StreetWise

Via Gapers Block comes this link to a screed about why you shouldn’t buy Streetwise from the vendors. Here is the justification:

…[A]fter seeing several “mothers” with between five and six children peddling StreetWise in the 20 degree weather over the last few days this holiday weekend near Michigan Ave., I have made a decision. I will never support StreetWise and neither should you. The reason? There is absolutely no excuse for keeping 2, 3 and 4 year old children out in freezing weather to lift yourself up. StreetWise is pimping children and freezing them for money to get your money and keep a sham of an organization alive…

I’ll agree that it isn’t very wise to have little kids out there in the cold. I don’t get the leap from the vendor making that bad decision to “StreetWise is pimping children”. There’s a lot of other unsubstantiated claims, such as the assertion that StreeWise is:

an organization that never intends to make anyone they supposedly help into independence.

I really don’t understand all of this. I try to always buy the paper, and I tend to see the same vendors and say hi to them when I do. Ideally, I’d love to never see them selling the paper again because they don’t need to anymore. All told, though, I’d much rather buy the paper from a vendor than have someone hitting me up for a gift of cash.

What I like better is the way the analogous paper, StreetRoots is done in Portland. There, the paper is in the majority written by the same people who are selling it. There’s a few volunteer staffers, but the same homeless people selling the paper also do some of the journalism, write most of the op-ed pieces, and write profiles of each other. The center pages are usually devoted to poetry and stories. It’s one thing to buy the paper from a vendor, another to buy one from a vendor who says “Check out page 13 – I have a poem in this one. I think its one of my best!” Part of what I like best about selling the paper is that it shifts the power equation. No longer is the homeless person asking passers by for a grant, it becomes entrepenuership in which they and we are partners in a transaction – value for value. I think it is even better when they are engaged enough to be part of the creation of the content. For example, here’s a piece I really like, an exhortation for citizens to be nice to the vendors written by vendor Ron Britt. When he says

You don’t always have to buy a paper. You bring joy and happiness to others by saying “Hi!” back. Remember, we only have a little time on this earth and, no matter how long we have left in this life, live it with peace and love for everyone. No matter, be kind to one another, okay.

what is there to do but nod, smile and say “Hi, friend!”