Self-Employment Beats Relying on a Government Check for Rent

Commentary by Delores Manley

     I have a job. I am a self-employed vendor of The Homeless Grapevine. I, like many people who sell products, have a vendor’s license to sell the paper. I have to abide by the rules of the paper to keep my license, and we go through training before we get it. A person with little to no income can make a decent living or better by selling this paper.

      I work during the winter months just at the West Side Market so I can make enough to rent a room, buy some groceries, and put a little in the bank. But, in the summer, when I can, I will go to other locations to make more money. I once knew a vendor who was so ambitious he made $1,500 a week selling the Grapevine. That’s $6,000 a month, or about $78,000 a year, and that was almost ten years ago. So don’t tell us to get a job because we’re doing very well being self-employed.

    The Homeless Grapevine isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme like some other businesses where you have to put money down to start. After someone is trained, they receive a temporary vending license, and they are given 10 free papers to start. That means someone can put $5 in their pocket almost right away, and buy another 20 papers with the other $5 they make. That 20 papers brings the vendor another $20, and then they can turn around and get 40 papers by putting down another $10, which means they can then make $40 and so on.

      We are not panhandling - we’re selling a real product. If we panhandled, we could lose our licenses. I have seen people give money to horn players and violin players on the streets. No one calls them bums and tells them to “get a job,” so why do people have to put us down? We are human beings too.

     Sometimes our vendors are nice and even give away copies of the paper instead of charging a dollar. Don’t criticize our paper if you don’t read it. Also, I have seen people wearing sports shirts that cost $35-$45, or even more. People don’t mind paying that much for a shirt that should probably cost $15 or less so don’t knock our business; we’re not ripping people off.

    This paper keeps me from going on welfare and from living off of your taxes. You have a choice, we don’t pressure you into buying the paper. Some people’s kids insist on making their parents buy them those $75 player’s shirts so they can be part of the “in-crowd,” though the shirts shouldn’t cost anywhere near that much. The player wouldn’t even acknowledge someone wearing their shirt unless that person was dying or on-camera.

    Meanwhile, our paper is only a dollar, and you get lots of stories about homeless people and articles written by homeless people. Even you can write an article if you want, and you would be compensated with 60 free papers for that. Just think - you can show your friends that you wrote an article, and you can speak your mind.

   Lots of people subscribe to and read the Grapevine. Reporters at channels 3, 5, and 8 read the Grapevine. Something about our paper must interest them if they’re reading it. Also, our paper has valuable information for people living on the streets, like where to find help with food, shelter, abuse, alcoholism, etc.

    This paper can do a lot for just one buck. I know sometimes panhandlers try to sell our paper, if they find one that a customer has thrown out, but all you have to do is ask to see a badge. A real Grapevine vendor will be happy to show you a badge. A panhandler will just shake his cup at you. I used to use a can to keep my money, but I was told to be professional with the paper, so now I act like a business person when I get a buck or two.

 Copyright NEOCH, The Homeless Grapevine #70, May 2005. All Rights Reserved