Street Sheet’s Death Greatly Exaggerated

by Niki Nohejl

            Chance Martin, the editor of Street Sheet, the San Francisco Newspaper for the Homeless said it is still in circulation despite a financial rough-patch. He said every one on staff took layoffs and collected unemployment, but the paper stayed in production as a volunteer effort.

            “We really take a lot of pride in being the oldest street paper in regular, monthly production in the U.S. . . . over fifteen years of continuous publication, over 400 regularly active vendors, and something upwards of $6 million in survival income painlessly transferred from the public to our vendors, legally and with dignity,” Martin said.

            The paper has received huge support from the public. According to Martin, 200 new individual donors were added to the donor base, and the paper gained new foundation supporters along with additional people who underwrite the Street Sheet for $50 per month. He said, “The outpouring of public support following a couple of articles about our financial woes was overwhelming. Meaning, I guess there are still people out there who think the work we do here is as important as we believe it is.”

            The Street Sheet is also in the process of reconstructing the Coalition on Homelessness, Martin said. He said they have consolidated some essential functions and eliminated a few staff positions. Seventy-five percent of the remaining staff are formerly homeless, and all of the staff started as volunteers. According to Martin, these financial hindrances gave the paper the ability to start fresh and improve it at the same time.

            Martin said, “The value of financial setbacks like we just experienced is that we were compelled to undertake some hard-eyed evaluations of what we do and how we do it—where do we get the best bang for our buck, and where we are just spinning our wheels? We’re heading into the new year as a leaner, more responsive and effective organization.”

            The Street Sheet is similar to The Homeless Grapevine because it is written and sold by homeless people, along with volunteer writers. Volunteers for the Coalition on Homelessness started the paper in 1989, but it wasn’t successful until Phil Collins invited them to sell their paper at a table during one of his concerts. Unfortunately, the paper didn’t sell well at the concert, but a group of homeless people offered to sell the remaining ones. The group found success selling the papers, and since then, circulation has increased heavily and provided a voice that speaks out against injustice

            According to Martin, the Street Sheet is one of six projects at COH. Others include Civil Rights, Family Rights and Dignity, Housing Not Borders, Shelter Outreach, and Substance Abuse Mental Health Work Group (SAMH). Martin said, “All these issues come together.”

Copyright NEOCH, The Homeless Grapevine #68, February 2005. All Rights Reserved