Nashville’s homeless street newspaper is The Contributor. The paper is produced and sold by the city’s homeless and formerly homeless. The content is phenomenal, with stories addressing what life is like on the streets, the issues of poverty and homelessness, first person stories, etc.
The way it works is, vendors purchase the paper for 25-cents, and sell it for $1 (or more — most people I know throw in an extra buck or three.) Vendors keep everything over that initial 25-cents; many have found this simple job a way to get off the streets and gain some economic stability. More to the point, it puts a different face on our community’s working poor and homeless. It allows those of us who are the “haves” to put a friendly face, a smile, a daily wave behind the folks who are usually presented to us as statistics. As an example, check out this story from early August, in which downtown bank employees threw a retirement party for the Contributor vendor who had worked their street corner for years. There are dozens of stories like it. It’s a way of forging a relationship, bridging that gap between people who are usually marginalized and the rest of the community.
But, as the Nashville Scene chronicled last week, the paper has hit on hard times. The Contributor has been enormously successful — the circulation is 120,000 papers a month now — and with rising circulation comes rising costs. The paper costs way more to produce than 25-cents an issue.
On top of that, the paper lost a major lawsuit (I wrote about it here) filed by one of our more, ahem, prosperous communities, where the delicate sensibilities of the lilly-white Republican churchgoers were, ahem, offended by those dirty street people who had the nerve to not stay in the shadows where they belong. Why look, George: there they are, out in public! For all to see! The very nerve! Why I do declare, it’s enough to give one the vapors!
The upshot being, cities can now ban vendors.
So in light of all this, you can imagine how much this story really ticked me off:
There’s some competition in Nashville’s homeless streetpaper business. A church-sponsored publication called Faith Unity Outloud uses roughly the same business model as The Contributor, as well as some of its old vendors.
Faith Unity Outloud looks like a newspaper, but it’s really filled with Christian-themed lessons and articles. It’s published monthly by Gene Boros of the Global Vision Bible Church in Mount Juliet.
More than a hundred vendors now buy the papers for 50 cents and sell them on the roadside for a dollar, plus tips. Many previously worked for The Contributor, which has become one of the most popular streetpapers in the country.
“What can I say?” asks William Adams. May the best paper win.”
Wow, not really seeing the “unity” here, guys. Sorry, Gene Boros, you are doing it wrong. If you really wanted to help the homeless, it seems like this church would have devoted its resources to working with the Contributor, not in competition to it. But no, that’s not what they want.
Check this out:
Like Adams, many had a falling out with The Contributor, which enforces a code of conduct for its vendors. They can’t sell the paper while intoxicated, there are assigned corners at busy intersections and they have to go through a training program prior to hitting the streets.
Anthony Hicks says Faith Unity Outloud is different.
“We don’t have a strict set of rules,” he says. “You have to have a photo ID to sign up, but once you do that, you can sell it wherever you want. You can go wherever you want to sell it.”
They don’t care about the homeless or the working poor at all. That’s not their message. They just want to evangelize. They just want to spread the Jesus stuff — and charge the homeless 50-cents a paper for the privilege. They’ve completely missed the point.
No training? It’s okay if you’re intoxicated? Vendors can fight over high-traffic street corners? No problem! Bible stories? Sure, we all need more of those!
Well, there goes the community outreach. I wonder if that downtown bank would have thrown a retirement party if their vendor had been stinking drunk half the time, for example? If there had been petty “turf wars” for a high-traffic street corner among different vendors? How many people want to buy a paper that talks about religion, as if we don’t have enough of that rammed down our throat in this state?
(Let me take a moment here to point out one thing: I know that some vendors sell BOTH papers. Whether they are supposed to do that, I do not know.)
Faith Unity Outloud? Bah. If these people had any real faith, if they really wanted unity, they’d have rolled up their sleeves and helped out The Contributor in its time of need, helping the community understand the plight of the homeless and working poor. Instead it’s more religious noise. Guess that’s the “LOUD.”
I’m so over Evangelical Christians, who think somehow people haven’t heard about Jesus. Seriously, I am sick of you people. I’m not going to say church people don’t do a lot of good — heck, The Contributor got started in a church, and many of its staff are church people. I’ve also worked with enough homeless and marginalized folks in this town to know the vast majority of them are deeply religious. So this is not me being hostile to religion.
But if your church mission begins and ends with spreading the word then you are the very definition of Doing It Wrong.