Kristan Hoffman

writing dreams into reality

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Last night Andy and I went to a trendy downtown neighborhood for dinner, and as we paid for parking, we were approached by a middle-aged man with a wiry gray beard and patchwork coat. His brown skin was creased with hardship, but his voice was clear and strong, his eyes bright in the light of the setting sun. He explained that he didn’t want to disturb us, but he was offering an alternative newspaper — free, with a suggested donation of $1. The paper was written to benefit the homeless, who earned income by purchasing copies and then distributing them.

This man wasn’t just selling, though. “I write, too,” he said, his voice ringing with pride. “Got an article comin’ out in the next issue.”

“Congratulations,” I said warmly, with a big smile. As a writer, I know what publication means. The excitement, the validation.

Wanting to support him, I donated a dollar for a copy of the paper. (In retrospect, I wish I had given him more.) Then Andy and I continued to the restaurant where we were meeting our friends. After small talk, drinks, and gourmet tacos, the conversation turned to work stuff that didn’t really interest me. So I slipped the newspaper out of my purse and flipped through its pages.

The articles were mostly local, with a uniquely urban angle. Stories included a defense of dumpster diving, support for a local inn that serves as low-income housing for women, and the gentrification of the very neighborhood where we were currently dining.

A letter from the editor explained more about the newspaper’s mission. The goal is not just to help the homeless, but to empower them. Give them meaningful work, and a voice. There are many rules these distributors have to follow — no begging, no drinking or drug use, no belligerence. The list of guidelines takes up an entire half-page of the paper. To some that might seem like a lot to ask, but as I thought more about this operation, it seemed to me that you could not put a price on what was being offered in exchange.


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  1. This is refreshing news. I love how you summed it up in the end. Lovely.

  2. Em

    I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS IDEA!! Which neighborhood is it in?

  3. Thanks, Mieke!

    This took place in Over The Rhine (OTR).

  4. Trisha

    You are just like your father! Reading a newspaper instead of engaging in conversation at the a table.

  5. Wonderful! I love this story and hope you get a chance to read his article in a future issue.

  6. Knoxville has a similar paper. Great idea.

  7. I make it a point not to read newspapers, but that one, I might consider. It sounds like it’s coming from a very interesting perspective.

  8. Juliann

    We always buy these papers, too. I am always impressed that they (the typically homeless who sell them) don’t ask for more. Like you said – it’s about dignity.

  9. What a fabulous idea! If only all cities – major and small, too – would offer something like that. Sometimes people really can change the world, one story at a time.

  10. Les

    Those papers are in Denver too. I haven’t bought one yet (I pass the place where they sell them every day on the way to school) but I always smile and wave.

  11. There used to be one in NY called Street News. Years ago. I wonder what happened to it. It was a really great idea.

  12. Marci

    We have this too! They call it Spare Change News. I try to buy every so often, I think its a great idea.

  13. I’m glad to know this is being done in other cities! I’m definitely gonna make more of an effort to support this program locally.

    LOL yes I have always gotten in trouble for reading at the table. Not usually newspapers though.

    Ditto, and yes, the articles were interesting. Because they can always fill the paper with local news, they also source other “street news” from around the world. It makes for an informative and engaging mix.

  14. Thanks for sharing, Kristan!

  15. Jon

    Such a wonderful post. I have never bought one of those papers, but I will have to next time I see a vendor.

    By the way, I’m as bored as you are when people start talking about work!

  16. Jon-
    Lol well sometimes I tune in, but there’s a point where it just becomes uninteresting. Especially when it’s not even MY workplace, lol.

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