If being pestered by homeless people asking for handouts makes you uncomfortable, keep reading.
A group of second-year students at Rhodes College in Memphis have launched the first-ever student-managed street paper to serve the metropolitan area’s homeless and less fortunate — while simultaneously informing the community on issues of homelessness.
A street paper is a self-sustaining ecosystem that puts a newspaper, produced by the students and community contributors, into the hands of homeless “vendors” who then sell them to passersby on the street.
Caroline Ponseti, a second-year political science and history major, discovered and found an interest in street papers during her time interning on Capitol Hill at Sen. David Vitter’s office.
“There were all these vendors in the area saying help the homeless and I was always around homeless and urban issues,” Ponseti said. “It kind of made me uncomfortable but I was interested in it.”
When she was approached by her friends Evan Katz and James Ekenstedt — who’d decided to bring a street paper to Memphis — she immediately jumped onboard.
James Ekenstedt (left) co-founder of The Bridge with managing editor Caroline Ponseti (center) and co-founder Evan Katz (right).
Enter The Bridge, the first street paper produced by students. Of the two dozen or so street papers in the U.S., The Bridge launches this month with 16-page issue themed “Origins” — focusing on how someone can end up homeless.
“There’s a huge disconnect between a sheltered population and a homeless population,” said Ponseti, director of publicity and managing editor. “And we want to close that gap.”
“We want The Bridge to be a stepping stone to re-integrate the homeless into the larger workforce while simultaneously existing as a platform for their voices to be heard,” said Ekenstedt, a second-year in urban studies.
For Katz, the idea of a homeless culture in the small Boston suburb where he was raised became just that — an idea.
“I hardly ever crossed paths with people with experiences of homelessness while growing up,” said Katz, a second-year studying business. “Therefore the degree to which homelessness affects Memphis came as a shock to me.”
Most of the writing is done by contributors who use pseudonyms or their initials. Most have been or are currently homeless. And that makes the writing all the more pointed.
But street papers do more than shine light on community issues of homelessness or displacement. They create an ecosystem among vendors, who are themselves homeless.
First, a vendor buys a single paper and sells it for twice what they paid for it. This gives them capital to buy more papers. The cycle continues as vendors sell more papers while making their own money.
It costs $6 for a one-night stay in a homeless shelter in Memphis.
“The money they’ll be earning themselves will get them off the street,” Ponseti said.
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