Write Team: Supporting a newspaper movement

Call me old school but I like a newspaper. I mean a real, printed on rolled news stock with ink that comes off on your fingers newspaper. Once in a while I do read a paper online, particularly if I’m traveling and want to check the news back home, but there is nothing like the feel of sitting down in and spreading out a good old fashioned newspaper and spending however much time you can devouring the stories.

One of the newspapers I have come to enjoy over the years is a Chicago publication named StreetWise. StreetWise is more of a social enterprise designed to help impoverished people out of poverty than it is a commercial newspaper. It is published weekly as a general interest newspaper with a gritty “from the streets perspective” to give insight to its readers on what’s really going on in Chicago.

Streetwise was first published in 1992. Judd Lofchie found a practical solution to the crisis of homelessness in Chicago. The idea was simple: give homeless individuals a chance to regain personal dignity and help themselves by selling a newspaper to earn an income rather than beg. More than 350 homeless individuals purchased and sold more than 60,000 issues of StreetWise within the first five weeks! Just like that Chicago joined the street paper movement.

The way StreetWise operates is pretty simple. Vendors, as they are referred to, stand on street corners, train platforms, or anywhere out of the rain and sell for one dollar a 12-page newspaper. It’s not very glitzy and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a model posing for anything in one of the ads

But what it does represent is a vehicle that empowers people to earn money in a way that would otherwise not be available to them and gain a little dignity in the process.

The vendors are, by and large, people that have had a bad run of luck and need a helping hand. Some of the vendors have been homeless. Some of them have lost everything including their families to a variety of misfortunes. The why is not nearly as important as the what and in this case the what is that fact that these people need a little help.

My vendor is Standard Mitchell. I met Standard about 10 years ago because he is faithful about being on post just outside the Metra La Salle Street Station. Standard is 53 years old and graduated from Marshall High School in Chicago. He studied accounting at Wright Junior College, which is not part of the City Colleges of Chicago. He worked for a shoe store company that went out of business in the early 80s and then had to settle for an assembly line job, making televisions. In the late 80s, that job was outsourced to another country and Standard found himself without a job and soon thereafter, a family. His wife divorced him and that’s when Standard’s life hit the proverbial fan.

Standard and I became friends almost immediately. I call him Mr. Mitchell and he calls J. I like that, kind of makes me feel hip, of course saying hip puts me right back in the goof-ball category but you get the point.

I don’t travel into Chicago as much as I used to and when I do, rarely take the train. But on those occasions when I take the Rock Island into La Salle Street Station, I still look for my old friend and applaud his efforts to keep newspapers alive.

Jonathan Freeburg is an Ottawa transplant for the past two decades-plus and a regular contributor to 1430 WCMY Radio. He can be reached at newsroom@shawmedia.com.

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