Struggling to Recruit and Train Vendors

by Michael Gibbs

            Working with The Homeless Grapevine vendors has been a challenging and rewarding experience. I have a lot of respect for someone who is in a difficult situation and has enough desire to attempt to make their situation better. I work with people who are on the street or that have been or are about to be homeless. This situation can really put someone’s emotional state in a tailspin, so I’m glad that I have the opportunity to be in a position to reach my hand out and give these wonderful people a chance to be part of something. Grapevine vendors go through quite a bit of hassle out there on the street and to see the way they adapt and overcome the challenges that are presented to them makes this job worthwhile.

            Being a vendor for the Grapevine has many rewards other than putting some much needed money in their pockets. This gives people the opportunity to have a voice in their community and allows them to reach out their hands for some much needed help. It also gives them a chance to get active in things that they believe in. To be part of the solution and not the problem is very important to the vendors. They all have the option to come to meetings on a monthly basis to votes on issues that they feel will make their newspaper better. If vendors want they can come into the office on a regular basis and do some volunteer work for the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. When they do volunteer work they receive some newspapers for their efforts, and this all fits into the incentive program that we offer to them. Some of the other incentives that we offer are that they can receive papers if they write and article for the paper. One other thing that we offer to them is they can receive papers if they recommend new vendors to sell the paper.

            How do you become a Grapevine vendor, you might ask? Well, most of the time people come in to the office here at the Coalition and request information on how to sell the Grapevine. That’s where I come in and sit down with them to explain what we’re all about. I use a contract that gives them the rules and regulations in terms that they can understand. After we go over the contract, I issue them a temporary badge that must be displayed when they are selling the newspaper. The next step is: I give them ten free papers to get them started. I take them out to an established spot (usually the West Side Market) to train them how to talk to people, establish their own pitch, and build their self esteem. This usually lasts for about an hour, and then they’re on their own. When they sell those ten papers they can come back to the office and purchase more papers for 20 cents a piece. While they have their temporary badge, which is good for 30 days, I ask them to sell 300 papers, which for some of them is no big deal and for some is a really big deal. If someone is having trouble getting this accomplished I will usually take a little more time with them and offer as much help as I can in order for them to reach their goal. After they sell their required amount of papers I issue them a permanent badge that has their picture on it and this makes them an official employee. I say employee because this is a legitimate job and these vendors can always use me as a job reference when they seek more permanent employment.

            So as you can see, it’s not necessarily an easy thing to be a vendor this street newspaper. 90% of the people who I deal with have the motivation to better their lives. I am glad that I have the opportunity to not only be in these people’s lives but to sit back and watch them grow as individuals. So the next time you see one of the Grapevine vendors, spend a second or two to say hello, because these folks are really giving it their all.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #39, December 1999-January 2000