There are few media outlets that exist purely to support and raise the voices of the homeless community.
“Street Spirit,” a newspaper serving the Bay Area’s homeless, breaks mainstream media trends by reporting on the issues most pertinent to homeless people, while also providing a source of income for nearly 100 people who live on the streets.
Since March of 1995, the newspaper has been published through funding provided by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization that promotes peace with justice.
That changed this July, however, when AFSC informed Street Spirit editor Terry Messman that the organization would cease its funding as of Dec. 31, 2016.
“It was devastating to hear the news. It was completely unexpected and out of the blue,” said Messman, who began his work with AFSC in 1986 as the director of the origination’s Homeless Organizing Project.
According to Eisha Mason, AFSC’s associate regional director of the West Region, the decision to cut ties with Street Sprit wasn’t an easy one. But due to a reduction in funding, she said, AFSC must now put three of its programs to rest: a farm worker program in Stockton, an American Indian program in Seattle, and Project HOPE, which publishes Street Spirit.
“The decision to end a program is always very painful for us, since the communities we work with experience extreme injustice, and this is certainly true of Street Spirit,” Mason said. “We did our best to be responsible by setting a date for ending the program that was six months out, with the hope that the local community would be able to support the newspaper.”
Now, it appears AFSC’s timeline may have worked out as they had hoped. On Sept. 22, Youth Spirit Artworks (YSA), a Berkeley-based art jobs training program, announced its decision to take the newspaper under its wings.
“This is so exciting in terms of injecting energy into the newspaper. At the same time, we are absolutely committed to keeping the paper as it is, fulfilling its mission and vision,” said Sally Hindman, executive director at YSA.
Under the new partnership, YSA will be involved with six dimensions of the newspaper’s publication. This includes working on the Street Spirit Advisory Board, establishing a weekly youth writing group with homeless and underserved youth, working with Messman, and advertising art for sale and YSA events.
In addition, youth involved with YSA will sell the paper along with the silkscreened shirts and tote bags that they make and sell. They will also write in the paper about their own community organizing campaigns.
“This is something we relate to. It’s a paper that tells us about what’s going on in the streets and our lives,” said artist and YSA participant Michaela Duphay.
Messman said he is equally pleased with the partnership. “(YSA) is committed just as we are to giving a voice to homeless people and showcasing their humanity and artwork. It’s a perfect match of organizations.”
Since AFCS announced it would no longer fund the newspaper, Street Spirit has already received thousands of dollars in donations, which have helped guarantee that the paper will continue for the next 12 months.
But Street Spirit advocates and Hindman, who in 1995 first suggested that Messman create the paper, say community support is still needed.
“We are thinking of doing a crowd-funding campaign, or reaching out to major funders in the city to say ‘look, if we want to keep the poor alive in this age of gentrification, this is the place to go,” said Amir Soltani, a human rights advocate and co-director of the film “Dogtown Redemption,” which exposed injustices against the homeless community following the closure of a West Oakland recycling center.
Soltani and others are now urging the community to donate and rally together to keep the newspaper running. In the meantime, Messman said the future of Street Spirit looks bright.
“In the last 20 years, we haven’t asked for public funding, but now we have to,” Messman said. “It’s been a rollercoaster ride since that near despair I felt in July to the true hope I feel now.”
Visit youthspiritartworks.org and thestreetspirit.org for more information on how to help.