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Salt Lake Street News 

Homeless write and sell a newspaper that could help curb panhandling.

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When Shari Wade moved to Utah in 2007, she started Red Rose Cleaning service. Not long after, though, the the business failed. Already desperately short on cash, she became homeless—and has been ever since. 

Wade is hopeful she’s found a new business prospect. The Salt Lake Street News is a publication of the Salt Lake City Mission, a nondenominational Christian ministry that primarily serves the homeless. Stories are written primarily by homeless people and focus on homelessness issues. Wade, and several other homeless people, will be selling the paper for $1 per copy.

It’s precisely the kind of program Crossroads Urban Center called for in a February report entitled “Criminalization or Job Creation?” (pdf) which questioned Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker’s proposed restrictions on panhandling.

Wade, 41, who sometimes panhandles, grew up in abusive foster homes in Massachusetts, survived a crack-cocaine addiction at the age of 19 and has been sober ever since (see corrections below). She still struggles with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder related to her childhood. Both illnesses seriously impact her life—conflict with authority figures triggers mental episodes, complicating her chances at formal employment—but she has many moments of “normal” function.

Wade is happy to have a job selling an actual product, rather than panhandling. She also hopes the stories in the newspaper will help privileged individuals empathize with the plight of poor people.

“People act like [homelessness] is no big deal. They just don’t seem to even care, to even know about homeless issues. All they care about is, ‘When is the next sale at Macy’s? When can I get my next Gucci bag?’ ” she says. “This newspaper is trying to make a difference, to provide an opportunity for people to do something for themselves, instead of having it handed to them.”

Brad Jaques, spokesman for the Salt Lake City Mission, says organizers were working to start the newspaper nearly two years ago, well before Becker’s panhandling proposal was released, but he sees the paper as another way to tackle the issue. “If you want to stop panhandling, then buy a paper from them, support them. It’s not a cure-all [to stop panhandling] but it’s definitely going to curtail it.”

In addition to being a jobs program, Jaques says he hopes the paper helps educate people that they, too, could become homeless. “Most people are living within one to three paychecks of being on the streets themselves. … When people start reading the articles that are in the paper, I think it’s going to break down those barriers and I think it’s going to help out the city a lot.”

Jacques hopes to recruit as many as 200 vendors. To sell the paper, they must participate in a one-hour training and wear a badge that identifies them as an official Street News vendor whenever they are selling. They get 10 papers free up front, and then pay 50 cents for each copy after that.

Street News is a member of the North American Street Newspaper Association, which counts 26 similar newspapers as members across the United States and Canada.

Becker’s spokeswoman, Lisa Harrison- Smith, says the city is aware of the Street News’ plans and is hopeful that it succeeds, but it doesn’t change any plans about the panhandling ordinance.

Jacques declines to discuss finances in too much detail—he won’t, for example, say how much MediaOne of Utah charged to print the paper’s first 25,000 copies—but hopes the paper will sustain itself from advertisements from local businesses. The first issue carried a few small ads for businesses that had supported the mission—but maybe the next job for somebody who might otherwise be begging for nickels is advertising sales representative.

Wade primarily hopes to make a living wage and get a home, but she also hopes to help her homeless friends. “[Homeless people] are not the greatest people in the world, but they’re people, and, you know, some of them are really good people,” she says. “They have their flaws like anybody else, but they’re people, they’re human and they deserve to have respect. They deserve to be appreciated for who they are." 

Correction: Shari Wade operated Red Rose Cleaning service for long-haul truckers in 1996, and in 2007 started Red Rose Cleaning for residential properties. She became homeless in July 2008 after the second business failed, and has been ever since. The story above has been edited to remove the error. Additionally, the story has been changed to reflect that Wade recovered from her crack addiction at age 19.

Jesse Fruhwirth:

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