22 April 2015

The D.C. photo blog putting a face on homelessness

American street paper Street Sense recently reported on an engaging and empowering photo blog putting a name and face to the people experiencing homelessness in Washington D.C..

Street Sense vendor Robert.
"It saddens my heart too to see people passed by in the street. People won't even acknowledge a homeless individual or a homeless veteran - or even a veteran seeking assistance. Homeless people, and homeless veterans, are people too. They don't need a hand out, but a hand up."

Street Sense vendor and contributor Robert is now a recognisable face on the streets of Washington D.C. where he sells the street paper, but it wasn't always that way for the formerly homeless veteran.

He knows what it's like to be in need and to feel ignored and invisible, which is why he was happy to be featured on Person First Project, an engaging photo blog  that aims to break down barriers between people experiencing homelessness and those who pass by them every day.

Shiza Farid, Robyn Russell and Julie Schwartz created the Person First Project in December 2014 as a way of reminding people there is a person behind every unique experience of homelessness and poverty.

Chon: "If it weren’t for Street Sense, I'd probably be selling drugs."
The trio partnered up with the National Coalition for the Homeless to connect with people willing to share their own experiences of homelessness. The project highlights these stories via Facebook and Instagram, including a chat with Street Sense vendor Chon, who explains how selling a street paper is helping him build a better future.

"When you stop and talk to people who are experiencing homelessness, you hear that they're really just like everybody else. They are moms. They are dads. They are daughters. They are sons," said co-founder Robyn Russell. "If we could share this with other people, I think it could be really powerful because there are a lot of misconceptions around homelessness."

Russell says the positive comments left on each of their Facebook posts is testament to the power of storytelling as an advocacy tool, and that first-person stories can help change perceptions and open people eyes in a way that a fact sheet full of stats, facts and figures cannot.

Regarding the public who pass by people experiencing homelessness every day, she added: “It’s not that people don't care. I think they do care and I think they don't know what to do. That's how we felt.

"We hope our project can open their eyes and help them feel like maybe they can stop and talk to somebody."

This post is based on an article by Jennifer Ortiz originally published in Street Sense. It has been made available to other INSP members via our News Service here.

16 April 2015

Real Change launches cashless payment app with Google

By Laura Kelly

Seattle street paper Real Change has partnered with tech giant Google to launch an app that allows customers to pay for their paper digitally and have it delivered straight to their phones.

Vendors have had increasingly difficulties selling the paper, since fewer and fewer people carry cash with them, said Timothy Harris, founding director of Real Change.

“Cashlessness is a challenge our vendors face on a daily basis,” he added. “This app will help our paper survive in the digital age, when fewer people have ready access to cash and more people prefer to read news content on their mobile devices.”

From today, each of Real Change’s homeless and low-income vendors will each get a unique QR code on their vests to allow them to sell digital versions of the award-winning street paper, as well as the usual paper copies.

After downloading the free app to their iOS or Android phone, Seattleites will be able to scan their local vendor’s unique code to buy their digital paper for $2.99 (including a fee from digital content providers)

Vendors will make $1.49 every time someone buys a digital copy of Real Change, whilst they will still get $1.40 from every paper copy they sell. The paper copy will still cost $2.

“We designed this with our vendors and customers in mind,” said Harris. “This app will build on the strong relationships our vendors have with many of their customers, while helping customers benefit from an increasingly seamless buying experience. The paper is just a scan away.”

The project was started two years ago by a Google employee who volunteered at Real Change as part of Google’s annual week of service. 

Since then, eight Googlers have volunteered their time to develop the cross-platform app, the first of its kind for the paper.

The app in action.
“Being on the volunteer app development team has been a gratifying experience,” said Jill Woelfer, a Google User Experience Researcher who has been volunteering with Real Change since early 2014. 

“The whole team has worked very hard to create a technical solution to provide opportunities for those who are in need.”

“Street newspapers around the world are looking for a solution to how they can better adapt to the changing media landscape, while still staying true to the signature street paper model,” added Darcy Nothnagle, Public Affairs Manager for Google. 

“We hope that this app will be a model many street papers can use, globally.”

Real Change’s app is just one of the pioneering digital adaptations coming from INSP’s members. 

Others include Chicago-based StreetWise’s partnership with PayPal and The Big Issue South Africa’s SmartBibs, both of which also allow customers to pay online using their phones.

In Europe, Amsterdam’s Z! magazine and Scandinavian papers =Norge, Situation Sthlm and Faktum are working on pilot projects to provide vendors with card readers, so that customers can pay with debit or credit cards. 

In addition, some papers, including Situation Sthlm and Norway’s =Norge, use payments through text messages. 

“Many of INSP's 114 street papers, in 35 countries, are facing issues based on the continuing march of our cashless society,” said INSP chief executive Maree Aldam. 

“Innovative solutions such as Real Change’s app show how dynamic street paper organisations can continue to provide employment to some of the most vulnerable people in society, despite the new challenges they face.”

20 March 2015

Our vendors: Mr Oh "Killer Smile" - The Big Issue Korea

In less than five years, The Big Issue Korea has not only built a solid readership. It has changed the lives of its vendors across South Korea – a nation that has rapidly become an economic powerhouse, yet remains beset by homelessness and unemployment.

Mr Oh sells The Big Issue Korea in Seoul.
Mr Oh – also known as ‘Killer Smile’ – is one of the many vendors in Seoul, the country's capital, who has benefitted from this support. He became homeless after his family business failed, stripping him of his income.

"One day I was wandering around the street trying to get a meal. There’s a place that provides food and someone was there giving out leaflets about The Big Issue and how it can help get you back on track. This really interested me, so I called the office."

Mr Oh has now been selling the magazine at his pitch at Exit 8 of Seoul’s Express Bus Terminal for four years. "On average I sell 30, starting around 5pm when people finish work," he says. "Some people already know about The Big Issue and buy it frequently. They ask how selling is going, and sometimes also offer me a snack – when that happens it’s really nice."

As well as earning a steady income, the street paper has helped him find a home. In South Korea, vendors who sell The Big Issue for more than six months and save more than SKW1.5 million [$1580] can apply for rental support via a government-sponsored program. 

Thanks to this scheme, Mr Oh is now able to rent an apartment in the western part of Seoul. He says that having stable shelter has changed his life. "I have my own things in my house, can buy things I need and when I go to sleep I can think about the future. In the past I didn’t, because I had no hope. It has made a big difference."

Selling a street paper also reconnected Mr Oh with his family: "I live alone, but had a chance to be on TV because of The Big Issue, and my brothers noticed me and found me. I had become disconnected from my family for a long time. I met my brothers and my mother – it was fantastic."

This is a summary of a vendor profile by Patrick Witton, The Big Issue Australia's Contributing Editor. He travelled to South Korea with the Walkley Foundation Australia-Korea Journalism Exchange, with support from Australia-Korea Foundation and Korea Press Foundation. 

The full article has been made available to other street papers in our network via the INSP News Service here. Original interview translated by Claire Kang.

13 March 2015

10 reasons not to miss #INSP2015

Last week, INSP's Zoe Greenfield was in Seattle preparing for INSPired Together: Global Street Paper Summit 2015. She told us why street paper staff would be mad to miss it...

1.    It’s INSP’s first US event
It’ll be fantastic to have street papers from all over the world (familiar faces, and new ones too!) representing our truly global network. We already know we’ll have delegates from at least 20 different countries.

2.    Global perspective, local context
As an international network we’re facing some common challenges, especially those resulting from the economic downturn which hit those already on the margins hardest. But it’s also important to understand the different socio-economic, political and cultural contexts in which we are working.

We’re in the fortunate position to be able to draw on each other’s expertise and learn about those more local challenges too. In the words of Real Change’s Tim Harris:

“Our diversity is our strength, and that what we have in common trumps our differences… we are all in this together, learning from each other, healing a broken world, one vendor and one newspaper at a time.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself!

3.    Seattle streets
A recent one night count found almost 4,000 people without shelter in King County.  Homelessness is very visible in Seattle. Life is tough here; there is no safety net. Even as someone who has travelled widely and worked with lots of homeless organisations, I have so many questions about homelessness in Seattle.

It’s a city with issues but it’s also a city that is responding to the challenge. In June, we’ll learn about homelessness in the city and about the response. You’ll have the option to visit innovative social projects like Urban Rest Stop, 1811 Eastlake, and one of Seattle’s self-managed tent encampments. We’ll also enjoy dinner at a social enterprise restaurant Farestart which offers training and employment opportunities to homeless and unemployed people (not to mention delicious food and great service).

4.    And of course, our very own Real Change
It’s well known and very well respected in Seattle. Many people I met credit Real Change with bringing about a city-wide shift in attitudes towards homelessness. Go RC!

I received a very warm welcome from staff, volunteers and vendors (you’re awesome) to the Real Change office in the Pioneer Square district. You’ll have the chance to visit when Real Change host an open house (Tuesday 23 June).

5.    People are talking
From local radio to conversations on the bus, people in Seattle are talking about homelessness and social justice issues.

Read articles and listen to KUOW podcasts as part of the recent ‘Seattle homelessness’ series.

6.    There’s already a buzz
And (the abbreviated version) sounds something like this:
Person hearing about the Global Street Paper Summit: “I love Real Change. Do you work for Real Change?”
Me: “No, I’m visiting Real Change.  I work for INSP.”
Person: “Wait, so Real Change isn’t the only one?”
Me: “No, there are 114 street papers in 35 countries and they’re coming to Seattle in June.”
Person: “Wow. That’s awesome!”
Me (in my head): “Damn right, it’s awesome!”

And here’s our street: (Global Street Paper) Summit Avenue.

7.    Make your own
A bit like a pizza, INSP will provide the base and you can load up on your favourite toppings. Basically, there’ll be some INSPirational keynote sessions and you get to decide which breakout sessions you want to attend. Never fear, the old favourites including Innovation Exchange will be back. We listened to your feedback so there’ll be more sessions on fundraising, marketing and social media too.

8.    Celebrate in style
The INSP Awards are back! Get your glad rags (or traditional dress of your home country) on and shimmy on down to the ballroom to celebrate the journalism and social impact of our incredible network.

9.    Good to great
We already know our work has an impact (see point no. 8) but it’s useful to stop and ask ‘how can we take this to the next level?’ Altruist Partners will help us to think about what might be holding us back and how we can become more enterprising to scale up and maximise our impact.

10.    Rock’n’roll
Just when you thought it wasn’t possible for INSP to get any cooler, we decide to end the Summit on a high with a benefit gig at Seattle’s famous Crocodile Club. Between you and me, I’m sure we won’t wait until Friday to explore the local nightlife...

Can’t wait to see you in Seattle! 

11 March 2015

American students provide homeless women with free pads and tampons

For women, menstruation is a natural and regular part of life. But for those experiencing homelessness, finding a pad or tampon can be harder than finding a meal or a new pair of socks.

Rayna Blackburn, who has been homeless on and off for the past several years, tells Portland street paper Street Roots how she would fashion her own pads when she couldn't afford them or find any at local shelters.

Periods can be a nightmare for homeless women. REUTERS/Andy Clark
"I took a towel and cut it in pieces and used a plastic bag to wrap them with… I would wash one, let it dry while I was using another so I could rotate."

When turning to shelters for help, Rayna adds that she has sometimes been offered nothing but a paper towel. "I've seen [other women] take tampons and rinse them out and reuse them," she says. "It's not OK."

Unsanitary products, a lack of clean spaces to change a tampon or pad, or using the same product for too long can all lead to serious and sometimes fatal bacterial infections, such as toxic shock syndrome.

Some shelters and aid agencies keep small supplies of pads and tampons on hand, but even then, they are available only to those who ask.

"These are really natural needs but the idea that these topics are private doesn't only exist in the society but also within individuals," says Nadya Okamoto.

L to R: Giselle Cohen, Vincent Forand and Nadya Okamoto.
The 15-year-old is one of eight high school students from Portland, Oregon, who founded Camions of Care, a non-profit that provides free feminine hygiene products to women living on the streets.

Since December 2014, it has delivered more than 350 care packages across Portland, which contain enough pads, tampons and fresh wipes to last a woman six days, the average length of a period.

The project aims to empower women and destroy the view of pads and tampons as mere "comfort items".

Camion's co-founder Giselle Cohen adds that, "if you don't have the supplies to handle your own body, you can't advocate for yourself in the same way. You can't be looking for a job during that time. So that's four to six days a month where you have to basically be secluded."

Public support for the project, which now works with 50 volunteers, continues to grow. Street Roots is among many organizations now partnering with Camions of Care to distribute the packages

As of January 2015, Camions of Care expanded their service to homeless women in Salt Lake City, Utah through a partnership with Legacy Initiative. You can read more about their work here

This is a summary of an article by Ann-Derrick Gaillot originally published by Street Roots. It has been made available to other INSP members via the INSP News Service here. (Photo of Camion's founders by Reuben Schafir).