Community raises money for Street Spirit, hoping to save paper that aids unhoused people
on July 18, 2023
Over 100 people gathered at Tamarack in downtown Oakland on Saturday for a “Comeback Party and Fundraiser” for Street Spirit, a newspaper that has focused on homelessness in the East Bay since 1995 and lost its funding in May.
The loss was a major blow for about 40 vendors, many of them unhoused, who sell the paper in Berkeley and Oakland for $2, keeping 100% of what they collect, including donations beyond the paper’s cost.
Editor-in-chief Alastair Boone is working to raise $250,000 to launch Street Spirit 2.0 in January. That would cover operating expenses and additional programming that Boone hopes to introduce including increased stipends for contributing writers, events for vendors and merchandise for sale.
It would also allow Boone, currently the sole full-time employee of Street Spirit, to hire a new editor-in-chief, which she had planned to do before learning that Street Spirit was losing its funding. Boone will remain at Street Spirit, but will focus on fundraising and working with vendors. Saturday’s event raised more than $8,000
“There’s no paper, and people are still showing up to say, ‘This is critical and valuable,’” Boone said, heartened by the community’s support.
Street Spirit originally was funded by The American Friends Service Committee until 2017, when Youth Street Artworks, an arts job training nonprofit, took over funding and publishing.
According to Boone, YSA can no longer afford to support Street Spirit since it is also a nonprofit with limited funding. YSA also typically supports youth programs, which Street Spirit is not.
In addition to providing income, the paper puts vendors in conversation with other people in the community. Many vendors sell the paper in the same spot each day and keep regular hours so that commuters and business owners get to know them.
This addresses one barrier to ending homelessness, Boone said, “the barrier of understanding.”
“The average person who has never been or known a homeless person doesn’t know how to make sense of their experience,” she said. “But if you create a venue for people to talk to each other — for example, buying the paper — that barrier breaks down so fast.”
Derrick Hayes, who sold Street Spirit in Oakland for more than 20 years, inspired an artist to paint a mural of him on Franklin Street near 14th Street. Artist Troy Lovegate got to know Hayes from his Street Spirit sales on the corner. Thanks to the money he earned from selling the paper, Hayes was able to bring his mother to Oakland so that she could see the mural before she died.
“It’s not just people selling papers,” Hayes said. “It’s way more than that.”
That’s what the fundraiser was trying to convey. Its main event was a panel about the paper, moderated by KQED’s Alexis Madrigal.
The panel discussed the importance of not only having a paper focused on unhoused people but also one specific to the East Bay. As Boone noted, “The experience of being unhoused is regional.”
Attendees came to support Street Spirit for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common was that the paper offered a different perspective on homelessness than other news sources.
Tarak Shaw said he reads it for firsthand accounts from unhoused people, finding that too often “that experience gets flattened.”
J. Noven has been reading the paper for over a decade and learned of its value after sharing a Street Spirit story about changes in the state’s recyclables refund program with an unhoused neighbor who was turned away when she tried to get money for recyclables. Noven was struck by how hard it was to find information about the issue in other places.
“It had to be written by people getting CRV,” Noven said.
Before Street Spirit lost funding, Bradley Penner was preparing to take over from Boone as editor-in-chief. Penner began selling the paper in 2008, when he had just moved to the Bay Area and was unhoused. Years later, he earned a master’s degree in creative writing from San Francisco State University. He said he’s committed to filling the editor’s role if funding is secured.
Until Street Spirit meets its fundraising goal, the San Francisco street paper, Street Sheet, will print extra copies for vendors to sell. Paul Boden, a Street Sheet founder who now directs the Western Regional Advocacy Project, is collecting donations for Street Spirit through his organization’s website.
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