Three undergraduate students from DePaul University enrolled in an entrepreneurship class have decided to make StreetWise the focus of their final project. Twenty-one-year-old Sena Grzyb, 22-year-old Patty McDonough and 22-year old Kevin Karrasch have taken a survey of students and young adults at various college campuses around Chicago to determine the reasons why people do or do not buy StreetWise magazine and support our vendors in order to help the organization better connect with a younger audience.
When asked why they chose StreetWise for their project, the students all collectively agreed that while the organization’s mission is an incredibly unique and successful model for battling homelessness and poverty, it’s often overlooked.
“What interested us most in StreetWise is that it’s something that everybody is kind of aware of, but don’t really know what it’s about. When I worked [in Chicago] this past summer, I would pass by the same [StreetWise vendor] every day and I would wonder what this guy was doing. So I was pretty intrigued,” said Karrasch.
“Like Kevin said, I’ve walked past [StreetWise vendors] and heard them calling out, ‘StreetWise,’ but never really understood what they were doing. I personally really like that they are actually being provided a job rather than just being given a handout,” added McDonough.
“That’s part of what interested me in StreetWise… they allow people to try and make something of themselves and to go out and earn their living. So you’re helping an organization where people are trying to help themselves and I think that’s very meaningful,” said Grzyb.
The students discovered that they are not alone in their own initial feelings towards StreetWise. Through their study, they discovered that many young adults also have similar feelings towards the organization.
“The biggest problem that we’re finding through our market research is that people want to help [the homeless], but they don’t know the right ways to do it. And [the reason they don’t necessarily support StreetWise] is because they’re not exactly aware of what StreetWise stands for,” explained McDonough.
This past February, the students handed out a survey to young adults at various college campuses around Chicago.
Some of their discoveries include:
• Only a small percentage has purchased the magazine – 5%
• Of those who have bought the magazine, they buy it primarily to support the organization.
• Many individuals do not know what the price actually is or the cost structure (profit to vendor). The students suggest that making this known should be an essential part of an awareness campaign. Vendors purchase the magazines to sell, thus becoming entrepreneurs and learning sales techniques and establishing clients.
• Of the 95% who have not purchased a StreetWise magazine, about half are aware of the StreetWise name.
• However, 60% do not know of the StreetWise purpose.
• Over 90% surveyed wanted to help those in need, but didn’t know the best way to do so.
• 90% also saw panhandling as a problem in Chicago, but 38% still give money to panhandlers. The students suggest that an awareness campaign prioritizes showing how StreetWise is a better alternative to giving money to panhandlers.
In order to help StreetWise reach out to not only this young target demographic, but also share their mission with Chicagoland at large, the students have created a strategic plan for an awareness campaign. This plan will include flyer and advertisement design, social media strategies, suggestions for networking sessions or public speeches and more.
“We hope to use this plan to spread the mission [of StreetWise] and fight the pervasiveness of homelessness,” said Karrasch. “[When people] hear the name ‘StreetWise,’ we don’t want them to just think that it’s somebody on the corner trying to get money. That is this person’s job and they’re using it to further themselves and get off the street.”
“It’s really just about changing people’s perceptions and helping them be more comfortable with approaching a vendor and understanding that the vendor is actually his own business person,” said Grzyb. “I think if people understand that, then they’ll be more inclined to purchase the magazine.”