American Street Newspaper Association Showing Signs of Strain in Movement

Commentary by Brian Davis

            Things are starting to splinter within the North American Street Newspaper Association in its eighth year. Many prominent papers in North America are no longer members including the largest papers, in San Francisco and Chicago; as well as some of the journalistically superior papers from Berkeley and one of the first papers from New York City. This year was the smallest gathering of street newspapers in its history. There are growing splits over which papers can be members and a number of papers have run into financial problems. The 2004 NASNA conference was cancelled. Many gathered were frustrated that NASNA, the street newspapers trade association, was not providing many benefits to its members.

            The women and men who publish, edit, write, find advertising, and vend street newspapers traveled to Quebec, Canada to review the last year and lay out a plan for the coming year. For Cleveland, the Homeless Grapevine was represented by editor Brian Davis and vendor Marsha Rizzo Swanson. Swanson decided to compete in the vend off, but was disqualified because of perceived violations of the rules. Swanson denies that she did not abide by the rules and appealed her disqualification.

            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. La Quete newspaper was the host newspapers this year and graciously opened their arms to the 28 other street newspapers in North America. This year’s conference featured a great deal of uncertainty about the future of the movement. Papers in Dallas and Raleigh went out of business over the past year. The large paper in Montreal reorganized, and the 2004 conference was cancelled. One member who wished to remain unnamed said, “We need to see some real progress on goals or what is the point in joining [NASNA]?”

            The executive committee remained largely in tact from last year. Tim Harris of Seattle’s Real Change was re-elected as chairperson. The Quebec City representative Bernard Helie was again elected as a vice chair, and founding member Michael Stoops remained as Treasurer. The new executive committee has an aggressive set of goals to accomplish this year. Goals include finally obtaining non-profit status, constructing a communication system among the papers, joining the International Street paper and NASNA street news service so that all street papers can exchange stories, and supporting existing papers better. They have two years to work out this agenda since there will be no time diverted to having to plan a conference.

            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, Quebec, was about a decade behind most American cities in its treatment of homeless people. At this time there are not the visible people sleeping outside. There is not a massive emergency network of services, and there is not the crisis in affordable housing that we have in America. Canada is doing everything it can to move closer to the mistakes of the United States.

            Canadian elected officials are rolling back the gains made in universal access to health care. There are dramatic plans to cut housing availability to people with very low incomes. There is an attempt to overhaul the welfare system, and a number of cities in Canada are criminalizing homeless people by passing anti-panhandling, anti camping, and strict interpretations of quality of life violations. So Quebec at this time has a wonderful system for assisting homeless people back to stability, but many of the provinces and federal government are trying as hard as they can to address homelessness in as poor a manner as its neighbors to the south.

            The Mayor of Quebec spoke to those gathered for the conference. He spoke highly of the Quebec street newspaper and complimented the street newspaper movement. He said that he valued the work of La Quete, and realized its importance in the larger social change movement.

            NASNA did award the Montreal paper L’Itineraire the first Joel Alfassa award in commentary or editorial opinion. Joel Alfassa was a writer from Chicago who attended many NASNA conferences and who died in 2003 after a long illness. Joel was published in many papers throughout the United States and Canada including the Grapevine. His family presented the award.

Copyright to the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio 2003. For publication exclusively by the North American Street Newspaper Association and its member papers. No other newspaper including INSP papers may publish stories from the Homeless Grapevine—Cleveland Ohio