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Street Sense

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Homeless & Housing, Homeless Centers, Human Services

Mission: The mission of Street Sense is to empower the homeless and educate the public about issues of homelessness, utilizing a bi-weekly newspaper as the vehicle.  Street Sense works to address the challenges of homelessness in a unique and innovative way – by providing a low-barrier employment opportunity for homeless men and women to earn an income and move toward financial self-sufficiency. Homeless “vendors” make a personal financial investment in the paper, purchasing each issue for 35 cents and selling the paper for one dollar, earning on average $45 per day. In addition to the economic opportunities afforded by Street Sense, the organization gives those facing homelessness a voice; about half of the articles in Street Sense are written by homeless and formerly homeless vendors.

Results: Street Sense was established in August 2003 after two volunteers, Laura Thompson Osuri and Ted Henson, approached the National Coalition for the Homeless with the idea to start a newspaper as a means of empowering the less fortunate. On November 15, 2003, the first issue of Street Sense debuted with just a dozen homeless vendors selling 5,000 copies. Today, Street Sense has three professionals, more than 100 active vendors and nearly 30,000 copies in circulation each month. Street Sense is a member of the National Association of Street Newspapers (NASNA), which comprises thirty street newspapers across North America. For Street Sense to be successful, vendors must be making improvements in their lives. Our most recent vendor survey indicates that 19% of responding vendors moved into housing of their own since coming to Street Sense and 21% began full- or part-time jobs. Nearly 100% of vendors reported improvements in their lives through reconnecting with family, obtaining drug or alcohol treatment or simply gaining a sense of pride and self-respect; the vendors attribute these successes to Street Sense.  One vendor said of Street Sense, “It’s like a string of pearls…one good thing after another.” Another vendor, commenting on the changes Street Sense brought to his life: “An increase in self-esteem, residential stability, a stronger determination and focus for my life and the ability to start living my dreams.”

Target demographics: Our target group is the homeless population of Washington, DC.  Currently, we have 102 active vendors.  They are a racially- and ethnically-diverse group, including men and women and ranging in age from 20-70 years old. Further we seek to educate the entire metropolitan area about the issues of homelessness, hunger and poverty.

Direct beneficiaries per year: Currently, more than 100 homeless vendors are earning an income, regaining a sense of dignity and moving on a path toward financial self-sufficiency through Street Sense. Many more are impacted by the organization each year.

Geographic areas served: Washington, D.C. Metro Area

Programs: We produce Street Sense, a 16-page bi-weekly newspaper, and provide it at a price below cost, to homeless individuals who then sell the paper and keep the proceeds to support daily survival and, ultimately, move them out of homelessness. Anyone can become a Street Sense vendor by attending a one-hour training session. New vendors receive a small supply of free papers to help them get started; established vendors make a personal investment of $.35 for each copy and then sell the paper for a $1 donation (many customers pay more). The vendors are independent contractors who strategically choose their locations and the hours that they sell. Our most determined vendors sell up to 1,000 papers each month.The average Street Sense vendor earns $45 a day and sells papers for four hours each day. A subset of Street Sense vendors write, edit or lay out the paper, earning free newspapers. The organization is increasingly focused on providing training to vendors to help them sell the paper successfully and arm them with the necessary skills to secure full-time employment. In January 2010, Street Sense launched a series of workshops focused on skill-building in the areas of sales, technology and job interviewing.

Community Stories

7 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

I love this charity! 9 years ago I was able to tour the facility, meet some of the writers and some of the vendors selling the paper. Everyone had a different story and a different reason for being there. I was one of the more inspiring days I have had in DC. I still remember how positive and hardworking everyone was. Any chance I get I always try and buy a paper from one of the vendors. Every little bit helps.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I first became aware of Street Sense through a vendor I encountered near my home. I purchased the paper as often as I could. After moving out of the city, I no longer had this constant contact with vendors, and I always thought that I would like to get involved. I work as an editor, so I finally decided to get involved and lend my skills to the paper. I am proud to be part of this organization's effort to help the homeless in DC help themselves!

Doyle

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Street Sense not only does an amazing job empowering the homeless, who work as the papers vendors and writers. It also empowers its volunteers. From the moment I started helping out at Street Sense , the staff has made sure that my contributions, though so limited with a full-time job, were valued. And I know I'm not alone in this feeling.

samgif

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I am a lifelong DC resident who used to pick up a copy of Street Sense newspaper from time to time and usually just skimmed it. I knew it was the so-called "homeless newspaper" but that was the extent of my involvement in the organization or the issue of homelessness in DC. While searching for volunteer opportunities one day, I found out more about Street Sense and called to see what I could do for them. What followed is an incredible experience where I am learning about homelessness, hunger and poverty and I really feel like I'm making a concrete difference in my fellow Washingtonian's lives as well as the overall perception and awareness of important issues. Street Sense simultaneously provides a source of income and base of support for over 100 people experiencing homelessness AND dismantles misconceptions through targeted news reporting and a medium through which the homeless population can express itself. While Street Sense is doing amazing work as it is, it has plans for expansive growth in the paper, the number of vendors and the services it can provide. One of the many things I love about Street Sense is the cohesion and positive attitude that all staff, volunteers, interns and vendors work with. Street Sense is a small operation that accepts help in any form and generosity in any amount, which means that it depends on the common understanding by all that participate, read or contribute to the paper, that it is making definite, positive change in lives and in society.

9

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

Journalism is alive and well, making a difference in the lives of the homesless. Street Sense creates a sense of community, linking its homeless vendors and its readers. I impressed an out-of-town visitor recently with my knowledge of homesless issues, all gleaned from reading Street Sense. I buy each issue from Cliff, my neighborhood vendor who is also a fine photographer. With a small staff, a tiny budget, and oceans of goodwill, Street Sense is tangibly enriching the lives of its vendors and intangibly enriching the lives of readers like me.

9

Board Member

Rating: 5

I've worked with Street Sense as the youth board member. It so far has been an engaging experience, meeting dynamic and interesting people ready to solve the problem of homelessness around them. Street Sense actually has a personal connection with the people it helps--at the same time producing an interesting and unique reading experience.

5

Volunteer

Rating: 4

I came to Street Sense as an intern in February 2010 to fill academic credit. Every day I came in and checked the office's e-mails, helped organize information in the database, and most frequently wrote stories of my own. While I didn't get out of the office as much as other writers, I found that working at Street Sense gave me a much deeper view of homelessness and low-income issues than I ever expected, even knowing beforehand what Street Sense's mission was. Working with the often-homeless vendors, covering community services and initiatives, as well as hearing simply the day-to-day experiences have opened my eyes. And, frankly, I was just honored to be a part of it, even if only for a few months.