Street papers and relationships

March 3, 2011

I'm a big fan of
street newspapers, and in particular of StreetWise
in Chicago, one of 100
such newspapers
in over 38 countries.

From the vendor's
point of view: A homeless person can acquire pride and success--and a few
dollars. Being a vendor empowers someone who has been removed from society to
find the courage to speak up and engage the public, one person at a time. This
is a huge step for someone who's been the victim of eviction, neglect, theft,
abuse and more. But in the vendor/buyer exchange, there is a ritual to follow. The
vendor knows a script--and may be able to get past fear and build up confidence
and self-esteem.

From the buyer's
point of view: StreetWise enables the
buyer to assist someone one-on-one instead of with an impersonal check (which
is also welcome in most instances). As a buyer, I greet someone whom I might otherwise
hesitate to speak to--because I don't notice him or her, because I hesitate out
of fear, because I'm in a hurry or because I've removed myself from the street
scene via my cell phone or iPod. When I buy a newspaper, I initiate a relationship,
however fleeting or superficial it may seem.

Often I see the
person again, and we share greetings. We may talk about Chicago sports (I
mostly listen), about weather, or introduce ourselves to each other--as neighbors
do. The relationship can lead to further involvement--to tutoring, to sharing a
cup of coffee, to listening to discouragements--and yes, sometimes I've
discouraged further communication or hurried the transaction because I felt
uncomfortable. But sometimes, on the other hand, I'm the one who conveys weariness or discouragement, and I receive a
blessing or encouragement in return. All this for a measly $2--and a sudoku
puzzle thrown in.

These words by
Arkady Tyurin remind me of the vital importance of the street paper. Tyurin,
who was once homeless, is now the editor and publisher of Put Dumoi, the street newspaper of St. Petersburg, Russia.

This
is what I learnt when I lived in a basement on Seventh Line on Basil Island.

That
rats can fall down from a ceiling.           

That
even a small piece of cheese every day can prevent your teeth from falling out
because cheese contains calcium.

That
it is better not to steal at work, even thought the employer bluntly dupes.

That
one does not have to shave provided he brushes his teeth twice a day.

That
it is better to go without than allow yourself too much.

That
big wounds are not suitable for disinfection by petrol.

That
it is easier to smile when your footwear is clean.

That
when loneliness is stronger than any other feeling, you can always talk to your
dog, which you have not got.

That
if you really want it, it is possible to leave a basement.

                                                                                     StreetWise, Feb 16-22, 2011