Saturday, March 21, 2009

Homeless: "Street Sense!" the newspaper that gives hope to Washington's homeless

A young woman in Washington, DC set out a few years ago with the goal of helping the homeless in the nation's capital. With a partner, Laura Thompson Osuri founded Street Sense in 2003. The weekly newspaper now sells 12,000 copies every two weeks and has been a source of income and pride for hundreds of homeless men and women.

Before sunrise every other Wednesday, you can find Laura Thompson Osuri organizing her team of vendors, homeless people who take to the streets and sell the newspaper Street Sense.

In 2003, Laura and a friend Ted Henson started Washington, DC's voice of the homeless.

"Street Sense!"

"When I was thinking about this street newspaper idea I also thought should I join the Peace Corps or things like that there are all these people right here in front of us that need help," Osuri said. "Why don't I help these people, not someone far out in Africa, and that sort of thing."

Street Sense has become a source of income for more than 200 homeless people in the Washington area. The vendors purchase the biweekly paper for .25 each, which covers the cost of production. Then, they sell the paper for $1.

They can earn papers in other ways, such as writing an article or a poem or publishing a photograph or unloading stacks of newspapers at the office.

"I can imagine for somebody who has been on their luck for so long and suddenly be published in a paper that thousands of people are reading, must be great for their self esteem and ego," she said.

Tommy Bennett has been selling Street Sense since the the paper's founding. Volunteers do most of the work here. It was four years before the newspaper made enough money to pay Laura a salary.

Carol Cummings volunteers as the office manager. "The best part of working at Street Sense is the friends that I got to meet." She says, "I meet so many people from all over the country that are homeless and the end up in DC."

People here say the newspaper Laura Thompson Osuri founded not only helps the homeless achieve a measure of financial freedom, but it also provides a badly needed sense of community. Laura says she hopes to shatter the negative stereotypes about homeless people.

"Most people think that there is stereotype that you are homeless because you are stupid, you are uneducated, you can't get a job, you can't get housing, that sort of thing. That's really not the case," Osuri states. "I mean homeless people are just like you and me, something happened and they ended up on the streets."

With income Laura's newspaper has provided, more than 20 homeless people have found housing and more than 30 have received full time or part time jobs offered to them while selling the paper.

Published with the permission of Voice of America
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
Putting principles before profits