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Working to keep newspaper benefitting unhoused people alive: ‘I felt like Street Spirit wasn’t ready to die.’

on October 16, 2023

The editors at Street Spirit, an East Bay newspaper focused on homelessness, are nearly halfway to meeting their fundraising goal to revive the shuttered newspaper.

Bradley Penner, the newest editor of Street Spirit, and Alastair Boone, its outgoing editor, are working on a long-term funding plan for the paper once they secure enough money to relaunch in January. 

So far, they’ve raised $100,000 of their $250,000 goal through private donations.

“Part of the work we’re doing now is developing a plan for longevity,” Boone said. “Street Spirit will be viable for decades to come if we succeed in developing a donor base and a long-term business plan.”

The newspaper announced in May that it would cease publication. Its publisher, the arts nonprofit Youth Spirit Artworks, decided to pull its funding after the end of several multi-year grants left YSA struggling financially. Street Spirit was published for 28 years before it printed its last issue in June. Since then, Boone and Penner have been privately fundraising so they can start reprinting the publication.

Two Street Spirit front pages are displayed in a book of Street Spirit archives.
Street Spirit archives (File photo)

Street Spirit could become a full-fledged independent publication next year with a staff that continues to raise funds, but Boone said she is also weighing other options. They could consider partnering with another organization. Historically, the publication has always been under the umbrella of another nonprofit. 

Their goal is to raise $250,000, which would cover payroll and the cost of printing for a full year. If they get close to that by the end of this year, they will start reprinting the paper in January. It’s unclear how they will retain funding after next year. 

The newspaper provides income for homeless and formerly homeless vendors who can keep the proceeds from its sale. 

One vendor, 53-year-old Shawn Moses, is now housed after more than a decade of homelessness. Vendors like Moses typically sell a few hundred copies of the paper per month. The paper is typically sold for $2 an issue, but people frequently donate more. Selling the paper can help some individuals qualify for a housing voucher. 

“Street Spirit means so much to me,” Moses said. “I’ve been selling this paper for over a decade, and I will not stop selling it.”

He said being laid off from his job managing accounts at Xerox in 2001 eventually caused him to lose his housing. That year, the dot-com bubble burst and made it difficult for him to find work. 

A man in a black cap and black T-shirt speaks into a microphone, a woman in short blond hair is to his right, both are wearing black Street Spirit T-shirts. The room has art on the walls and you can see a masked woman seated behind them.
Shawn Moses speaks at a benefit concert for Street Spirit in August. He is pictured with co-editor Alastair Boone. (Ian Castro)

Boone and Penner said that while the newspaper will continue to feature articles by or about unhoused people, they also want to focus on the economic policies that perpetuate poverty in the East Bay.

Both editors keep the news site going with fresh stories and started receiving contract income from Street Spirit in September from money they fundraised. After taxes, Penner said they each receive around $2,800 a month. But both acknowledged that the low pay has also threatened their own stability. 

In September, Penner’s landlord announced plans to sell the mixed-use commercial building he currently resides in. Penner, 33, and his roommate signed the lease on his rent-controlled apartment in 2009. That year, Berkeley’s median rent was $1,125. He said entering the housing market now would mean paying double his current rent. 

“I’ve been working class my entire life, … and that has been a continued struggle here in the Bay Area. But this is my home, and I’m hellbent on keeping it that way,” Penner said.

From June to September, Boone stayed rent-free with a friend while she focused on fundraising for Street Spirit. In September, Boone started renting a room in a shared house. Despite her limited income, the 29-year-old said she has a safety net. She could ask to stay with her parents in San Francisco, or she could apply for a loan.

“I do come from a certain amount of privilege, so claiming that I really know what housing insecurity feels like feels kind of dishonest,” Boone said.

Despite their worries, the editors said they are determined to push forward because Street Spirit’s mission matters to them.

“I felt like Street Spirit wasn’t ready to die,” Boone said. “I personally just loved it too much to not try to do something about it.”

(Top photo: Alastair Boone and Bradley Penner, by Chris Lee)


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