Street Sense: Spreading Stories and Human Kindness

I’m a huge believer in eye contact. Whether it’s my boss, my best friend, or the person waiting on me when I order food at a restaurant, I will always make an effort to look whoever I’m talking to in the eyes. That includes the nice man that’s always sitting outside of the CVS when I get off from work. I don’t always have change to spare, but I always take at least a second to look him in the eyes and say, “Hey! See you tomorrow!”

Human kindness, especially towards poor and homeless people, is rare in big cities like D.C. However, human kindness is all it takes to make these people’s lives better.

There are over 11,500 people in the DC-MD-VA region who are homeless. The vast majority cannot obtain employment due to factors such as disability, mental health, and hygiene. Although social services can address income and housing needs, our sub-population of homeless adults are typically disengaged from social services pathways.

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Fortunately, there are organizations like Street Sense that are built on the idea of spreading stories and human kindness.

Street Sense is non-profit street publication that has been changing the story of homelessness in the D.C. community through media that elevates homeless voices and encourages debate on poverty and injustice. Their innovative approach harnesses the talents, aspirations and hard work of men and women who are homeless.

What’s the story?

Street Sense was founded in August 2003 after two volunteers, Laura Thompson-Osuri and Ted Henson, approached the National Coalition for the Homeless on separate occasions about starting a street newspaper in Washington, D.C. to change the conversation and help empower people experiencing homelessness.

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After bringing together a core of dedicated volunteers and vendors, Street Sense published its first issue in November 2003 with a print run of 5,000 copies. The paper has since published consistently on a monthly and now biweekly basis, and has greatly expanded its circulation and vendor network.

What’s the impact?

Street Sense provides homeless adults with an opportunity to self-express through writing, graphic design, film, photography, and theater workshops. Participants gain effective communication skills and marketable media production job skills, and help re-shape the conversation surrounding poverty and homelessness issues.

Street Sense maintains about 100 active vendors, selling 16,000 papers every other week for the recommended donation of $2 each, with the average vendor earning $45 a day. Vendors choose their own sales locations, and can be found in downtown D.C. and some suburbs on busy corners and near Metro stations, usually during the lunch and evening rush hours.

Nearly all vendors have reported a marked improvement in their lives since they started working for the paper. Such changes include reconnecting with family, developing their writing and communication skills, or simply gaining a sense of pride and self-respect.

Street Sense not only offers its vendors a newspaper to sell and profit from, but also connects them to other service providers to help meet their other immediate needs, such as finding housing, accessing healthcare, and enrolling in financial management or job training classes.

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How can you help?

If you’re in the DC-MD-VA area, make sure to pick up a copy of Street Sense during your morning commute. If you want to go a step forward, volunteer as a paper salesperson!

Getting hitched? Share your big day with Street Sense by creating a charitable wedding registry.

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