With a Name Like Stringer, He was Born to Write…

by Norma Green

Norma Green is a Columbia College Chicago journalism professor and street newspaper scholar. She is the author of “Chicago Streetwise: Case Study of a Newspaper to Empower the Homeless in the 1990s” in Print Culture in a Diverse America, ed. By James Danky and Wayne Wiegard (University of Illinois Press, 1998). Her chapter, first presented as research-in-progress at NASNA 1996, recently won 1st place research awards from the National Federation of Press Women and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.

Lee Stringer, formerly homeless and formerly a crack addict turned nationally acclaimed author, shared his firsthand observations with NASNA registrants in Cleveland about the rise and fall of New York City’s Street News where he got his writing start.

Street News, begun in the fall of 1989, is considered the catalyst for the global street newspaper movement of the last decade. It inspired dozens of other U.S., Canadian and European street publications. Stringer, currently on a promotional tour for Grand Central Winter: Stories from the Street, began at Street News as a vendor and later worked his way up to columnist and then editor.

The Manhattan-based street paper was started by Hutchinson Persons, originally from Elyria, Ohio (PER NYT 5-24-1990) who was a musician, not a journalist. He wrote songs and came to New York in the mod-Eighties. He never intended to start a publication. Stringer said that Persons wanted to create a benefit concert that might promote his own career as well.

“The Eighties was a time of concerts for causes because the Eighties was all about consumption and social activism-Live Aid, Farm Aid. He (Persons) wanted to get his name in lights and create a concert for the homeless. It was to be called “Ending Homelessness and Hunger” and it would help him perhaps become a star in the bargain. CBS Records and talent people wanted to close off Times Square all day for a concert. Admission would be to bring canned goods. There would be flashing numbers in every city on where to donate for people watching this on TV, and numbers on where (needy) people could get food. Malcolm Forbes jumped aboard and gave $250,000. Record labels were interested. Hunger Awareness Moments were filmed with celebrities for distribution in movie theaters and TV videos.”

Stringer observed that once Persons started using celebrities such as Cyndi Lauper in promotional spots, fundraising stopped. “He had no more money and needed between $3-$5 million to cover insurance, clean up and talent. He had spent $80,000 of the $250,000 doing those Moments spots.”

Persons created a newspaper to keep all the corporations informed that had donated money to the stalled Street Aid concert. The catalyst for Street News was persons’ walk through Grand Central, where he saw so many homeless people. “He thought at least he could fulfill the original mission (of the concert) by expanding the newsletter and letting people sell it. It was almost an after-thought.”

Street News debuted on the day of the New York Marathon in (October) 1989. “Timing was perfect. All the press was there, crowds were there. Police, who were ready to beat back the homeless, saw they were all carrying Street News to sell. The (mainstream) media thought it was great. They didn’t take it seriously as competition and knew it wasn’t going to be and advertising force, but it did get a bad reception among social service providers and churches,” said Stringer, who became a vendor with its second issue.

“I got 10 free copies and I sold the paper, not my circumstances. I never panhandled,” explained Stringer, who previously sold cans and bottles collected in Grand Central Station to support his addiction. “Street News vendors were living ratification of humanity contained in brisk commerce. I found I could make $100 in a couple of hours. I sailed along.”

Street News also appeared to glide along as the media darling of Manhattan-at first. It garnered a lot of publicity. The first issues were full of celebrities and sold out quickly. Stringer said that at 250,000 copies per issue, it was close to the New York Post circulation. But there was foreboding with Persons’ avowed philosophy as an Ayn Rand objectivist and a constant staff turnover.

“The press needs fresh meat. Monday’s hero is a heel on Tuesday. Street News was a ripe target to be shot down,” Stringer said.

TV news reporter Chris Wallace came to visit Persons who had had nothing but sweetheart press and had been treated with kid gloves. The subsequent broadcast revealed Persons’ Ayn Rand objectivist philosophy but more importantly, raise questions about accountability for the original money raised and how it was being spent. Wallace produced tax returns for Street Aid Inc. and claimed it was not a social program but a business. Persons kicked him out of his office and all that aired on national television.

In his retelling of the bad press incident, Stringer said, “I’m not trying to paint him as a bad guy but simply as someone who was overwhelmed. Hutchison Persons wanted to be a rock star and was plunged into the limelight as a savior of homelessness.”

After that broadcast, more of the staff rebelled and some launched a rival publication, Crossroads. However, because of the bad press about Street News, it leaked over into public sentiment about the new paper, which was designed as a for-profit publication and failed after a few issues. Stringer recalled a second rival-“corporate sponsored Zow, Wham, Bang, something like that. It had an extensive media campaign and big media blitz but it lasted one issue, I think.” Stringer contributed a column for Crossroads called “Tails from the Rails” and it was called disloyal for writing for the competition, while it lasted…

Stringer said Street News tried to regroup and create a fresh demand by adding crossword puzzles and a weekend section, for instance. “As far as content, it was not considered as a newspaper but as something for homeless people to sell. It never got off the shoot as a real read. A survey (of those New Yorkers who bought it) found that half wanted to talk more about homelessness but they don’t really want to read it.”

Persons didn’t leave Street News immediately but instead fired and hired others.The staff was in constant flux in what Stringer described as “masthead of the month” mentality. “Persons had to micro manage everything. He made vendors sit and listen to an hours-long tape (before they could go out and sell papers).”

The real problem was the tension between the social organization and the newspaper product. Stringer said conflict was inherent between selling newspapers as a legitimate operation and (operating) a newspaper as a charitable organization.

“Persons finally got out of the homeless business. I don’t know what happened to the money. (The office) lights went off, phones went off and there was always people coming to collect (when I was there),” Stringer observed.

Street News was sold to its printer, Sam Chin of Expedi Printing who gave it another three or four years to get out of debt, Stringer said.

By then Stringer was in the Street News editorial office trying to fine-tune the content.

“We finally realized that we needed to build bridges-to be a conduit of dialogue, not one way dialogue. It was less successful to tell people they’re just like you. So we used the street as a beat. Homelessness is a circumstance but people who live on the street notice changes in policy and on the subway, for instance.”

Apparently the new formula of being reader-friendly and of service worked. Stringer noted that Street News writers were difficult to keep around as they kept getting wooed away from other jobs.

But despite its popularity with readers, it never had much advertising and Street News never saw itself as a big business. London, England’s Big Issue, which was originally inspired by Street News, tried to buy it out. That takeover attempt failed as did one from the Ottawa, Ontario-based Outreach Connection.

After a decade with repeated reports of what turned out to be its premature death as early as 1990 and continuing, especially in 1995, Street News has limped along. But Stringer says the end is near. “Street News, (which had) the most pages and (is) the oldest (sic) is dying.”

The veteran vendor and editor explained, “I eventually left because I was a drug addict and because I was more suited to book writing.” He now surveys the landscape of street newspapers from the vantage point of an author traveling around the country promoting the soon-to-be released paperback version of his book that includes recollections of his days at Street News and nights spent sleeping under Grand Central Station.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #37, August-September 1999

Statistics Who Are the Homeless?

Homelessness: The Causes and Facts

WHO ARE THE HOMELESS? From Cincinnati StreetVibes Newspaper

  • · 22% of homeless people are veterans. There are more homeless veterans today than U.S. soldiers who died in Vietnam.
  • The average age of a homeless person in the United States is 9 years old.
  • In the U.S., 29% of homeless families that have ever received TANF (welfare) reported having their benefits cut of reduced in the last 6 months.
  • In Chicago, 22% of homeless people are currently employed. 25% have been unemployed for more than one year. 33% have never been employed.
  • 16% of homeless people spent time in foster care, group homes, shelters or welfare hotels before they were 18.
  • As many as 25-40% of homeless people work full or part-time, but cannot afford to pay rent.

CAUSE: LACK OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING

  • In Chicago, 245,000 potential low-income renters (those households making less than $12,000 per year) compete for 155,000 affordable rental units. As a result, 130,000 renters cannot find affordable housing.
  • 151,000 households in the Chicagoland area have incomes at less than 50% of area median income and either pay more than half their income in rent or live in severely substandard housing. Of those households, 106,000 are in the city of Chicago.
  • In Illinois, 40% of all households cannot afford a market-rate two-bedroom apartment and 33% cannot afford a market-rate one-bedroom apartment. This ranks the state 12th worst in the nation in the gap between income and rental costs.
  • The affordable housing crisis, once concentrated in the cities, has spread to the suburbs. The number of suburban households in Chicago, for example, with critical housing needs jumped by 146,000 from 1991 to 1995-a 9% increases.
  • Nationally, 10.5 million renters compete for 6.1 million low-income units. This gap leaves 4.4 million people unable to find an affordable place to live.
  • More than 1 million families nationwide are on the waiting lists for assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In Chicago, there are 61,567 households on the waiting list.
  • Nationally, requests for housing assistance have increased by 74% in the last year. Only 27% of eligible low-income households currently receive housing assistance.
  • 18,000 units of public housing in Chicago are slated for demolition, displacing 42,000 people.
  • In 1998, 44% of families nationwide lived doubled or tripled up with family or friends prior to entering homeless shelters.

CAUSE: LACK OF LIVING WAGE JOBS

  • In 1997, almost 30% of all U.S. workers were employed in part-time or temporary positions, even though many of these workers actively sought full-time work.
  • A person must work full-time and earn at least $8.29/hour to reach the federal poverty level for a family of four ($16,588). According to the most recent Census Bureau report, 2.3 million people worked full-time in 1997 yet were below the poverty line.
  • A full-time worker at the minimum wage of $5.15/hour earns an annual income of $10,300 before taxes. Minimum-wage jobs generally provide no benefits such as health insurance or day care, nor do they provide opportunity for advancement.
  • Between 1980 and 1998, the average pay of working people increased just 68%, while CEO compensation grew by 1,596%.
  • The average CEO of a major corporation made $10.6 million in 1998, 419 times more than an average blue-collar worker.

IMPACT ON HOMELESSNESS ON CHILDREN

  • 50% of all children in shelters show signs of anxiety and depression.
  • Children in shelters show as high as a 70% rate of delay in immunizations, compared to 22% among low-income children who are housed.
  • 66% of students who missed 20 or more school days during the first, second or third grade will drop out of school.
  • Families with children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.

“FACTS” from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #37, August-September 1999

New HUD Notice Update on HUD Multifamily Restructuring Program

   The Department of Housing and Urban Development has made some changes in the rules and procedures governing project-based Section 8 contracts expiring in Federal Fiscal Year 1999 Appropriations Act signed in 1998.

   Most importantly, the new notice sets out changes to the tenant notification requirements. Owners are no longer required to provide 90-day notice to tenants of any rent increase, which may occur as a result of expiration, or termination of the contract. However, owners are now required to provide not less than one year written notification to tenants and HUD of expiration or termination of the contract.

   HUD has also provided a letter that that owners must use when the owner is intending to renew the Section 8 contract with HUD, and a sample letter that owners may use if they do not intend to renew the contract with HUD. If the owner plans not to renew, the letter must state the date of the contract expiration that the owner does not intend to renew the contract and, subject to appropriations, HUD will provide housing vouchers to eligible residents.

   Owners that are prepaying the FHA-insured mortgage on a project-based Section 8 property are required to provide HUD, each tenant of the property and the chief executive officer of the appropriate State or local government for the jurisdiction in which the project is located with at least 150 days, but not more than 270 days, written notice of their intent to prepay the mortgage. Owners may not increase the rent at the project for 60 days following the date of prepayment.

 Copyright and the Homeless Grapevine Issue 37, Aug.-Sept. 1999, Cleveland, Ohio

 

 

Interview with Paul Loeb: Activist

Grapevine Interview

PART I

Brian Davis: So you have a new book out and you are doing the City Club in Cleveland. The name of the book is “SOUL OF THE CITIZEN: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time.” Talk to me about the cynical time that we live in. What are some of your impressions?

Paul Loeb: To me the defining characteristic of our political culture is that it tells people that they can’t do anything to change things. And it does that in so many subtle ways, by saying “you don’t have a voice” and “we’re not going to listen to you, no one cares what you think”. It does that by damaging the stories of people looking for change, present and past. So it banishes successful examples. I can tell people about this amazing campaign finance reform that I wrote about in “SOUL OF THE CITIZEN” that passed in May based on five-dollars contributions for within people’s district. Taxes on lobbyists to pay for public financing and then they want a majority of Democrats, Republicans and Independents.

    And people’s jaws dropped because here’s an area that touches the corruption of politics by money, it touches everything because, basically, it says that the people with the money get to shape the politics in their interests and the heck with everybody else. So people feel so powerless in response to it and yet, here’s an example that suggests that maybe there is some way of changing it. And that people would respond but they don’t know about it and they aren’t told. And therefore they don’t have that strand of hope that will be gained by knowing that story. And that happens again and again.

    When I look at something like the student Anti-Apartheid movement that was the pivotal force in pushing through sanctions on South Africa. And Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize winner said to one of the students I interviewed, “I want to thank you for what you American students did; we might not have our freedom without it.”

    But I can go on campus today in 1999, and this movement was only about five years ago, and students won’t know about it. We are not told the stories that might inspire us; that is part of the cynicism. And then we are also not told the stories from the past, and when we do not know them we know them in versions that don’t do justice to them.

    But I can go to a campus today in 1999 and this movement was only about five years ago and students won’t know about it. We are not told the stories that might inspire us; that is part of the cynicism. And then we are also not told the stories from the past, and when we are also not told the stories from the past and when we do know then, we know them in versions that don’t do justice to them. So we don’t really know about the history of the abolitionist movement, or the women’s suffrage movement or any of the great democratic movements that changed this society. For most of us they are just, “Oh yeah, we heard they existed vaguely but be don’t have a sense of what it really took for people to get a National debate around slavery”. What did it take to get women to vote? So we are denied these inspiring examples that would help us in trying to make change in our time.

    Even when the media does tell them, they tell them in ways that don’t really do justice to them. I give the example of being on CNN and having them interview Rosa Parks, which of course was wonderful that they did the Montgomery bus boycott. But what they said was; one day she’s riding on a bus and she was asked to move to the back of the bus and that helped start the Civil Right Movement. And that’s just nonsense, because it started long before that. She started a dozen years before with other ordinary people. She started a dozen years before with other ordinary people.

    The guy who’s the head of the NAACP local is a sleeping car porter who takes jags on the train, these are just ordinary people who are working and they are trying. Some things work, and some things don’t work. And it seems that they are trying to move an immovable object and they do training sessions at a labor and civil rights center called Highlander. They are acting consciously in common, figuring out ways to keep on persevering. And then finally one of the many things that they do is Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the bus and the boycott, and the organizing indeed takes off, gets national attention and lights a fire. But when I look at that version which is the one that most people have, it is so stripped of meaning. It’s like some impossibly heroic person acts from nowhere and you know we couldn’t imagine ourselves doing that.

So the absence of models makes us cynical.

BD: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing Society in the next five years?

Paul Loeb: To me the challenge is to be able to draw the truths from the stories of people’s lives. With the people that I’m writing about and interviewing, I think that’s where the movements succeed. They’re able to do that by saying, “Don’t abstract us”.

    With the Latino women I write about, Virginia Ramirez in San Antonio, who was one of the strengths, organizes poor people, not homeless, so they at least had a more stable base. But it definitely was a very poor base largely. And what got Virginia Ramirez involved was this old woman whose house was so run down, she would freeze every winter and just get sicker and sicker. And eventually she just died. And so Virginia, who herself is poor, is inspired by this other woman to whom this injustice is done. And then she starts telling the story of her community and obviously combining that with political organizing, so they develop some clout because there are a lot of poor people in San Antonio. By pressuring the elected officials and the corporate structure of the city, they were able to bring investment into that community that never was there before.

    And I think that it’s hard, very, in a movement that feeds on itself. I don’t know if the callousness is the twin to the cynicism, but it is certainly allied with it. That says these people are not like us, we don’t have to really deal with them.

    So there is this sort of divide between the class of people who define the images and realities for so many of them, and I think that it is much worse nationally than in any given local city. But maybe some of that happens in the local city as well.

Then there are people who are bearing the brunt of the choices of our society. Of course the challenge is, somehow, instead of making the people invisible, to be able to say, ‘Look. These are the lives, these are the choices and these are the circumstances that land someone in this situation.’ And in fact there are things that we can do about this but we choose not to do it. The problem is not that we don’t have the money. In this society there is plenty of money.

    But we choose not to give everybody health care, being the only industrialized country in the world that chooses not to give adequate education to children if they happen to live in a poor community. We choose not top house people, and I’m quite sure that’s affordable. And it’s sort of the erosion of accountability that, I think, allows that to happen.

BD: In reading the stories, I came home with the sense that over the last thirty years the actions, the activities and the movements have been really just to tread water, to be able to in name only claim democracy. Like the Professor and Ramirez, those people were just so they could live in their communities doing things. While the large movements that changed the course of history, those things just aren’t….

Paul Loeb: Well it’s tricky because it sort of depends on how you define it. In some areas, obviously, we have gone backwards. Our average real wages are below that they were in 1973, so we’ve gone backwards in that area. But there is definitely more environmental awareness and concern and even accountability. Unlike years ago, there are things that corporations just can not get away with today, for all that they do get away with, that they just wouldn’t have gotten away with thirty years ago.

    The shift in women’s role over the past thirty years is profound, and so you have this very uneven picture where on some levels there have been, I would say, real advances for justice, and then on some other levels there haven’t been. On some levels it has been treading water, or local victories and gains, and then at the same time some significant erosions nationally.

    This tied in with the declining voting rates, particularly among poorer people. How does a Voinovich get elected? Part of it is by the people who don’t turn out to vote.

    And whose interest is not being served by the policies made, but are just not paid heed to by the people who feel they don’t have to worry about them. You know it’s a hard challenge. I think that part of the challenge is instead of that person who is struggling, you know the average workweek is now up to 49 hours a week for a full-time job, struggling to get by and survive and then stigmatize the homeless person. To scapegoat them and then see them as a threat. To basically make some kind of alliance that says all of us, except for that very, very elite golden sector echelon at the top, are really getting hurt by these choices. And if the top 1% has more than the bottom 94%, which is now the case in terms of wealth, then you’ve got a significant body of the people, which has a common interest in seeing some different choices made. That’s a hard thing to do, certainly, but it’s not an impossible task. And it seems to me that that’s part of the task that has to be done.

BD: In Cleveland, Atlanta and Miami, the cities had policies of picking up homeless people, kidnapping them off the street and dumping them wherever. And in Atlanta and Cleveland those were Democrats in office who forwarded that agenda for the business community. They were caught and they had to settle with the brave people who stepped forward, but there wasn’t a huge public outcry. They just showed it on the news that they were moving people out of Atlanta for the Olympics, and it was pretty accepted that that might have been necessary, and in the community’s best interest that they move people out of downtown.

Paul Loeb: I know it’s hard, and I think the challenge is to reinvent that type of human solidarity that says you are a fellow child of God, it is wrong to do this to a fellow human being, and you are not fundamentally different than I am. And again the stigmatizing and the demonizing says they are indeed a different breed of person, and we don’t have to look at them seriously as human beings. And again that callous type of statement has been in the national debate, and on the other hand I stress a lot taking a long-term perspective because to me that’s where hope does lie. I look at Mandela in jail for 27 years, and he was probably acting for his grandchildren, and had no sense that in South Africa he would be free. And you could say that the consolation of forces were lined up so South Africa had to yield to the pressure, but it sure didn’t look like that for a long, long time.

    So part of the challenge is that when we are in a difficult and frustrating situation, to have that patience to say we are going to keep at it and we don’t know how long it is going to take because you never do.

BD: I think there are amazing things going on around the world, such as Indonesia. In the United States we don’t have an enemy, but the media and television images play a very important role in distorting the view of the world, and the country that we live in.

Paul Loeb: And making those at the bottom almost the enemy of our society. It’s odd that for all the boosterism about the good time and the stock market I think most people in our society are pretty anxious these days and feel that the ground has just been jerked from under their feet. And not knowing where to move next so that it won’t be jerked away further.

    I think that the fear is part of what has been used politically in scapegoating people. At the same time I think that it is an unease that can be spoken to potentially, to say lets have some accountability about the real causes about the insecurity that we feel. That it is not that the person on the street, but it is the fear that it may be ourselves sleeping on the street. So the line that has been drawn between the homeless and the people on welfare and everyone else is a convenient line because it allows people to focus downward in their fear, and in their anger and in their frustration. To me the line that has to be drawn is the line between those who are doing spectacularly well and making the decisions that make the lives of us so precarious. Whether it be the HMOs that make our medical care more uncertain or the regressive tax cuts that supposedly relieve the middle- class burden, but give most of the proceeds to those in the top 5%.

    Or the kinds of disinvestments in public education, all of those kinds of things just make it harder for most people. And, again, one of the tremendously valuable things that a newspaper like this does, is that it’s a vehicle to remind people that the sources that they are taught to scapegoat are not themselves to blame, but in fact they have more in common with them than they are told by much of the media. And that seems to be a very important task.

To be continued in Grapevine Issue 38.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #37, August-September 1999

THE INJUSTICE OF IT ALL (con’t) Survival of the Fittest?

Commentary:

Welfare reform has brought us choice: Food or Health.

Choice I: One of our vendors lives in a motel with her family and receives cash assistance, medical coverage and food stamps. She developed cervical cancer and needed to be hospitalized. After surgery she was told to rest so that her surgical stitches could heal. Her caseworker had a different idea. The rule is that you must work or do 20 hours of volunteer work in exchange for the food stamps. They told her to go out and get the food stamp volunteer form filled out to get her food stamps.

Choice II: Who is the strongest to survive on the streets? Over the winter, we met up with a woman, “Brenda”, on the first day of being homeless. She had stayed at Project HEAT and was terrified of going back. It seems that she had lived in a duplex off of Broadway with thirteen other people who were mostly family members. Because of welfare reform another family member, who was a mother with a young child, needed to move into this household. It was decided by the matriarch of the family that “Brenda”, who was 20 years old at the time, was the most likely to be able to survive on the streets and was chosen to leave the crowded house. They realized that another person could not fit in this house and a tough decision had to be made.

Imagine “Brenda” having to rationalize this in her head. While her family loved her, they were forced to jettison her from the house to that a young child would have a place. What is this message? You have a better chance of finding a place if you can tug on people’s heartstrings with a child? Society is turning away from helping young mothers? We really have not advanced society much despite the extreme amount of wealth that we possess. Families are making the same decisions that they were forced to make in the darkest days of European history.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 37, Aug.-Sept.1999, Cleveland, Ohio

Neal Roesky Remembered

by Danny Stephens

Neal Roesky and I had pretty much the same conversation every Friday for the last three months. He would spot me coming around the corner with a set of keys and say, “Going to Kentucky, Danny?” While nodding my head and winking at him I would say, “I’m headed south to God’s country, Buddy!” He would smile while giving his head a sharp turn, wishing he were healthy enough to go with me. “Have a good weekend; see you when you get back,” he would respond. I would shake his hand and make sure he didn’t need anything before I left, and together we would hope that we would hear something from the housing authority about the apartment he hoped to move into soon.

Our conversation on August 6th was a little bit different. Instead of driving to Kentucky, I was driving down to Lynchburg, VA. This especially excited Neal because of the Civil War graveyard there and he told me some things to look for. He was a huge Civil War buff and knew a lot of the history. I have never seen Neal without his Yankee hat and vest. We used to spend a lot of time talking about the Civil War. Neal admits his fascination came from stories his father used to tell him years ago. After his father died when he was young, Neal kept studying about the Civil War.

Neal lived his last three months in our emergency shelter at Volunteers of America (VOA). He was in poor health and his goal was simply to obtain an apartment at Riverview on West 25th Street. This was close to the location where his father died and where Neal was born and raised. Neal also wanted to die in that area so that his spirit would be close to his father’s.

Neal had gotten diabetes some years ago, which eventually led to his chronic heart failure, along with other health problems. Neal was in the hospital at Metro for a while after an open-heart surgery. When he got out, his landlord had rented the apartment out from under him. He was walking down the street and got robbed and beaten with his own cane-all for a few dollars and a handful of pain pills. Sister Corita, at St. Augustine’s was kind enough to give him another cane when he came to the VOA. We helped Neal by giving him rides to the doctor and pharmacy, finding personal items and clothes, assisting him with CMHA and Social Security paperwork and continually advocating on his behalf.

People would sometimes make fun of Neal because of his appearance, saying such things as, “The war is over, Buddy.” Nonetheless, Neal kept going. He was often in a great deal of pain but we rarely heard him complain.

Neal died in bed at the VOA during the night of August 8, 1999. During my weekend in Lynchburg, I thought about Neal as I walked through some of the Civil War graves. I couldn’t help but see him in full uniform, his face proud and dignified and without apology. I’ll miss our Friday conversations and talking with him about the time he was a drummer in a band. There will be several people in Cleveland that will miss him as well.

One time I asked Neal if he wanted one of those new baseball hats out of the donations. He said, “Got no use for it; I’ll die with the hat I got!” He was right.

Neal Roesky was my friend. May his soul rest in peace.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #37, August-September 1999

THE INJUSTICE OF IT ALL: Klan Conquers Cleveland

Commentary Compiled by Alex Grabtree

    After we endured the division within the community because of the planned Ku Klux Klan rally between the Mayor and the police force and the NAACP, then we see the city face a complete lock-down of the city in a Security State that will close the Downtown area for one day. We find that homeless people will be adversely impacted because of the KKK rally.

    NEOCH is hosting the Seventh Annual Homeless Stand Down all day service fair. Every service that a homeless person might need is provided at one location. There are medical services, donations, jobs information and sixty social service providers available for help. This year, we planned to have a Municipal Judge and City Prosecutor at the Stand Down in an attempt to clear up misdemeanor cases of homeless people. They could plead them out and be assigned community service at the Stand Down. This was modeled after the program in Cincinnati that has proven very successful.

    The municipal judge was enthusiastic, the legal community was looking forward to this opportunity, but the Klan takes precedence. The City Prosecutors will all be in training on Friday before the Klan rally (the day of the Stand Down) to go over arrest protocols for the rally. They could not spare any staff to attend the Stand Down.

    This must be marked down as a huge victory for the Klan. They have successfully attracted attention to their mission of hate for one month in Cleveland and they are basically shutting down municipal operations for two days. It is amazing that a call for hate has brought so much attention while a call for justice in our community hardly creates a ripple.

   Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 37, Aug.-Sept.1999, Cleveland, Ohio

Homelessness Is Not Just an Urban Concern

by Jimmy Heath

    Many people associate the problems of homelessness and poverty with big city life -soup kitchens and shelters, homeless people begging for change or pushing a shopping cart on downtown sidewalks, people sleeping on park benches or huddled in doorways –these are the visible city-bound stereotypes that everyone is familiar with. Most people are aware of the homeless problem in this country only because of these observable examples on our downtown city streets. However, the problems of homelessness and poverty-related issues also exist out of the sight in this country’s poor and rural areas. Millions of persons, including families, find themselves in desperate situations in America’s small towns and rural areas.

    The Center for Community Change, a Washington based community-grassroots development organization, reports that poverty is actually more prevalent in rural areas. Rural areas have lower incomes, lower employment levels and somewhat higher poverty levels and somewhat than metropolitan areas.

    Understanding rural homelessness requires a more flexible definition of homelessness. According to information from the National Coalition for the Homeless, “there are far fewer shelters in rural areas; therefore, people experiencing homelessness are more likely to live in a car or camper, or with relatives in overcrowded or substandard housing. Restricting definitions of homelessness to include only those who are literally homeless – that is, on the streets or in the shelters – does not fit well with the rural reality…”

    A lack of resources, a shortage of jobs and affordable housing in America’s heartland, paint a grave picture of 20th century life for the rural homeless. The problems for the rural homeless are further compounded by isolation. Families and individuals seeking help must travel, sometimes with great difficulty, to urban areas when seeking help, whether for jobs, housing or public assistance. For example, opportunities for employment for rural families is affected by the recent phenomena of business clustering, where industries and suppliers locate in strategic groupings adjacent to one another. These groupings are often located in the same city or region, near urban airports and infrastructures. These businesses rarely locate in isolated rural areas creating a vacuum of opportunities for poor families. Families on the move, looking for greener pastures, are America’s homeless nomads.

    “One of the other problems of the rural homeless are that programs designed to alleviate homelessness are targeted to urban areas and basically ignore the same conditions in rural America, resulting in a woeful lack of funding resources for rural communities,” says Donald Whitehead, director of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. “One of the solutions is to get more of the rural communities involved in the HUD Continuum of Care application and funding process. The Coalition for Housing and Homelessness in Ohio (COHHIO) is one of many organizations working to bring more of these rural communities into the process.” The HUD Continuum of Care program targets federal funding dollars to homeless programs.

    Efforts to end rural homelessness, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless are complicated by isolation, lack of awareness and lack of resources. Helpful initiatives would include broadening the definition of homelessness to include those in temporary and/or dilapidated facilities, increasing outreach to isolated areas and increasing networking and awareness on a national level. Ultimately, however, ending homelessness in rural areas requires jobs that pay a living wage, adequate income support for those who cannot work, affordable housing, access to health care and transportation.

Story from the Cincinnati Streetvibes newspaper

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #37, August-September 1999

Homeless Grapevine Hosts NASNA Conference at CWRU

by Brian Davis

    Four years ago, editors and vendors with the assistance of the National Coalition for the Homeless came together to form the North American Street Newspaper Association (NASNA). In Chicago, the skeleton of an organization was constructed with members from Montreal to Seattle, from Boston to San Francisco and Cleveland to Atlanta.

    In 1999, NASNA came to Cleveland to regroup and set goals for hiring a staff for the future. July 22-25, over 80 people from all over North America gathered at Case Western Reserve University with twenty-six street papers represented. Two French language papers from the future country of Quebec attended the Fourth Annual conference under the theme of “Strength Through Unity”.

    Newly elected Executive Committee member and editor of the Edmonton street paper, “Our Voice”, Michael Walters said, “The conference in Cleveland was a great one for the maturity of NASNA as an organization.” Donald Whitehead, editor of “Street Vibes” in Cincinnati and frequent contributor to the “Grapevine” said, “NASNA seems on the verge of substantial growth as a movement, perhaps rivaling the underground newspaper movement of the past decades.”

    Boston poet Marc D. Goldfinger and local Cleveland poet Daniel Thompson performed at a welcoming session on Thursday evening July 22. These two beatniks filled the hot dormitory with ideas about poverty as vendors and newspaper staff rested from their travels.

    Congressman Dennis Kucinich welcomed the participants to the conference on Friday July 23. Kucinich, a former newspaper stringer with “The Plain Dealer” and local council member provided the proper context for the event. He talked about the importance of street newspapers to “tell the stories of the community”. He said that street newspapers are the best qualified to record the pulse of the city because they are closest to the real stories. Kucinich said, “If you want to find out what is really going on in a city, turn to the street newspaper.”

    The Congressman had kind words for the “Grapevine” and gave examples of the power of the written word. He gave a pep talk to the editors to continue to publish the forgotten stories and he said that eventually “your efforts will be rewarded”. Kucinich finished his talk with the story of his efforts to save the Salvation Army PASS program and the power of community pressure after a story is reported in the media.

    Norma Green of Columbia College updated her discussion of the “history of the Street Newspaper movement,” which received high praise from those gathered. Lee Stringer, a former vendor from New York’s street paper, “Street News” was the keynote speaker (see in this issue ‘With a Name Like Stringer, He Was Born to Write…’). Stringer detailed the transformation from homeless recycling king to professional vendor and now author of “Grand Central Winter”.

    The NASNA conference featured the education workshops with local professionals Cindy Barber, formerly editor of the “Free Times”, Roldo Baltimole, “Free Times” columnist and leading government critic. Gino Scarselli of the American Civil Liberties Union talked about the two cases that he assisted with: the homeless dumping case and the “ Grapevine” licensing case for a workshop entitled Civil Rights for Homeless People. There were forums on writing, vending the papers, fundraising and other sustainability issues for street newspapers.

    Newly elected co-chair of NASNA Eric Cimon from Montreal’s “Journal L’Itine’raire” said, “I think that movement is not just existing but a working organization. I think that the people are getting to know each other better and are communicating better. We are moving forward on the issues.”

    When asked about his priorities over the next year as co-chair, Eric said that he wants to make sure that the organizations within NASNA communicate with each other. He intends to work out some linkages with the International Street Newspaper Association. Finally, Cimon wants to “make sure that we go forward with the priorities that we have.”

    The heart of the conference was the business meeting to dream of things that could be and plan for things that must happen over the next year. The major priorities for the next years include establishing a paper in the 100 largest cities in North America by 2005, hiring a staff to coordinate the work of NASNA and obtain independent not-for-profit status for the organization. Unlike in previous years, there was pretty universal support for the priorities that were established by NASNA. In fact, one high priority was to update and maintain the NASNA website, which was accomplished in one week by Seattle’s Anitra Freeman.

    Walters of “Our Voice” said, “There was a lot of focus on the importance of the street paper movement and how specifically we need to work together to create a powerful mechanism that will help people living in poverty all across North America. In the past, this has indeed been an important issue but, in Cleveland, I think we started to believe that this was a realistic goal.”

    Walters and his staff will host the 2000 NASNA conference and he said that he hopes to continue the energy from the Cleveland conference and make the next gathering the best to date.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #37, August-September 1999