Street Sense: Providing Salvation to the Homeless in D.C.

A middle-aged African-American man, whose name is August Mallory 58, has the door at his back. He has a small frame like an elementary school student. He is just sitting on the grey steel chair without saying anything. As soon as he senses somebody’s presence, he turns his chair and says hello. His face and rough hands seem to show the struggles of his long way in life. However, his green cap, black-and-white checkered shirt and thick navy overcoat are neat.

“But without Street Sense, my life might still be on the street. It is such a great honor that Street Sense came to my life and lit the way of my life,” says Mallory, with a gentle smile. This man overcame homelessness with Street Sense and is living a new life in Seattle, Washington.

According to a report, “Homelessness in Metropolitan Washington”, published in May of 2014, authored by Hilary Chapman, Sophie Mintier, and Greg Goodwin, Council of Governments, as of January 2014, Point-in-Time Enumeration resulted in a total count of 11,946 homeless individuals – an increase of 3.5 percent from last year. Despite this statistic, with Street Sense in Washington, D.C., there is still hope. Most homeless people cannot afford their housing, health care, or food if they do not beg for money on the street. To improve this situation, Street Sense, a 16-page biweekly street newspaper based in Washington, D.C., has given homeless people opportunities to make their own money by selling the newspaper since 2003.

The mission of Street Sense is to elevate voices on poverty issues and create economic opportunities for people who are experiencing homelessness through a newspaper. Street Sense tries to make the situation better by inspiring confidence in the homeless community through a chance to be a writer. “We want to be a stepping stone for the homeless people in Washington, D.C.,” says Eric Falquero 25, who gives a good first impression. As an art director of Street Sense, he is responsible for graphic design as well as managing the vendors and recording and saving stories to be published well on time.

“Now, there are over 100 active vendors at Street Sense,” Falquero says. Street Sense consists of their own staff, volunteers, students, advocates, and other professionals who include journalists. Also, there are vendors who are homeless, but take their own duties for Street Sense. Depending on his statement, about 50 percent of the paper is written by our vendors. “It means that they play an important role for Street Sense,” he adds.

Now, Street Sense is working as a medium to tell homeless people’s stories, in their words. In the Street Sense newspaper, there are news articles, opinions, poems and art about homelessness, poverty and other social issues. Levester Green II, one of Street Sense’s vendors, who is sitting opposite to Falquero, is concentrating on typing his poem for the next issue. Like him, from Monday to Friday, vendors come in and out of Street Sense’s office frequently to do some computer work for the issue.

Vendors buy the newspaper for 50 cents each, and then, they sell it to people on the street for two dollars. The difference, one and fifty cents, directly goes to the vendor. This is how Street Sense works basically as a financial way. “Street Sense took only 50 cents for the printing cost. Street Sense is not an organization to seek after profits,” says Falquero. According to the information from Street Sense’s website, vendors sell about 30,000 papers every other week, and the average of their daily income is 45 dollars a day. “Vendors choose their own sales locations in downtown D.C. and some suburbs, almost near Metro stations, usually during the lunch and evening rush hours.”

Street Sense was founded by Laura Thompson Osuri and Ted Henson in August 2003. These young people who were doing work related to homeless people at that time, met at the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) and made a plan to start a street paper in Washington, D.C. Nkongho Beteck, who was an editorial intern at Street Sense in 2013, and wrote an article in the Street Sense newspaper about a history of Street Sense for an edition of the tenth anniversary, said in her article, “In the beginning, it was just the street paper project.”

Street Sense co-founders decided to benchmark Real Change, a street newspaper organization in Seattle because they thought it was a really good idea and will also work for helping the homeless in D.C. They started at office place offered by the National Coalition for the Homeless. They taught skills about how to produce the newspaper to each other and recruited a handful of vendors who will sell the first newspapers from Street Sense by visiting shelters in person.

At first, only 25 vendors distributed 5000 copies of the first issue, published on November 15, 2003. “Getting out that first issue was incredibly helpful in terms of convincing people, including ourselves, that we could do this and that we were for real,” said Henson, one of co-founders, in the Beteck’s article.

In 2004, Street Sense had its own office in the Church of Epiphany in NW, D.C. By 2005, it finally became a nonprofit organization by getting “501c3 status”, the portion of the US Internal Revenue Code that allows for federal tax exemption of nonprofit organizations. “Without tax exemption, we do not receive any government funding,” Falquero explains. Following his
statement, Street Sense is running by general donations and some sponsors.

The first vendor of Street Sense is August Mallory, a man born in Indianapolis, Indiana. Now, his job is a vendor of Real Change in Seattle, Washington. Also, he is still working for Street Sense. He usually visits D.C. every year. “I had several jobs such as a US Navy, warehouse work, food service work, construction work, security work and a painter. Those all were paid jobs. I could make money in the past time,” says Mallory. How come he became homeless?

He lived in Dallas, Texas and worked in the hospitality field. “I wanted to try something different at that time,” he says. He decided to go to Columbia, South Carolina to do warehouse work. “After two years, one day I came to work, everything was just being shut down. Suddenly I lost my job,” Mallory adds. He tried to find another job in South Carolina, but it was not that easy. Because he did not have enough money to pay for the monthly rent, he could not stay at his apartment anymore.

After passing through South Carolina and North Carolina, he finally arrived at a shelter in Washington, D.C in 1998. “I was invited to National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) to be a part of it.” Street Sense was founded in November of 2003, and he was introduced to Street Sense by NCH.

“I was the very first vendor to work for Street Sense,” says Mallory. He is a living history of Street Sense. He remembers everything about Street Sense at that time. “There were only four people at the beginning, two founders, an intern and me as a vendor. My first writing was about homeless people and shelters in Baltimore in 2004.”

According to him, unlike these days, there was not a training course to be a writer at that time. “It was good feeling that I can talk to them. I was at the same situation in the past time, but I want to hear their story and their feelings, not mine. It made me feel like I wanted to be a journalist.”

As a vendor, his area was near Connecticut Avenue in K Street. At that time, he paid 35 cents for each paper from Street Sense and sold them to people on the street at one dollar. He sold an average of 500 newspapers a week and earned at least 400 dollars a week. “Street Sense absolutely made my life better, now I have my own apartment in Seattle and got a much better job,” says Mallory with a big smile. He is working as a maintenance person with Hallmark Services, contracted with Century Link Field.

This is the way Street Sense encourages homeless people to be a part of society again and has changed the life of homeless people for over ten years. “My life on the street was not a pleasant experience. I went through a lot,” he says after a few minutes of reminiscence. He would strongly advise homeless people in Washington, D.C. to try to get as much as assistance as possible. “Street Sense provided me the opportunity to start a new life. As a result, I am not a homeless person anymore. Thank you Street Sense. Thank you again!”