After 28 years of publication, Street Spirit, the beloved street newspaper of the East Bay, will halt publication following funding loss, effective June 30, according to a statement from the paper.
Following years of substantial growth in its services, Youth Spirit Artworks, or YSA, a nonprofit organization and the paper’s current publisher, is scaling back on its offerings to focus on its own programming for unhoused youth, consequently cutting its financial support for Street Spirit, according to a statement from the paper and Street Spirit Editor in Chief Alastair Boone.
Boone remarked that this isn’t the first time the paper has faced funding issues. According to Boone, Street Spirit was originally published by the American Friends Services Committee, or AFSC, until its board decided to pull funding in 2016. YSA then took on the role as the paper’s publisher. Now, it has made the same decision to pull funding.
“It is devastating,” Boone said, adding that the news came as unexpected to contributors and vendors of the paper alike. “When you lose a street newspaper, you lose a bellwether for reporting about houselessness.”
Boone noted that for contributors, having a platform that welcomes their stories and creative expression is incredibly meaningful; it provides a space for individuals who are often marginalized and unheard, allowing them to have a specific place to share their stories. Street Spirit consistently and uniquely provides valuable insights into the lives of those experiencing houselessness, Boone added.
The paper’s vendor program includes a little more than 40 active vendors — many of whom depend on the income they earn from selling Street Spirit to survive — whether it be for transit, food or housing costs, Boone said.
Beyond meeting survival needs, the vendor population is also able to build extensive relationships with its community of customers, with some of those relationships becoming very profound, Boone noted. She said vendors have received cars, gotten important medical procedures paid for and even connected with estranged family members through Street Spirit.
“Those are just these incredibly meaningful moments of connection that are facilitated by this newspaper simply because it’s a physical object that people stand on a corner and sell, and that creates an important social space,” Boone said.
Street Spirit vendor Derrick Hayes reflected on the impact that the paper had brought to his life. Hayes, who started his childhood in the streets of Chicago, now has a large mural of himself painted on Franklin Street in Downtown Oakland from becoming popular through community interactions as a Street Spirit vendor.
Paul Boden, former director of San Francisco’s Coalition on Homelessness, that started and publishes Street Sheet, a San Francisco street newspaper and predecessor of Street Spirit, and director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, or WRAP, has been with the paper since the beginning and is fighting for Street Spirit’s vitality.
“We’ll do whatever it takes to keep the Street Spirit going and to keep that vital voice, those experiences and all of the beauty that comes from people in the street.” Boden said. “We’re vibrant, real-life human beings; this is a vehicle for us to express that and for people to see that reality.”
The relaunch effort itself will be costly — Boone is in the midst of finding a new publisher and raising money to cover one or two years of the budget so that she can hand the paper over to the new publisher. Luckily, WRAP has stepped up on extremely short notice to be Street Spirit’s fiscal sponsor, allowing the paper to use its nonprofit status to collect donations and aiding the paper in facilitating fundraising efforts, Boone noted.
Starting July, Street Sheet will print extra copies of its newspaper for Street Spirit vendors to sell so that they may still be financially supported, Boone noted. Though the June issue will be the last for now, both Boone and Boden are hopeful for the future of Street Spirit.
“We’re not giving up. It’ll be the final issue until we start it up again,” Boden said. “Nobody should be writing the obituary for Street Spirit yet.”
Those who want to support Street Spirit can make a donation through WRAP either online or by mail with more information on the official Street Spirit website.