Homeless Helping Themselves

The homeless illegally camping in the American River Parkway is a huge problem that has been going on for decades, so any worthy program that appears to offer hope to getting people out of homelessness is one we profile.

This article in Philanthropy Roundtable Magazine is about such a program where the homeless help themselves by selling homelessness-themed newspapers published every other week.

There is a similar program in Sacramento (the Homeward Street Journal http://homeward.wikispaces.com/ published every other month) but it does not seem to be as well-organized as this one and publishing only 6 papers a year versus 26 for Street Sense, does not create as much opportunity for retail sales by the homeless.

An excerpt.

It’s a rainy spring day in the nation’s capital. Inside a toasty old back office, James Davis, the self-dubbed “CEO of 17th and L Street,” is holding forth on what it takes to be a successful street newspaper vendor. He should know: In ten years working on his favorite corner, he has sold 100,000 copies.

Street Sense, a biweekly paper sold by D.C.’s homeless, offers flexible employment and practical life lessons where both are scarce. Beyond a training session and adherence to the code of conduct, there is no barrier to entry; all comers are accepted regardless of work history or criminal record. It calls on entrepreneurial skills and habits of discipline many vendors never knew they had, but old pros like Davis help them develop. Remember, he tells his audience, you are your own boss, and this is your own business; you will get out of it as much as you put in. It helps to have a catchphrase, such as his signature, “Help the homeless help themselves by supporting Street Sense!”

Founded in 2003 by banking reporter Laura Thompson Osuri and shelter volunteer Ted Henson, Street Sense has counterparts in more than 100 major cities in the U.S. and abroad. Vendors purchase papers wholesale and resell them retail, pocketing the profits. In D.C., they invest 50 cents per paper and collect $2 or more per sale; many customers are happy to contribute extra, especially to vendors they’ve established a rapport with. Davis says an active vendor can earn $100 a day. Paper sales account for a quarter of the nonprofit’s operating expenses; grants and donations provide the rest of the $250,000 annual budget. (More about them at http://streetsense.org/about/#.U_39Fdl0yM8 )

Retrieved August 26, 2014 from http://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/topic/excellence_in_philanthropy/nonprofit_spotlight_street_sense

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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