The United States Street Paper Movement: Resilience and strength in a year of challenges

Click here to enlarge. Image courtesy of the International Network of Street Papers North America

International Network of Street Papers: North America

By Israel Bayer, Director


In the face of a global pandemic, a growing climate and eviction crisis and mass homelessness, street papers in more than 100 cities around the world (28 in the U.S.) continue to come together and respond with both poise and purpose. It hasn’t been easy. 

For people living and working on the front lines of homelessness and poverty, COVID-19 has only compounded the gross inequities that already existed on the streets every day. It’s crisis born of systemic racism, the lack of access to adequate healthcare, living-wage jobs and housing for millions of individuals and families living on a fixed income, or no income at all. The staggering loss of life and people’s livelihood is very real. 

Photo of a vendor for The Contributor holding up a newspaper
Felicia R., a vendor for The Contributor located in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo by Hannah Herner

The collective stories of street papers are many. They include stories of triumph and struggle, endurance and loss, hope and defeat. They are the story of a street paper in Washington D.C. working to become a weekly publication, while a scrappy publication from Toledo supports vendors on the streets. It’s an editor in Oakland refusing to quit and running a monthly street paper mostly by herself — helping support the livelihood of dozens of vendors. It’s a small street paper in Denver maintaining normal office hours in a parking lot for months on end amidst COVID outbreaks to support vendors. It’s the story of a group of people coming together to launch a street paper in West Virginia during a global pandemic. It’s StreetWise in Chicago providing 12,000 disposable masks, 1,000 bottles of hand sanitizer, $100,000 in direct cash support and an opportunity for temporary reemployment doing census outreach to homeless people last year. 

During the past year street papers have come together to develop emergency safety plans and measures for organizations to remain operational during the pandemic. We developed campaigns to support vendors to have a basic income and worked to distribute PPE to street papers around the country. 

Street papers continue to work hard to deliver important news and resources in their respective communities — highlighting the work of housing, environmental, criminal, immigrant and racial justice movements both locally and around the world. 

Gary Keeton, a vendor for STREETZine located in Dallas, Texas. Photo courtesy of STREETZine

From highlighting the homeless and housing crisis in America to the Black Lives Matter and larger racial justice movement to sharing the stories of immigrants and refugees — street papers believe in the idea of bringing people together to work toward making the world we live in a better place. 

All of this continues to be done while working to try to provide vendors with access to the vaccine, maintaining a regular publication schedule and keeping the doors open during a global pandemic. It’s more than amazing. None of this could be possible without readers like you. 

At the end of the day, street papers are only as powerful as the people that support them. We can’t thank you enough for your continued support of both StreetWise and the larger street paper movement. We are stronger together. Thank you! 

Israel Bayer is the director of the International Network of Street Papers North America, a regional bureau representing street papers in Canada, Mexico and the United States. 

Real Change

Seattle, Washington


The pandemic has exacerbated income inequality and housing instability. On a national and local level, without cancellation of rent and a massive increase in social housing, homelessness will increase dramatically once the eviction moratorium ends. 

Real Change exists to provide opportunity and a voice to low-income and homeless people while taking action for economic, social and racial justice. Based in Seattle, WA, Real Change serves over 700 individuals struggling with poverty and homelessness through a low-barrier employment opportunity.

Denver Voice

Denver, Colorado

Jennifer Seybold, Executive Director


A father-daughter vendor team for Street Roots, located in Portland, Oregon. Image courtesy of Street Roots

What do you see as the biggest national issue affecting our client population?

Never has it been more evident than in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that employment is the key to creating and maintaining housing stability. Unemployment, and low-wage jobs burden millions of individuals and families across the United States. With so many individuals stuck in low-wage positions and without proper support to grow their skills, the risk of homelessness continues to grow exponentially. Nationally, we need to look at solutions to increase opportunity to earn a wage that meets average median level expenses, and allow for quality housing and basic needs to be met. 

Individuals experiencing homelessness also face greater challenges finding and maintaining employment. Systems need to do more to provide equal access to job training and placement, educational opportunities, and support for additional barriers to success including access to child care, systems to treat mental and physical health conditions and strategies to take on long standing negative impacts of racial and ethnic discrimination. 

What is the biggest issue facing your clients in Denver?

Since the last recession in 2008, just 15 cities have generated 80% of the nation’s GDP growth and Denver is one of them. 

Metro cities with skilled workers and high-income influx have higher rent prices, revitalization projects increase, and this results in rent prices that have risen above what income gains could reasonably justify. 

An estimated 96,000 Denver residents spend more than the recommended affordability rate of 32%. And a staggering 25% are already spending more than 50% of their income on housing. In most neighborhoods, a minimum wage worker would have to work 80 hours a week to reasonably afford a 2 bedroom apartment, and those prices continue to rise, climbing 10% in 2019, while wages rose only about 0.5 percent.

Denver has only 23,348 income-restricted homes available and an ever-growing wage gap that continues to result in more individuals experiencing homelessness. 

The Curbside Chronicle

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Nathan Poppe, Editor


What do you see as the biggest national issue affecting our client population?

Nationally, the idea that people choose to be homeless is a detrimental problem. It’s never that simple, and it’s a dismissive, dangerous myth that’s persisted for far too long. It’s a bad line of thinking. The public should understand homelessness is complicated and it takes a community working together to make things better for its most vulnerable population. But it all comes down to housing, which is why we believe in the Housing First model in Oklahoma City. Housing First is exactly what it sounds like. It provides housing first, housing without preconditions, but it doesn’t stop there. Once housed, people are provided with case management and the support they need to address the issues that might’ve led to their homelessness. People show improvements in mental and physical health, reduced substance use, decreased emergency room visits, decreased involvement with law enforcement and improved quality of life when they have the safety and security of a home. Homelessness is the symptom of multiple social ills in our world, but housing is the effective treatment.

What is the biggest issue facing your clients in Oklahoma City?

Before the pandemic, Oklahoma City faced a shortfall of 4,500 affordable housing units. That problem persists and has only been exacerbated by the lingering pandemic. Our city needs more readily-available and truly-affordable housing options to house people. Minimum wage in Oklahoma City is $7.25 and has been stagnant since 2008. Income growth has not kept pace with rising rent costs, leading to an affordability crisis. Simply put, people working full-time minimum wage and low-wage jobs aren’t making enough to keep up with the cost of living. According to HUD, those who spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing are considered to be cost-burdened and at greater risk of homelessness. In OKC, a worker making minimum wage would have to spend 76 percent of their annual income on housing to afford the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment and 60 percent to afford the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment, according to Deborah Jenkins, executive director of the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency. 


Chicago, Illinois

Suzanne Hanney, Editor-In-Chief


A. Allen, a vendor for StreetWise, which is located in Chicago, Illinois. Photo courtesy of StreetWise

What is the biggest national issue from a street paper perspective?

The racial wealth gap is the biggest problem facing the United States from a street paper perspective. A typical Black family has net worth of $17,150, and a typical white family, $171,000 – nearly 10 times greater – according to the Brookings Institution. Latinos have typical net worth similar to Blacks. 

A reflection of historic discrimination (from slavery to redlining), the wealth gap has been growing for the last 30 years. Inheritances are one reason. Fewer Black families (8 percent) receive inheritances ($83,000 on average) than white families (26 percent/$236,000 average), according to McKinsey & Co. 

Lower net worth creates precariousness: up to 70 percent of middle-class Blacks can become lower-class (at greater risk for homelessness) as adults. 

Simultaneously, more wealth raises prices and reinforces segregation: in housing, in education, in career opportunities. 

Most of all, the gap creates a divided electorate, including some people with little empathy for hardship, which makes it difficult to create public policy to advance everyone’s needs. 

What is the biggest local problem in Chicago? 

Wealth inequality fuels Chicago’s worst problem, segregation, because higher income people can choose pricier neighborhoods with more access to resources. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle, according to the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), because segregation furthers income inequality.

Segregation’s negative outcomes for education, for example, mean that only 12 percent of Latinos over 25 have bachelor’s degrees, compared to 20 percent of African Americans and 44 percent of whites. 

Segregation also plays into what David A. Ansell, M.D., called “the death gap”: inadequately funded hospitals and limited access to health care that leads to a life expectancy of 85 for a Loop or Hyde Park resident but only 72 for a North Lawndale and 69 for a Washington Park resident. During the pandemic, there were also greater numbers of cases and deaths in minority neighborhoods. 

More than half Chicago’s homicides in 2016 occurred in 11 minority communities with the highest poverty. According to one study cited by MPC, increased deaths there created a ripple effect of 70 residents lost. 

StreetWise has been part of the fabric of Chicago for 28 years. StreetWise Magazine has covered everything Chicago from its people to its social issues, politics, nonprofits, arts, culture, and neighborhoods. More than 14,000 StreetWise Magazine vendors have found dignity on street corners in neighborhoods across the city.

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