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StreetWise, Inc.

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Homeless & Housing, Homeless Centers, Human Services

Mission: StreetWise, Inc. is a social enterprise designed to help unemployed or underemployed men and women out of poverty. The organization accomplishes this mission in two ways: First, StreetWise provides the vendors with an array of social services, with a particular focus on employment training and housing support; second, by publishing a weekly magazine that is bought by the agency's vendors and then resold by them for a profit. StreetWise combines the opportunity of gainful employment with supportive social services to assist vendors on their road back to financial self-sufficiency.

Results: Fiscal Responsibility: StreetWise operates a successful business model which in turn allows the agency to provide much needed social service support to its vendors. For fiscal year 2011, StreetWise expects to incur $612,682.00, in expenses. The agency expects to cover, $312,750.00, of those costs through magazine generated income. StreetWise is proud that over 50% of its total expenses are covered by the agency’s social enterprise initiative. All costs associated with magazine productions and sales, (including designated salaries) are fully covered by magazine generated income. Furthermore, 2010 magazine sales are on track to produce a $20,000, surplus, which will be used to underwrite the agency’s social services for FY 2011. As a result of the agency’s successful business model, 100% of government, foundation and charitable funds go to support the provision of social services and related operations.

Target demographics: The StreetWise vendor population is comprised of adults who meet the federal Department of Health & Human Services definition of poverty, including individuals who are: low-income, unemployed or receiving public assistance, public housing residents, disabled, homeless, and/or those transitioning from incarceration. Individuals come to StreetWise for different reasons. For most, StreetWise is a path to full-time employment, self-respect, and economic stability. Vendors generally fall into two categories: • Bridge Employment: vendors come to StreetWise for access to an immediate way to stabilize their economic and living situation. Vendors in this category will avail themselves of the agency’s social service supports while also focusing on their magazine sales. The outcome is that, once the vendor has earned enough to lift him/her out of crisis, and has been connected to the necessary support services, the vendor can focus on achieving employment outside the agency. • Long-Term Supplemental Support: Vendors integrate their employment at StreetWise into their daily life and use it as a consistent means of income and support. These vendors will, from time to time, use the social services and communal supports offered by the agency; however, they have achieved significant stability and primarily use StreetWise magazine sales as a source of long-term supplemental income.

Geographic areas served: Greater Chicago Area

Programs: Social Service Support Programs: StreetWise has linkage agreements with social service agencies throughout the Chicago area. Vendors come to StreetWise through agency referrals as well as via word of mouth. Additionally, agency staff regularly conduct outreach seminars at area homeless shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries, and other social service organizations. The goal is to maximize StreetWise services through collaboration with other complimentary programs across the city. • Social Service Support: Provides direct support and linkages to an array of social service programs that help vendors overcome barriers that contribute to unemployment and/or homelessness. Services include but are not limited to: o Workforce development and support o Housing/shelter o Financial literacy and assistance o Medical care and referral o Alcohol and substance abuse recovery o Domestic violence support o Child care/child welfare o Legal assistance • Entrepreneurial Employment: Provides a flexible employment opportunity via the sales and marketing of StreetWise Magazine. o Vendors purchase the magazine from the agency for $.75 a copy and resell it at retail for $2, (thereby earning a profit of $1.25 per copy). o The Entrepreneurial Employment Program teaches vendors to learn hard job skills, include salesmanship, marketing, and customer service as well as appropriate workplace behavior. o The earned profits help vendors afford housing, food, clothing, and necessary personal items. • StreetWise Magazine: StreetWise is among the largest “street papers” in the United States and serves as a model for street papers across North America. Both it and its staff have received numerous national, state, and local awards for the quality of StreetWise offerings, its service to the homeless population of Chicago, and its importance to the community in general. The agency strives to produce a media journal that has value beyond its role in supporting the organization’s charitable mission. Producing a quality magazine allows vendors to earn an income in a dignified manner as they transition to stable employment. o The magazine is published weekly. o Reporters/contributors include professional journalists, journalism students, and StreetWise vendors, as well as clients from other Chicago area social service agencies. • Workforce Resource Center: The Center consists of a training area as well as eight computer stations with web access and printer capability for use by interested vendors. The workstations are available six days a week, from 7am – 4pm, (except Saturdays when they are available from 9am – 1pm). The Center services include: o Workforce Development Seminars o Motivational Speaker Series o Assistance with resume building o Computer skills training o Job search resources [In furtherance of its mission, StreetWise partners with workforce development agencies that require clients to have a higher level of workforce competency. StreetWise accepts clients who are not eligible for other government funded programs, (e.g., Workforce Investment Act funding), and works to improve their job skills to the point where they can either directly attain stable employment or be admitted to a more demanding program. The result is that StreetWise functions as a critical safety-net for motivated adults who would otherwise be unemployable.] • Respite Services: As a result of being unemployed or underemployed, vendors experience a significant amount of stress. Within its headquarters, StreetWise offers a number of services designed to ease the problems vendors face as well as give them a place to relax in comfort, (away from Chicago’s harsh weather). Respite services include access to: o A “clothes closet” where vendors can find a variety of clothing and shoes, at no cost, to help them increase their professional wardrobe. o Free hot meals, Monday – Friday, provided in collaboration with the Salvation Army, as well as morning coffee and snacks. o The vendor lounge, which has several large couches, comfortable chairs and a television as well as tables where vendors can eat and socialize. o Full washroom facilities • Quality Assurance Team (QAT): The StreetWise QAT members are drawn from former and current vendors who are promoted from within the magazine sales force. QAT works with vendors to assure their success in selling StreetWise. o Provides new vendors with orientation and training for effective sales techniques, consumer-spending habits, proper image projection, and the StreetWise “Vendor Code of Conduct”. o Oversees the “Vendor Mentoring Program”, which pairs an identified vendor with another high performing vendor and a mentor from the board, in order to provide one-on-one support and advice to improve the new vendor’s potential for success. o On-going training sessions are offered every two weeks to keep vendors engaged in workforce training and job skills. o Monitors vendor recruitment, retention, and community relations o Supervises adherence to the StreetWise “Vendor Code of Conduct” and functions as a review panel to address alleged infractions.

Community Stories

1 Story from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

I am always impressed with the efforts and positive attitude of he Streetwise vendors.
It is not easy work. But it is respectable work. Kudos for Streetwise.