After more than two decades of print, Street Spirit — a newspaper that serves as a platform for the Bay Area homeless population — will see its funding cut effective January 2017.
The American Friends Service Committee, or AFSC, announced at a meeting July 6 that the committee would no longer sponsor the newspaper. The news was abrupt, according to founding editor of the newspaper Terry Messman, who was at the meeting, and shows a “terrible lack of due process.”
“In that one instant, 21 years of Street Spirit is over, more than a hundred jobs of homeless vendors were terminated and without a word of regret,” Messman said. “A newspaper that many homeless advocates and activists depended on was destined to be closed.”
Many homeless vendors depend on the newspaper’s publication as a means of generating money, according to Messman. Vendors collectively sell out of its 20,000 mass-produced copies almost every month, he added. With the elimination of funding from AFSC, many homeless vendors, who are mostly elderly or disabled, are left in crisis.
Rosalind Smith and Arthur Roper, an elderly couple, have been relying on the newspaper as a main source of income for almost two years. Smith and Roper noted that the job is critical because it is one of the few opportunities that does not discriminate against the elderly.
“He’s 80 years (old) and this job is really good for him. Who is going to hire an 80-year-old to work for them?” Smith said.
AFSC could not be reached for comment as of press time.
AFSC has been facing severe budget challenges nationally, according to Sally Hindman, executive director of Youth Spirit Artworks, or YSA, which aims to empower homeless and low-income Bay Area youth through art and poetry. Next year, the AFSC’s Farm Labor Program and American Indian Program will also lose their funding, Messman said.
Although AFSC has not offered contingency funding to support the devolvement of the paper, in September, Street Spirit’s Editorial Advisory Board finalized its decision to continue its mission and vision by collaborating with YSA.
“(AFSC has) a policy of devolving programs after some certain length of time, which has been productive in the past,” Hindman said. “They’re devolving this program with hopes that a creative future will rise for Street Spirit.”
So far, a fundraising campaign for the paper has raised about $20,750, Hindman said.
The collaboration between YSA and Street Spirit will benefit many creative artists, writers and poets, Messman said, since their work will be featured and published in the paper.
“Most people who sell the Street Spirit are not druggies, they are not people who rob places, they’re people who actually sit there all day to try to sell the paper, and sometimes they only make $5 a day,” said YSA artist Michaela Duphay. “This is the only way for them to make money instead of panhandling.”
Despite the sudden funding loss, Messman said the change provides an opportunity for both the organizations to benefit and further their commitment to giving homeless people a voice.
“As devastating as this has been, the fact that Youth Spirit Artwork stepped forward to become involved with Street Spirit is a blessing,” Messman said. “I think this is a wonderful blessing in disguise.”