medicaid coverage as a result of this bill.

The first phase of the complex H.R. 3734 went into effect Monday, September 23, 1996. This provision required states to begin denying food stamps to non-U.S. citizens. On October 1, 1996, entitlements ended to cash assistance for low-income families.

Making the welfare system acceptable to all Americans may make it inaccessible to those who rely upon it for their most basic needs.

Gleason and other activists claimed that ending welfare as we know it seems headed in the direction of poverty in the U.S. as we have not seen in recent history. Gleason wrote with the passage of welfare reform, “Look to increased instability of families as they become homeless, the rising costs of emergency rooms, more children inadequately fed, housed, and educated, portending multi-generational chaos.” The question is will Americans accept this new reform in the face of increases in poverty?

 Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #18, November-December 1996