North American Street Papers Gather in Boston

         The women and men who publish, edit, write, find advertising, and vend street newspapers traveled to Boston to celebrate previous victories and layout a plan for the coming year. For Cleveland, the Homeless Grapevine was represented by editor Brian Davis and vendor Marsha Rizzo Swanson. Once again this year Swanson won the North American vend off by dressing up as a duck and selling nearly 50 papers in one hour.

        The North American Street Newspaper Association meets on an annual basis in various cities in Canada and the United States to rekindle bonds and refocus the movement. Spare Change and Whats Up Boston were the host newspapers this year and graciously opened their arms to the 43 other street newspapers in North America and even representatives from the international street news papers. This year’s conference featured a rich, diverse and informative group of workshops to educate the membership on vending strategies for recruitment, fundraising and updates on social justice movements.

        This year the hosts planned many events outside of the conference, which allowed the members to interact in an informal setting. Spare Change celebrated its tenth anniversary of continuous publishing during the conference with a celebration dinner. There was a nice mix of homeless people, vendors, volunteers, and staff. The organizers provided the members a chance to go on the famous amphibious duck tour of Boston and a traditional Boston clam bake.

        A new executive committee was constructed with former chairperson Tim Harris of Seattle’s Real Change. Next year’s host city Quebec City representative Bernard Helie has a seat as a vice chair. The new executive committee has an aggressive set of goals to accomplish this year. Goals include finally obtaining non-profit status, capacity building for existing papers, and effectively communicating the work of the street papers to the broader community.

        Cleveland’s own Homeless Grapevine vendor, Marsha Rizzo Swanson successfully defended her title as champion sales person. In the spirit of the Duck Tour of Boston, Marsha spent days making a duck costume to boost her sales during the vend off. Marsha was able to sell nearly 50 papers in one hour. Her continued dominance of the vend off contest did create some controversy with the other vendors. Marsha was the only vendor dressed in a costume and was very aggressive in talking to as many pedestrians as possible. NASNA members agreed to establish a rigorous written set of rules and judges for next year.

        Marsha is undecided if she will defend her title in Quebec or will take a one year break and compete in the 2004 conference which will take place in Fort Lauderdale Florida.

        Every year in the recap of the NASNA conference, we look at the host city and their treatment of homeless people. This year’s host, Boston, has made national news in their attempts to deal with the number of homeless people. Mayor Tom Menino addressed the NASNA conference and was thanked for putting housing at the top of the agenda of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which he chaired this last year. While touring Boston and its famous freedom trail, we did see a number of homeless people who were expressing that freedom by sleeping outside.

        Boston did not have the huge pan handling problem of Seattle or Chicago. There are also not the large number of homeless people sleeping outside that face Washington D.C. or San Francisco. There is a great amount of hype associated with Boston’s strides in serving the homeless population. There are not the stories of Boston conducting massive criminalization efforts that other cities have embraced. The man tapped by George W. Bush to head the InterAgency Task Force on Homelessness, Phil Mangano, hails from Boston. For all the hype, Boston seems to have found some ability to move homeless people into stability despite the high cost of rent.

        Published in the Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio August 2002 Issue 56