A letter to my new homeless acquaintances selling The Grapevine & my past and present Cleveland friends buying The Grapevine:
I began my work with the Northeast Coalition for the Homeless on January 26, 1998. It is another of what the government refers to as a "paid volunteer" job. I recently completed such a two year position with Peace Corps in the country of Armenia and now have the privilege of a one year assignment with AmeriCorps Vista in Cleveland, Ohio.
Since I am so new to this job, working with Grapevine and its sellers is going to afford me the opportunity to see the "other side of the coin" as the phrase goes. I have been a buyer of Chicago’s Streetwise for a long time and have my regular vendors. They have been on "my corners" or outside of "my coffee houses" and our conversations have been along the lines of the weather, how sales were going, the Bulls, the Bears, or the Blackhawks. The most personal I have ever gotten was to talk about Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago; one of those Chicago institutions that I think does a great job. Now I have the opportunity of getting to know first hand, the background stories of the sellers (as much as they want me to know), the problems that are faced every single day, the events that create extra havoc in their lives, the lack of respect for their existence by some of those of us in "authority" positions, and the limited future that plagues their lives.
I will be with NEOCH for 12 months and my view points and preconceived notions will change on both sides of the spectrum. Reporting those changes in Grapevine will give me the opportunity to tell my non homeless friends that my homeless friends who want to sell you this paper, are great men and women. Don’t be afraid (yes, I know you are sometimes), buy the paper and get a feel of what their life is all about. Write letters to the editor if you have a strong statement you want to make, advertise your business to help the Grapevine vendors and yourselves (the circulation is 10,000 every six weeks) and keep an open mind to what the problems are. You might even ask yourself, what your life would be like if you were handed the breaks some of these people were. Would you be a survivor? Stop in at the NEOCH office and see what it is all about, maybe volunteer your time for an upcoming project.
To the vendors, thanks for letting me work with you for this year. Let me know what I can do to help. Be patient with me, I will need time to learn the ropes.
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published 1998 Issue 25