At Honfest, Shul and I met these two really great men (unfortunately I forgot to get their names) who were selling issues of the newspaper for which they worked, Word On The Street. WOTS is “an independent, non-profit, grassroots newspaper led by those experiencing homelessness and by their allies that aims to educate the community and expose the underlying causes of homelessness by highlighting the contributions of homeless and formerly homeless individuals while providing vendors with a source of income.” I finally sat down and read the copy I purchased on Sunday cover to cover.
The cover story was a powerful article entitled “How A Valedictorian Became Homeless” written by the young man himself. It sums up all the issues homeless in Baltimore, particularly youth, face everyday. From family rejection to difficulties with “the system” to struggles finding a shelter every night, the author makes it clear that homeless youth have very little control over their situation. (This idea is really driven home by the fact that the author became homeless after his scholarships for college ran out and his school eventually prevented him from enrolling in future courses.) On top of that, the situation is exacerbated by a feeling of vulnerability that comes from being an adolescent or young adult and by a lack of knowledge of the resources that are available.
While the author ends his article with a simple question, not so much a political or social call to action, it is nevertheless powerful. And I think therein lies the power of the newspaper. Giving somebody a platform on which to speak can be an empowering thing; it lets them know they matter and there are people out there willing to listen. Additionally, it provides the audience with a perspective that is rarely heard, and first hand knowledge is often more powerful than etic observations or statistics. I see many similarities between what WOTS allows its writers to accomplish and what Anthropology By The Wire is attempting to do.
Next time you see somebody wearing a neon yellow vest selling these newspapers, buy one from them (it only costs a dollar, and the vendor receives 75% of the sale) and give it a quick skim. It’s a quick read but leaves a lasting impression.