By Melvin "Buzzy" Bryant
Outstanding, exciting, exhilarating, challenging, adventurous, sharing, caring, unforgettable and much, much more. I started out as a second rate vendor not knowing too much, but I learned from my mistakes through trial and error: learning how to communicate with the public; being courteous and considerate of others; not harassing anyone, but being kind and polite.
The Homeless Grapevine was started as a means to get homeless people off the streets and help them get their self-esteem back. Most people who became vendors were panhandlers and didn’t see the significance in what The Grapevine could do for them. That led to a lot of dismissals instead of them coming back as vendors. They tried to give The Grapevine a bad reputation, thus destroying some of The Grapevine’s credibility.
As other vendors came and went in some parts of the city, The Grapevine remains a medium for the general population to be informed of the dilemma of the homeless. NEOCH came up with a great idea when they introduced The Homeless Grapevine to those who are less fortunate than other members of society. It is a paper written by the homeless and even though some articles have been negative about some of the caretakers of the homeless, it has been mainly written to let people know that being homeless in the Greatest Country on the Face of the Earth isn’t always peaches and cream.
There have been several vendors who couldn’t follow the rules and regulations that were the bylaws of The Grapevine, mainly started and suggested by the vendors themselves. When they were enforced, everyone had a complaint about the rules and regulations they had adopted and many of them left The Grapevine, but still tried to use The Grapevine as a means to support themselves as they went back to panhandling.
I guess, in my opinion, the greatest asset that has been to NEOCH and The Grapevine is the many VISTAs that have used NEOCH as a means to advance themselves and as human beings to get close to the problem of the homeless. Some of those VISTAs have supported me in my most dreaded hour. Coming to my defense when I was in need of a friend to help me out of a difficult situation. They did not hesitate to give me their support. I have met a lot of people but none as sincere as the VISTAs that I met at NEOCH.
I have gone through my ups and downs at The Grapevine, but I have not met an organization that was out for the general welfare of the homeless like I found at NEOCH and The Grapevine. It is on the individual to succeed at selling The Homeless Grapevine paper. There have been a few who were diligent and prospered from the selling of The Grapevine. Those who have not succeeded did not because of their own personality disorders.
Thru all the ups and downs that the paper has gone thru since its conception, it has endured and given some homeless people a chance to become a productive members of society. The Grapevine is a means for a person to get off from the bottom of the heap and so what is necessary to get off the homeless role and get back into main stream society. This is the job that I took being of some service to society like the hot dog vendor on the corner or the person who flips hamburgers at McDonalds or Burger King.
The Grapevine isn’t a means of panhandling, it is a business and those vendors who are sincere succeed, those that don’t are not sincere enough. The Grapevine has grown over the years since its conception and it will continue to grow as long as the general public gets involved and support the vendors they see on the street corners, at the West Side Market, or throughout the neighborhoods. It needs the support of churches, shelters and the general public. The Grapevine has been and will always be the voice of the homeless. Just like people buy The Plain Dealer, The Grapevine should be a part of your reading material. It is full of true facts about what’s happening in the homeless community. In the Greatest Country on the Face of the Earth, homelessness should be obsolete.
On this Fifth Anniversary of The Homeless Grapevine I ask all Americans to buy a copy of The Grapevine and know that this is not a radical publication, but a paper that is full of facts not fiction. When you see a vendor, take time out to contribute to the cause and eliminate homelessness in America. Take a stand for the homeless community and buy The Homeless Grapevine.
Since I have been a vendor of The Grapevine, I have enjoyed many rewarding experiences and met a lot of understanding and caring people. It has helped me get my self-respect and self-esteem back and made me want to be a more responsible person and get back on my feet and find me a home, if those people who really care continue to help Grapevine vendors. We are not panhandlers, we are in a business, and that business leads to getting off the homeless role.
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 Cleveland Ohio