Last week, the participants of the StreetWise Writing Workshop posed a list of questions and wrote a group letter to their fellow street paper vendors at Prosto Neba, a street paper in Lviv, western Ukraine. This week, the vendors wrote individual letters regarding their personal experiences selling StreetWise and opinions about the job.
Jeffrey Berg writes:
The StreetWise magazine in Chicago comes out weekly. We have the only street magazine that is printed in color. That really does not work out in our benefit because it is more expensive now. We have to pay 90 cents for each copy and we sell each copy for $2. Right now we have approximately 160 vendors but that number changes all the time. StreetWise offers an orientation and training twice a week to try to give new people a chance to become vendors.
Some vendors sell the magazine in the early mornings in high traffic areas around the city or near coffee shops. Other vendors work during the evening rush hour. I personally try to work mornings and evenings. We often receive tips from our customers. Sometimes we receive big tips. Some vendors receive $100 tips!
I really enjoyed seeing and hearing about your life style in Lviv. I also like the layout of your magazine. I enjoyed some of the quotes that were explained to me. I hope to learn more about your paper in the future.
James Metzgar writes:
I retired from full-time work over seven years ago and I am selling StreetWise to supplement my retirement income. I am lucky that I have never had the problems of homelessness, alcoholism, drug addiction or a prison record that many of the vendors have.
The StreetWise organization offers assistance to the vendors in many ways. There are computers to use and daily food provided. There is an employment counselor as well as a social service counselor. The social service counselor helped me to find a new apartment when I recently needed to make a move. The new apartment is owned by a developer who receives government funds so he is able to provide decent, affordable, low-income housing.
The vendors who have addiction problems or prison records also receive help from the social services at StreetWise. Those with prison records are sometimes able to get their records expunged or sealed. With the help of the employment counselor some vendors have been able to find other paying jobs.
There is a saying at StreetWise that “StreetWise exists so panhandling doesn’t need to.”
Selling street papers requires many skills. Not everyone can do this kind of work just as not everyone can be a lawyer or a doctor. Selling street papers requires humility, perseverance and dedication. You must see yourself as a servant who is trying to get unpopular ideas, opinions, or way of life across to a popular population. It is not easy and people do not easily accept new or different ways of life. The vendor must persevere through negative crowds, bad weather and even hard times.
A vendor is his own boss in that he chooses his hours and manages his own sales. He must be dedicated to promoting the paper and the organization in a professional manner. Our goal at StreetWise is to be self-sufficient. We are self-reliant and dedicated to selling street papers as a means of self-employment.
The mission at StreetWise is to “assist Chicago area men and women who are facing homelessness to achieve personal stability.” We are independent workers and we feel good about what we do because everyone cannot do what we do.