Last Word: Working For Street Sense

Being a Street Sense vendor is by no means an easy task. It was hard in the beginning, and it’s still hard as a six-year veteran.

Every Street Sense vendor has his or her own pitch, a unique way of selling a $2 paper. Some are aggressive and some are passive. And when I say “aggressive,” that should never mean being rude to customers. It simply means actively approaching potential customers with a sales pitch.

Sometimes customers will have their own favorite vendor they support. Even if the sale goes to someone else, we vendors should always be polite and thank them for supporting Street Sense and our colleagues. Street Sense doesn’t survive solely on donations: each vendor invests in the organization by purchasing the papers they sell upfront at a wholesale price.

After all the years I’ve been selling the newspaper, someone finally criticized my pitch. A woman told me to be quiet. When I ignored her and kept working she shouted at me, “get a job!”

I explained that I’m doing my job.

She pointed out that I don’t have a license. In response I explained that I do have the right to freedom of expression under the First Amendment and a permanent Street Sense badge that shows I have been trained as a salesperson for the organization and that I am accountable for my actions.

“Would you like to try?” I asked.

Of course the answer was no-she wouldn’t want to have to do this kind of work. But after a moment, the woman apologized to me. Unfortunately, she’s not the only person who feels this way about Street Sense vendors.

We’re self-made contractors for the organization. Some vendors get up as early as 4 in the morning to be there for 6 a.m. commuters in the the heat, cold, rain or snow. We don’t have booths to keep us out of the harsh weather. We have good days and bad days: some vendors have to work between 8 and 16 hours a day to make $50 off this $2 newspaper.

Many successful vendors have established a customer base, which takes being at the same place, at the same time of day, for weeks to maybe months at a time. People have to get used to you and some do want to get to know who you are-especially if you write articles on subjects that might affect them. A lot of customers love our poetry and art too.

Vendors aren’t shaking a cup for a few pennies – even though some people do treat us in that manner. Street Sense is a job! It can take a toll on some, if not all vendors, emotionally and physically: standing up for many hours in one spot, facing rejection. Some vendors do have chairs or sit in wheelchairs, but that is still unhealthy. It’s all in order to sell a $2 paper.

Most vendors are people who have had unplanned circumstances in their life. After you exhaust your savings, it’s not long before you end up on the streets. And its not easy to live in a shelter or with other people while trying to find a job. We all need money for different reasons, especially if we have children, or need supplemental income because our small monthly check isn’t going to pay for full rent or put food on the table.

So when we list Street Sense on our resumes, please take it seriously. Give us the dignity and respect we feel about ourselves on a daily basis selling the paper year-round.

Street Sense is a job.

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