Nearly every morning, William Trezza picks up copies of the Street Spirit newspaper from a local vendor and sells them on the sidewalks of Berkeley. He says he uses the dollar he earns from each issue to buy healthy meals that treat his diabetes.
For Trezza and hundreds of other homeless people, Street Spirit is a dignified means of making money without having to beg. But this past July, the company that has financed Street Spirit for two decades, the American Friends Service Committee, announced that it was cutting its funding.
This news hit the homeless community hard. But AFSC and others still hope to turn Street Spirit into a self-sustaining organization that can continue to serve the East Bay. And there’s a plan in place to make that transition possible.
The monthly Street Spirit is known for its stridently liberal tone and has been reporting on injustices against the homeless community, poverty, and rising inequality in East Bay since 1995. Its reporting played a role in closing the East Bay Hospital in Richmond in 1997; the psychiatric facility had been accused of numerous human-rights abuses against poor and indigent patients.
Jess Clarke, web producer for Street Spirit, said the newspaper does more than offer an alternative to panhandling. “It also humanizes the experience of homelessness,” he explained.
According to Clarke, homeless men and women can interact with readers. “In this way, you see a real sense of community develop,” he said.
A copy of Street Spirit is $1, but sometimes vendors receive extra donations during the holiday season, when people are more generous, which helps them rent SRO rooms, and buy food, clothing, or other necessities.
“I sell them for a $1 each, but I ask for $1 donation if they want to give,” said homeless woman Melanie Lacy.
According to AFSC, it wants to turn Street Spirit into a locally funded institution. To further this goal, AFSC has allotted $49,500 to help Street Spirit make this transition.
“Like most nonprofit organizations, we are operating within tight budgetary constraints,” Eisha Mason, the associate regional director for AFSC’s West Region, told the Express in an email.
And Youth Spirit Artworks, a job-training organization that empowers homeless and low-income residents by helping them sell their art, intends to take over as the paper’s fiscal sponsor.
“AFSC has generously supported Street Spirit for the last 22 years,” said Sally Hindman, executive director with YSA, which will now take on production and distribution.
YSA plans to start charging people five cents per copy upon distribution, which the organization says will help cover the costs of publishing the newspaper.
Trezza says he’s OK with this. “It’s a small price to help keep going, and you make the money back threefold, so it’s not a big deal for me,” he said.