I just moved here, and I’m so confused as to how Street Sheet (the paper I see homeless people pass out, mostly near BART stations) stays in business. How do homeless people manage to print a paper themselves? Who funds it?
Street Sheet is a publication put out by the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco, not by homeless people themselves. However, according to their website, much of Street Sheet’s content is penned by the Coalition’s staff, many of whom have been homeless at some point. Karl, a self-described “advocate” who answered the phone when I called the Coalition, said the paper is solely supported by anonymous charitable donors; the Coalition makes no money from selling Street Sheet. “We print it, we give it away, and the vendors keep what they make from it,” Karl said.
He couldn’t say how much “Street Sheet” sellers make on average — “Some people put a lot of time in, some people only hit the hot times, so it’s tough to say” — but vendors keep 100% of sale proceeds. According to the Coalition’s website, “Every month, Street Sheet reaches 32,000 readers through 230 homeless or low-income vendors.”
Update: After publication, I received an email from Bob Offer-Westort,
Street Sheet Coordinating Editor, which provided some more details on how the publication works. Here you go!
Our revenue is entirely from donations. About 60% of this is from individuals in San Francisco who value the work that we do. Another 40% comes from small foundations (usually family foundations) around the country.
We do not pay Street Sheet vendors: They pick up the paper for free, and keep all proceeds. This is a somewhat unusual model for street newspapers, but it’s the same model as that used by the East Bay’s Street Spirit.
There are a few notable differences between us and a for-profit paper. First, we have staff who are devoted to a mission, rather than working a job. That means that at multiple times in the paper’s history, a paid editor has been laid off for financial reasons, but has kept working as a volunteer. Most writers are volunteers. This does not happen with most for-profit newspapers. Second–and this is linked to number one–our costs are extremely low. Third, I think that the choice by many for-profit print news outlets to ditch local coverage in favor of third-rate national or state coverage has made them irrelevant to many readers. That’s not an issue for us. Fourth, most for-profit newspapers are part of larger corporations, with investments in areas other than media. We don’t have assets tied up in failing market sectors the same way. Or, rather, all of our assets are tied up in a sector that’s not been doing so hot financially since the early ’80s.
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