Street Roots: The Little Newspaper that Could

Street Roots. Photo credit: Claudia Brown

You’ve probably seen a Street Roots vendor. Maybe you’ve walked by the homeless man; perhaps you’ve pulled a dollar out of your pocket and bought the scrappy little Portland newspaper.

Executive Director Israel Bayer describes the paper’s mission:

“We’ve been able to really offer people the opportunity to have a solid newspaper with a great journalism foundation while also giving people on the streets the opportunity to gain an income.”

Now 15 years old, Street Roots is one of about 30 papers in the U.S. that help the homeless and poor by giving them a way to make money without begging. Vendor Chandler Jacoby says the job offers him dignity.

“And when I was standing on a corner with Street Roots in my hand as opposed to a sign in my hand I just feel better because I’m offering something to the public. They’re giving me a dollar, I’m giving them a paper.”

Vendors buy the paper for 25cents and pocket 75 cents for each they sell. For 35-year old Jacoby, selling Street Roots means he can afford lifesaving medication that costs $12 a day. Meanwhile Jacoby is trying to get into welding school.

“And if I ever do stop selling the paper I’ll see other vendors and I’ll acknowledge them and give them a buck because I was there; I had to do it.”

Published every two weeks, Street Roots is a serious newspaper, winning three prestigious awards last year from the Society of Professional Journalists. The newspaper illuminates issues of social and economic justice and sells about 20,000 thousand copies each year. Jack Harper is a fan.

“It comes out every two weeks. I understand maybe in a year they’re planning on it coming out weekly. So right now it’s interesting. I buy the paper every week but it’s only a new paper every two weeks.

Street Roots also publishes the Resource Guide, a pocket-sized and comprehensive book listing resources for the homeless and poor. It includes sources of food, clothing, housing and help with health care and job searches. 100,000 are distributed every year.

In a perfect world there would be no need for Street Roots, but the reality is life is very hard for the more than 3,000 people in the Portland area living on the streets or in emergency and transitional housing. Some are ill or suffer from addiction; many simply lost their jobs and their homes in the great recession. And according to Israel Bayer, sadly, some are victims of war.

Israel Bayer understands the need for even a small job.

“Nobody woke up one day and said I want to be a Street Roots vender. It tends to be a stepping stone or a stopgap measure in there lives to be able to stabilize in a way where they don’t have to anywhere else to go.”

Street Roots has goal. To raise enough money to publish the paper weekly. That can happen if every reader donates $25.00 each year

Claudia Brown

Claudia Brown is the PRP News Coordinator. Born and raised in the Northwest and eager to get back to her roots as a fedora-wearing investigative reporter, Claudia brings a wealth of skill and experience to our award-winning team.

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