Street Paper: A Documentary About America’s Top-Selling Homeless Newspaper (2012)

Street Paper: A Documentary About America’s Top-Selling Homeless Newspaper (2012)


Who here has heard of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? You have heard of it. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. What is it? Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. Anything else in there? Freedom of religion. The press is not free if what the press produces cannot be freely distributed. If you are on the sidewalk, you can say, “I have the right to sell a newspaper on the sidewalk.” “The freedom of the press, First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, gives me the right to sell this newspaper out here on the sidewalk.” We have been planning on leveling out this whole year. We keep thinking we are going to reach our number. We are going to reach our number. And we are going to know from now on how many to order per month, and we are just still not there. At a time when newspapers are struggling to keep paying customers, so-called street papers are exploding. Street papers benefit the homeless who sell them as an alternative to panhandling. Around the country, many are growing by double digits. Publications in Nashville and Los Angeles have quadrupled in size over the last year and helped dozens of people make enough money to get housing. This is the homeless paper here in Nashville. Most cities have homeless paper, and it is just a dollar. It talks about diverse issues about the homeless. Yes. Have you read them? They are great papers. I buy it for a quarter, and I sell it for a dollar. And then the profits benefit the vendors. I was aware of street papers through other cities I visited. I swear I think I got one in Atlanta when I was there once. And I remember thinking, someone should start a street paper in Nashville. Can Nashville sustain a paper? What would we call it? What is our mission? What are the guidelines? I realize that starting a street paper is radical, but I’m not so radical that I was going to reinvent the wheel in areas I didn’t have to. NASNA and especially Street Sense at the time helped me with that. NASNA is a nonprofit trade association of street newspapers consisting of 31 members in North America Tentative layout is Lindsey’s article lead, Jeannie’s article second on there maybe even throwing Jimmy Wayne on there a little if we want to do three. Okay Krinks’ “Inundated with Homelessness” really good. Or “Inundated with Vagrants” yeah. Jimmy Wayne Abbott, I like it. I think it’s what the article deserves. Basically on poetry, I do not want to do more than two pages. Chris Scott’s are some of my least favorite. Do you believe you kind of told him we were going to run all three this month? They are long too. Yeah I think so. I said this time you know ‘It is fine.’ He asked for a set type of thing. I said ‘That is fine.’ Well thank you guys. Okay. Hello, how are you doing? If you are here to train, you need to come in now. If you are not here to train you need to get out of the way. I realize that some of you did not get the best night’s sleep last night, so that is okay with me. But, I still will probably try to get your attention at some point if you look like you’re down for the count or something like that. You are all here to train to be vendors of The Contributor newspaper. Tom is our full-time director of vending. He’s full-time volunteer. And he, for whatever reason, was one the first people I pulled in, in those initial meetings. I did not know Tom. We were not friends at the time, just friendly acquaintances. I told him what a street paper was about and asked him is this something? I did not have any plans for him, and I just kind of wanted his advice. He helped me get into this studio space, and I think it was within that same month, we were starting to put the first issue of the paper together. It was right before Thanksgiving of 2007. A street newspaper is a type of newspaper that is sold by people who have experienced homelessness and poverty. It is sold exclusively by that class of person. That is why I asked the question, ‘When is the last time you were homeless?’ And when you say, ‘Actually, I have never been homeless. I just want to earn some money.’ That does not really work with what we do. When we started the paper, the places I thought we were going to have trouble were financially and content. Financially, it was more doable than we thought, because it was out of pocket at first. And content kind of fell on us. Both of those places were taken care of. We struggled with our vendor force for a year and a half. We would have about thirty vendors off and on. Ten of those we would see more than once and then maybe two dedicated people selling. We are from California born and raised. We were born in the same hospital, in the same town, one year apart. She’s older. I think there was what six of us, and the paper was printing 1,500 a month. And they would have a 1,000 of them left. Jerry is wonderful. At the beginning though, I could not stand him. I found out there was church downtown that fed a breakfast, and I had seen a girl sitting on a corner with this paper. And she sort of had it laying beside her. I made a comment to my wife. I said, ‘Man if I was selling something I think I would do better than that.’ He decided, I’m going to make this my own. You know, I’m going to make this damn paper work for me if it kills me. And she says, “Why don’t you go in there and get trained, you do it anyway you want.” And it sort of blew my mind. I thought, look if she can sell any of these, I know I can. I remember pretty quickly they got to about 400 papers a month which was huge for us. It was early August of 2009. It was so different. It was either 51 or 53 vendors we had then. It was brutal. I suffered and struggled. At first we used them for pillows. I mean these make good pillows if you stack up 15 of them and put them behind your head. The two things I want to know, how long it has been since you have been homeless and one thing you know about The Contributor. My name is Mark Anthony Napoleon Gunter. I knew about the paper and what it was about, and like my man said, it’s kind of legal panhandling. We are not panhandlers. You do not ask for tips. They are giving you money. They are not making a donation to anybody. A donation is something you can write off on your taxes. Okay. You are not representing a nonprofit. You are a for profit organization. There is no such thing as a donation to you, there’s only tips. And you cannot ask for tips. The paper caught fire. I mean, he started training people, so many people. Then I met my roommate. He got me into selling these papers. He said, “You can sell these papers.” I thought, ‘Oh man, I cannot stand out there and sell the papers.’ I had never been on the street. I had never been on the street, so I did not know. I felt embarrassed standing out there holding a sign that says “homeless paper.” I was kind of scared at first. But, once I got to knowing the ropes, I mean you just have to watch who you mess with. Number one, I will not sell The Contributor under the influence of drugs or alcohol. While vending, I agree not sell any other goods, services or products. I agree to stay off of private property without permission. When we got together, he had told me that he had a light bill due. And if he didn’t get it paid by that Friday, $50 by that Friday to the NES, he was going to lose his MDHA contract for housing. And I said, ‘Shoot, I can make that in no time selling the paper.’ He went out there with me. He watched me sell papers. He watched me make that $50 in what two hours. Yes. I handed it to him, I said, ‘Now go pay your bill.’ Which we did. And I told him, I said, ‘I am not doing this by myself. Your ass can go get a badge and sell the papers too.’ And he did. He came that Tuesday. If you are not going to do this right, I will make it clear that you are suspended. And if you cannot handle taking time off and going back through training and doing it right after that, then I do not really want you selling this paper. The top vendors, almost all of them, sell to cars away from downtown. They do not sell to pedestrians on the sidewalk. My first permanent territory was 5th and Broadway. That did not turn out too well. It was too much foot traffic and not enough cars. So I moved down to 20th and got pushed out of that spot. When I found this spot, it was just like God-given. Yay. And now I recognize every car just about that comes up and down this street after 7 months of working it. The map badge is for people who have sold 300 of one issue. I did not have a regular spot. I was like the rogue, nomad, floater vendor. When the couple who worked this territory left to go back home to Louisiana, they were Hurricane Katrina victims. I knew that it was now or never. I made the conscious decision to buy 300 papers that month, so that I could put in for this spot. The people who find a spot, stick to it, get a map and work that are the ones that are staying in hotel rooms instead of sleeping in camps. They are the ones that are in subsidized housing. Okay in his first vendor trainings, as part of vendor training, he would tell people, “You are not going to get off the street selling this paper.” We went from that bush to buying a tent to going to hotel room to a sleeping room to an apartment and to this house. Our top vendor sells over 1,500 a month. You can get off the street selling this paper. At the beginning, no. The paper is doing very well. It is for the greater good. The paper has just skyrocketed. We became something they knew. Our picture with our article was in every paper. We want to put faces to the issue of homelessness. We want people to look at you and you and you and you. We wrote our story. We lived our story. And we were out there every day from 5 in the morning to 10 or 11 o’clock at night. We would walk downtown, sell our papers and walk back either to our campsite, motel room, whatever the case being for that time. This whole trail was carved out with a saw and a pair of clippers, hedge trimmers. I carved it out, made it up this hill and made home. I created a residence. No, I do not think I will ever be able to sell enough papers to get an apartment. No, the only I am going to get an apartment is to make it as a songwriter and that is what the paper is enabling me to do. The paper is nothing more than a tool for me to survive until I do what I want to do which is to be discovered for my songwriting ability and my ability to write poems and lyrics as well as I do. In a day, sometimes I sell as many as 15, 20, 25 or sometimes as little as five. I was out there one day for four hours and made $7 after four hours. I wrote a great song though. “This is a great thing. I am able to work.” “I am employed selling this paper. This employs me.” Those are the stories you need to be telling people when they are saying, “No, you cannot.” You need to say, “Not only I can, and it is a good thing that I can.” I lived a year in Nashville homeless while I was trying to get up on my feet, and this paper has helped bring me out of that. By selling this paper, I just got me and my girl off the streets, and we are getting married next month. Man, that is awesome. Yeah, I mean just through selling this alone I am able to take care of us. That is awesome dude. Yeah, it is terrfific. Dream with me a little bit here. Alright everybody close your eyes. I want you to imagine yourself with a bundle of papers. You are going to walk towards the bus station. You are going to get on a bus, and you are going to head out of downtown. You are going to find a neighborhood, an area that has lot of business going on with a lot of people on the sidewalks and maybe people driving in and out of different businesses. You put your sign on, you put your badge on and you hold your paper out. The first 10 cars that go by, they sort of ignore you, and then someone buys a paper for $1. And you say, “Thank you.” Then 10 more cars go by, and someone buys a paper. They give you $5. That is pretty nice. You say, “Thank you so much.” And slowly people start buying this paper. It does not go great, but it does enough to get you that bus pass back and forth to buy a few more papers. The next day you go back to same spot. You keep going to that same spot, and people start to roll down their window and say, “I bought one yesterday, but I really appreciate what you are doing.” They get to know you. The get to know your name. I go to Starbucks all the time, and I never see you anymore. I keep saying, ‘I wonder where Eden is.’ I have been thinking about you. This is my number. Okay. Are you are back at Vanderbilt? No, I am not in school actually. I will be in LA for a little bit, and I have got a bunch of stuff going on. You are going to Los Angeles. Oh honey, I want to go with you. That is my home. I grew up in California. It was around the tail end of the Vietnam War. Things were a whole lot different with peace, love and rock ’n’ roll. I left in 1996, and I am a little homesick sometimes. I miss the ocean. I understand. Oh yeah. I just want you to know. I think the world of you, and I have been looking for you everywhere. Next summer call me. She said, “I will be back in August, and I will be looking for you.” I expected her like a week ago. You make friends out here. It is wonderful. Here is 15 papers and your sign. They get 15 free papers, a badge and a sign. They go out and sell those for $1 plus tips, and that is all their money to keep. I am going to turn this into a business and work it like it is supposed to be worked. If you get our here and bust your butt, find a good spot, be kind, courteous and polite, and use your vocabulary not your ignorance. There is no reason you should not get off the street. Our office hours are on the door. Tomorrow is an odd day. We have a meeting after the Wednesday lunch at the church, but we are not open in the office until after that meeting is over. 2 p.m. meeting tomorrow. Alright guys, I do not have a microphone, so we are just going to have to yell. We sold 47,000 copies of this edition this month. We have got five Wednesdays in the month of September. You are going to have an extra week to sell this paper. They way that we are going to release the paper is the way that we have been doing it the last couple of months, but rather than passing out a little slip of paper with a number on it for everybody, we are just going to pass out the list. If you are on that list, you are going to get in line in the order of the persons on that list. Do not impersonate Jasen Howard. He is number one. We know who Jasen is and if somebody else is in the front of the line that is not going to work. Number 48. Still within the 50 mark. Not bad. Me and Jessie Hayes tied up. Look at all these people who sell so much more than me. What a riot. It is going to a great issue though. Three of my ballsiest things I have ever written. September is looking good! Okay one at a time. Hey, 70 free ones right? This is it? This is 70. Yes sir. There were four or five different labor halls I was going to. I would show up every morning at 5 a.m. with expectations of getting sent out and never did. I could not find any money to get me out of Nashville, and then I started selling the paper and having a great time. I just decided to stay. How many? Forty. You are buying 40. Yes sir. Okay so that is 50 total. Yes. It will be a hectic afternoon is it not Tom? It is a normal first of the month for us. Yes, I know it. I head out about 6 a.m. and get back at about 7 p.m. The first month, I had already sold enough to where I could map my spot off. When I started out, I was making $40 or $50 a day. Last week, there was not a day I did not make over a $100. They want a 103 plus their 10 for free. That 20 and the 15 are 35. This is James Meeks and Vickie Shelman. I came here in November from South Carolina, and when I lived in South Carolina, I lived with friends. When I came here, I stayed at the mission for eight days, and then I lived in Tent City. I was probably making $30 a day selling papers, because I really did not have patience with it and kind of still do not. It is the ramblings of a meth head about the manufacturing of crystal meth. Really, just this from here to here? That is a poem about the manufacturing… They did not know what they were printing eh? That should not have made it. Yes, but it did. Nobody is perfect. I am alright with it. I will let you know, I am ashamed of it. It has been out three days, and I am already at like 360. I stay out there until I meet quota everyday. If I am having a rough day, it is going to be a longer day. Sooner or later, I will take the top spot for top vendor. It will take me a while, but I think I can do it. When they had the newspaper here in Nashville called the Nashville Banner, I sold newspapers, and I was a street hawk. That is what they called us. When I was homeless, I sold roasted peanuts. I sold them in small bags and large bags, and I got paid in a commission. I got 15 newspapers yesterday, and it took me two and a half to three hours to sell all 15. Right now, I have 50 newspapers. I have no idea how long it will take me. The article in the paper says, “Inundated With Vagrants.” This is issue number 30 for September, 2010. It says, “Diverse Perspectives on Homelessness.” Diverse perspectives on homelessness being, anybody can write for the paper. If you are homeless or formerly homeless, you can write on anything. We decided that in those first meetings. But if you have never been homeless, you need to write on issues surrounding homelessness and poverty. Genuine opportunities for advancement, was financial and with written skills. Things like that. You have the opportunity to be published, and you the opportunity to create an income, however modest, off the sale of this paper. They will not allow the homeless population to catch up with the rest of them. There are different options. Yes. What I have thought about using as my main character is someone who is homeless, who just became homeless, because of a loss of job. And I thought I would try to let him travel through one of his days as he gets up at his camp. That is a great idea. By the end, you are giving very specific details. We have been introduced to the character all the way, and we are giving more descriptions painting the picture of scenes. Right. Yes, I never thought of it that way. I try to put in a poem or an article into each paper, so that I am not only contributing by selling, but also by contributing by adding my voice. I have written for the paper and been published 28 times. I am shooting for 100. When I get published 100 times, I want to publish a book called, “Lessons Learned From 100 Unsung Songs.” I had so much positive feedback from the “Middle Class Mystique” article. Even more people emailed me than the “Identity Crisis” article. I did not realize until I got one email that it had been picked up by the Seattle street paper. I do not know when these things happen. Yes, we forgot to tell you that. There is the Street News Service. Tasha and I make the decision of what from our paper we want to submit to them, and they can accept it or reject it to put on their online website or not. They did pick it up, so I am sorry that I did not tell you that. Really? I did not know that it was on Street News Service. Every street paper in the country has the option, so apparently at least one did in Seattle. NASNA was really good for getting me connected to other street papers in the country. That was the most amazing part, I think, to be able to talk with other people who have done this much longer than we have. When you start something, especially if other people have done what you are doing, we looked to them. I was looking to other street papers to see where this could potentially go, and we are far beyond what we ever thought we would see in the life of the paper. The Contributor meeting is starting now, so if I could have your attention. Turn our cell phones off. We are going to be closed on Monday for Labor Day. It is a holiday. You will see on your list that we have sold 19,202 papers in a week. Let me repeat that, 19,202 papers in a week. This is a five-week month. Ever since we started the paper, we have always grown. I do not think we have had many months, if any, but maybe in the beginning there were a couple that would dip. Our goal this month is to sell 80,000 copies, and we are almost a quarter of the way there one-fifth of the way through the month. We have got 87 papers per vendor being sold in the first week. That is up five papers per vendor. That is a good sign. I like that. That is healthy. We also have 221 vendors were active this week. In the first week of last month, we had 178. That is 43 more vendors than we had last month active. What does that mean? Spread out. Forty papers there you go. Thank you. You are welcome. The magic number is 300. What do I get? What do I do? The magic number is 300. I will let you know now. It is back on lock down. I was there yesterday after 5 p.m.. I know. I took yesterday off. Believe me, I am there at the best times of the day. If I pass, I will be starting class tomorrow. You can stay around for little while can you not? No, James is going to want me to study anatomy, physiology, drawing blood and pharmaceutical math. It contains all of that. Yes. We are excited for you. I am excited for me. I am ready for something different. It has been a long time coming has it not? I was on of the best CNAs the nursing home I worked at had. Alright guys. You take care. Well I am glad that black guy, Randy, he said, “I have got that spot by Trader Joe’s.” I said, ‘Okay.’ I guess I will get another spot somewhere. Now if Randy is not there at Trader Joe’s, I will be there, because the manager told me yesterday I can be there. It is worth the trip. I can guarantee you that. It is worth the trip. I live in a house. I pay property tax. Property tax I think is $1,800 a year. Me and my wife own it. We are not married, because if we were married, our disability income would decrease. We probably would lose the house. I am trying to get off the street man. There is no place to be soon in the wintertime. I lost my job a couple of years ago, and then I started having back problems and had a surgery to take a tumor out of my back. I started doing this. I am waiting on disability. Thanks to the VA, I do not have to walk anymore. This thing cost $4,000 if you buy it. I have a little trouble getting this on the bus, but God is with me. Here we go. Here you go, sir. Thank you. You are welcome. Have nice one. You too. First get the kinks worked out, and then you will be good. Yes, thanks man. You are great. I appreciate it Michael. Have a good one. He is not merely just a customer. He is a good friend. He actually delivered me that bike this morning, and I rode it downtown to get my papers. When I got back, my front tire was flat, so I called him. He came back to get the bike and go fix the tire. This wheel here where the actual metal comes together, it was not perfectly seemed together. He covered it up with a piece of rubber. If it does it again tonight, call me in the morning. He said we can just replace the wheel. If I get a flat, I will just lock it up where I am and catch a bus home. Yes, lock it somewhere and then call me. I will take it back. It will cost more money, but he can replace the wheel too. Thanks so much Michael. Have a good night. Catch you later. You too. Today is not my day. [laughs] Damn wind. In January of 1987, I went into the United States Navy. But, I was not military material. I decided to be homeless back in 1989, literally on the street. I do not see Randy at all. I appreciate it. Thanks for very much man. You have good day. I hope you have good week. Well I do not know where he is to be honest with you. He probably made his money and left. I made four $5 bills from four different people. Yes, they do it like that. One person just gave me $5 for the hell of it. Yes, they give you money just to give it you. I know. It is just like I am winning money from a casino. My wife and I went shopping yesterday at Trader Joe’s. We got a lot of groceries. I have 24 papers left. I had 40. You do the math. I can stand on that median and make a killing, but the police ran me off. He might come back. It is that time of day, or I would try it. I moved here in 1967. I went to school here and graduated in 1979. I went into the army and ended up being a plumber. I did construction for almost 30 years. Then I got laid off two and a half years ago. I went to the old mission. They called it the “House of Pain.” It was one of the nastiest places. You could smell it three blocks away. I slept there one night. I got some blankets and went to Centennial Park. I cannot handle the thievery, the drugs and the noise. What is in your wallet mister? Where have you been? You were not there yesterday were you? Yes. You did not come up here. I came up here at 11 a.m. I was gone at 9 a.m. I was in the army from 1994-1997. I drove a Patriot Missile, set up, got it ready to fire and programmed the radio. I ran the fiber optics. Yesterday was slow for me. It was good for me yesterday. But, I had two weeks straight… Well we have been hitting these corners hard and heavy. I came with 53. I think have about 20 left. It has been a dead day. I was on Dilaudid, K 4 Dilaudid. It is a pain pill, an opiate. It had me under control pretty bad. I lost everything over that. I did 14 months, and then when I got out, I was out for three weeks, and I told my mom. I said, ‘I am going right back down the same road.’ I said, ‘I have got to figure out something.’ She got on the Internet and found the Nashville Rescue Mission. I came up here, and tried to regroup. What I gave the paper was three songs called, “Chris Scott Triple Shot.” It was three of my ballsiest works printed out in that format, a wonderful reading experience that you all did not get. You got the chopped up, massacred… This is yours. Yes you can. They said, “I cannot live on the streets.” They were right. I probably could not live on the streets, but I can learn to be a camper. That was not complicated. That is not rocket science. That is not brain surgery. Radio is very important for country music or old rock ‘n’ roll, but mostly country. This one is strictly for storage of my stuff. You notice the tape here. This is where I was robbed, and he sliced open my thing and said, “Give me all your money” at knife point. I stitched it all up, and I double taped it with some duct tape. They say a bear shits in the woods. A bear shits in the woods, yes he does. But, I am not a bear, and I do not like shitting in the woods. What I created was with three old used tires. This is an old air mattress that I cut up to make the ring and cover for it. I have got a five gallon bucket in here with a lid comes off fairly easily. You just lift it straight up. I have to go about a half mile away to get my water supply. I have got my towels, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste. I just do the mountain man shower thing. It is a nice way to start the day. I will tell you what. That cold shower definitely wakes you up. He told me, “If you keep drinking, you are going to end up here time and time again.” Yes and you will end up living here or on the street. That is why I quit drinking. That is why I wrote that story back in May, because I wanted people to understand that not everyone out here is a drug addict or an alcoholic. Right. That is right. Mine was a case of domestic violence, and I got the heck out of there before he beat me again. I left Fort Smith a girlfriend. Her husband and my boyfriend were friends, which was ironic. Both God awful. They were terrible alcoholics. He beat me up pretty bad. And her and I drove and drove for hours. We ended up in Nashville. We stopped and asked for directions to the mission here. On December 19th, I remember the exact date, she pulled up in the parking lot. She said, “I’m going to have to leave you here, but here is my number.” I went up to the mission, and she drove away with my dog and my life basically. I did not keep in contact with her, because I did not know where to tell her I was. I still do not know where to tell her I am. I grew up in Hammond, Indiana, which is 10 minutes from downtown Chicago. I was in housing projects and just never really had anything on a plate handed to me. Everything I have ever had, I have had to endure for or work for. Hey, how are you doing? Great. Me and Melissa went to our premarital counseling Saturday. We are going to get married at Bicentennial Park at the amphitheater at 6:30 p.m. two Mondays from today. Okay. Please come. Please come. I really hope you make it with your family, fellow Hoosier. Yes. Congratulations. That is very exciting. I hope you make it. Will do. Cool. Thanks. See you. Later. It is at the Bicentennial Park in the outdoor amphitheater. I hope you can make it, because you are great. I have never even thought of marriage. I have been married once. I guess I never met the right person until now, because the thought has never even crossed my mind. So of many of my favorite customers are telling me that they are going to be at our wedding. Let me get this money honey. I love you. How are you doing today? Have a blessed week. Thank you very much, and you have a blessed week, both of you. You too. The most money I made in one day is $38. I know I made more than that. A job well done, rewards are coming. This $10 right here gets 40 more papers. Put it in my secret compartment. God, I have a lot of money here. I do not know what to do with it. I might make enough money right now to get a Titan jersey or a Titan ticket. This is the first time I have made this much money in I do not know how long. I have never made this kind of money. Never. Never with disability included. So 5, 10, 15… 71, 72, 73… 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87. Does anybody want any money? [laughs] What is that term? Philanthropist. I can be like a a temporary one. How are you doing Ellie? I just figured I would call you with some real good news if you know what I mean. I do not know if you have started cooking or not, but do not, because I am not going to be hungry. Time to eat. Do you know what this came to? $10.14 I told you I wanted to get a big feast. I have arrived. Let me park. Good morning folks. You all have a good day. Enjoy the game. My brother, I have three songs in here signed in all three places, but they mutilated it. You have a handout in there. Hey, I have got three songs in here. I signed in all three places. There is a handout in there with very cool songs I wrote. You are going to love the handout. When I first left the mission, this was the original campsite. You can see some people have probably been here once or twice, since I have left. This whole place was tarped over. They had a huge tarp, and they had three or four tents gathered around. They always had the fire going. This point right here is notoriously known as “Crack Rock.” The crackheads come here, grab themselves a little seat right here and smoke on their crack pipes. They would offer me, and I remember I went through four years of that. Every penny I had and getting thrown in jail twice. Being in jail during the holidays, when you should be home with your family and your kids, because you got caught with a piece of crack rock. That is something you can never change, but it is something you will never forget. Crack is the most sinister, evil drug on the face of the Earth, and there are so many people trapped in it. It is one of the hardest things to overcome. I have never been addicted to alcohol or drugs. Thank God. I am on medication. It is a big difference. I have bipolar and ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. I take Depakote and Seroquel. Yes, I am bipolar and I do take medication, but there are a lot of mental health problems within people that are homeless that are not being addressed. The people are not getting the medication they need. If it was not for Safety Net, I would not be able to get my medications. That would place me as not only an endangerment to myself, but also to others. Because I not only become suicidal, I become homicidal. The Contributor? Yes ma’am, thank you. God bless you. My poem is on page nine called “Goodbye.” Page nine? Yes, it is called “Goodbye” this time. Tell me your name. James Meeks. I will look for it. I have been off and on the streets for 10 years, since 2000. I have been in and out of halfway houses and rehabs. You name it, I have been there. They said as long as we are in Monday. We will be in Monday to pay that bill. I said, ‘We will be in Monday.’ That is the next time the bus runs out there anyway. We cannot get out there on the weekend. I pay my rent, pay my lights and got cable. We actually have a computer that I am paying on. We are still a little bit behind, but we are getting better. As you see, we do not have very much furniture. We have the basics you know, somewhere to sit. It is a small, cozy apartment. It is not real huge, but it works. It serves its purpose. We are both several steps ahead of where we started out. We are both working towards a better life for ourselves, and a lot of that is because of The Contributor. It has given us an opportunity to make some money and have a life to be able to pay bills and responsibilities. That is the biggest part of it. The Contributor pays for our lovely computer. Yes, it does. In May 2010, Nashville experienced torrential rains resulting in what has been called a 1,000-year flood. These rains resulted in 10 deaths in Davidson County and over $1.5 billion in property damage. Nashville’s Tent City homeless encampment was washed away during this flood. Okay, this is one of the tents floating. The people who lived in there got flooded out. That was downtown. That is down there at the riverfront area. I stayed in Tent City for nine months camping straight through the winter and everything. It was insane, but it was cool. It was an experience, unforgettable. Our old homestead huh? Yes. Where we stand now, we are within 100 feet of the Cumberland River. Within minutes, this area was overrun with water when that flood happened. This was considered the main area of Tent City from here all the way to the river, and all the way underneath the underpass, was once all considered Tent City. You can imagine down here at night. You have campfires going. You have people doing their thing, and you would have camps scattered underneath these overpasses. They were done that way to keep the rain from off their heads, but also at night, you get pretty much white noise from the traffic above. It blocks out enough noise to where you can sleep. I enjoyed Tent City until I got stabbed 17 times in my back, while I was asleep. This was back in February. I was asleep. I had a campfire going. To tell you the truth, I was drunk and passed out like this right here in the chair. Some guy stabbed me 13 times across my back right through here and once in my neck right here. Then I fell out of the chair, and he stabbed me twice in my leg. I woke up in Vanderbilt Trauma Center. You know, what hurts you and does not kill you, makes you stronger. You just keep on tugging along and hope that one day you find happiness. That is really where I am today. I started to sell these papers basically to get out of the mission. I went ahead and went through the orientation. It was not, I am thinking maybe a week or two. I had enough money and we got out. We moved into some pay-by-the-week apartments over in Rivergate. Let us clarify this. What is really homelessness? Do you think living in a hotel is homeless? It is, legally speaking it is. There are people in Tent City working that cannot afford to get a place. There are people in the mission working everyday and cannot afford to get out of the mission. There are people in the shelters working everyday that cannot afford to get a place. Our rent now is $36 a day, but still it adds up. It is $250 some odd dollars a week. If we paid by the week, it would be cheaper. We just cannot make enough in that one chunk to go give them. I think he told me $145 or something like that a week to stay. I am going to get a hotel. I am going to take a bath. I am going to eat some real food. We got there at 2:45 p.m. We left at 6 p.m. That is 3 hours and 15 minutes. That is some good time for me. I am hurting. I am so afraid I am going to get a DUI on this thing, I do not know what to do man. I have never had a DUI. I have been driving, since I was 12. I have never had a DUI. I am going to get a DUI on this damn scooter. I feel it. Peewee, where are you? I need to get a whistle. Some people tend to dwell on what they do not have or where they are at which is not necessarily what is going to get you ahead. What gets you ahead is setting a life goal. We said, ‘We are going to sell at least 10 papers today. We are going to stay out until we sell 10 papers.’ Now that does not sound like much, but back when we first started, people thought this was a gimmick. This was a game. Our first goal was a cup of coffee. Our second goal was a change of clothes. Our third goal, we wanted to stay in a room for a night. Then we wanted a room for week. It was $180 a week. Being cold last night, I was determined to get a room tonight. It was 50 something degrees last night. I know. Man, laying on that cardboard and that blanket. I had to double the blanket, and I tried to tuck it under me like a sleeping bag. I am going to have to get a sleeping bag I guess. Forty, one, two, three, four, five…$45 for the room. That leaves us a grand total of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, $11. Now I am going to tell the man at the hotel you are my boyfriend. Oh, no. I am telling him you are my boyfriend. One of my latest thoughts is that homelessness is a symptom. It is more of a adjective than a noun. I do not know. It is a symptom of many different things. I was in the Marine Corps for 30 years. I lived my life well. I have owned several pieces of property over the years. I bought and sold cars. I have owned my own business. You just hear all kinds of stuff, from abuse and from addiction and mental illness to a tornado. It is just a symptom of a lot of life experiences. We wound up on the streets, because we had no money. We owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills. Three years ago, I had two major coronaries and my kidneys shut down. I had poisoning in my body. I was in a coma in the hospital. The hospital, after I woke up, decided, “Well, we are going to cure this.” They put me in a cab to the mission, so they did not have to service us. Then the mission put me on a bus to Nashville, because there are better places to get treated there. Before we knew it, we had been shipped from Illinois to Nashville. I was so sick I could not talk and hardly walk. He could not walk. Our top 10 vendors, actually the top 12, all have sold 600 or more papers. That means that all 12 of them are on pace to sell 1,000 papers this month. We are still on record pace. We are doing great. We have sold about 5,000 more papers this month at this point. If we keep this pace up, we are going to blow the gates off of it. We have printed more than enough copies for you to sell as many as you possibly can. Do not worry about a sellout. You can still try for one. I would love it if you did, but I would like to break 70,000 this month. We sold 47,000 last month, and 70,000 is a reachable goal for us. We have got Nashville all abuzz with The Contributor. I see it for sale everywhere, and I see people getting further and further out which is really good. As everybody knows, there is a vendor in every corner downtown, and there a lot of space in Nashville to sell a lot of papers. Anthony, you have been selling a lot of papers. You are number six on our list, and you do not sell downtown do you? Nope. He does not. Okay. Alright, I need to know names of exactly who is giving papers away to non-vendors. This train will come off the tracks if you sell papers to other vendors. This train will come off the tracks if non-vendors and suspended vendors cause enough problems for us. We have about 300 vendors a month right now, and there is two and a half of us. We definitely have some people out there who do not abide by the rules. He was deleted. The he needs to go back through training again. It has been more than two months, since we have seen you. We need to… I have been buying papers. I have been sending money in through other people to buy my papers. Then you do not understand the rules, because that is a strike. You have to go through training again. So, I cannot have more papers? No, not until…in fact I need to take this until you go back through training on Tuesday. You are not selling for us right now. It has been two months since you trained. You have not been selling at all. You have not been buying at all. I do not have any confidence that you know what it is you are supposed to be doing, and it sounds like you told me that you do not know what you doing, because you are already breaking the rules by buying them from other people. Who has been buying papers for you? I have three or four different friends that… Well I need to know who they are. When they come in… When you come and tell me who the three or four different friends are, I will train you again. Yes, right. Okay, I am a pessimist, but I would say 80 percent, probably more, of what we get is positive. We get people saying, “I have never talked to a homeless person before.” We got a reaction from someone, again from a McDonald’s, saying, “I do not want to have to look at those people when I buy my breakfast.” That is a really interesting reaction to me. I am surprised someone is going to let themselves say that. I laugh at some people. They think they have to dress like a bum to sell this paper. Last August, I wore this suit and tie downtown, and I sold 640 papers doing it to prove a point. I told people. I said, ‘The people of this town, there is a lot of good people, and they want to support you.’ I even said it in a vendor meeting. I said, ‘But, they want to know, “Hey, I am not throwing away my money.” “What did I do? Buy that guy a 40 oz.” “Why has he not changed clothes in a week?” “Where is he going? Why is he still in Tent City?” I have gotten multiple calls from people who say, “I like what you are doing, but I saw one of your vendors smoking cigarettes.” “What are they doing with that money?” A lot of people do not smoke while they are selling. I do. My customers do not mind. I have gotten so many opinions, and really nothing negative. I think when you are living on the streets, when you have nothing, that is a physical addiciton. It is one of the very few comforts you have, so I do not judge anybody at all for smoking cigarettes. If you can afford better cigarettes that are already rolled for you, then by all means, that is what we are here for if what you need the paper for is cigarette money. We have gotten multiple calls about people saying, “I saw one of your vendors talking on a cell phone.” When someone is working on getting their way up off the streets, one of the very first things they need is a cell phone. I told you I took it the first time, and I told you all I failed. Right. They got my Social Security number mixed up with another girl who failed, and I passed the first time! Look at that. I start October the 4th! Congratulations. Thank you! I am so happy. I am going for medical assistant. This paper is really changing our lives. It is allowing us to pay our bills, and her to go back to school. After she finishes, I am looking into going back to school. If you want to get housing, if you have a court date, if you want to call The Contributor, if want to talk to your family or if you need help, or if you are waiting on any kind of job or apartment, if you are waiting on housing, that cell phone is your lifeline. I just actually got great news. Bank of Nashville would not let me open an account, because I did not have a permanent address cause I am staying in a motel. My premarital counselor, he is a reverend, Dave George, told me he would open an account for me. It would be my account with mine and my wife’s name on it, but it would be under his name so that we could open it. I just explained that to Bank of Nashville, and they said they are going to go ahead and let me open it without an address. Our vendors have been able to educate Nashville about homelessness and poverty. You might think a homeless person has nothing, and some people do. But, as you are working your way up, you accumulate some comforts like cigarettes and some necessities like cell phones. One thing about homelessness is that you want to escape. You do not want to have to deal with the reality that you are homeless, and that nobody cares. You are just another number to the system. Most people feel that way. They are just another number. The homeless are the forgotten ones, but there is a percentage of the homeless that want to make an actual living. They go out and sell the paper, and do it. What? Are you an American citizen? Yes. Okay, why do you not work? I see that everyday. We get it everyday. We get people that drive by us, and say, “Get a real job.” But, they do not realize, this is a real job. This is like any other job. You are going to get out of it what you put into it. A lot of people would be out here stealing and robbing for money if they were not doing something else. It keeps people from doing stupid things. I used to be homeless, past tense. Okay, past tense. I was homeless for six years. Okay. Six years, but I am not homeless anymore. I live in a house now. Really? Yes. Do you have a have a job? Yes. That is my job. This is what I do for a living. First thing in the morning, I am up at 4 a.m. hitting that bus by 5:30 a.m. I catch the 6:15 a.m. out of downtown. By 15 until 7 a.m., I am on my spot six days a week. I catch the bus at 5:11 a.m. I am in town at 5:30 a.m. It is a legitimate job. It is a real job. It is not a job. You are probably saying, “No, it is not a real job.” You are just using the people. The people just feel sorry for you and give you money. They have a job. It is a legitimate microbusiness. It is their business. Nobody tells them what hours to work. Nobody tells them where to go. Nobody tells them when to quit. They make as much or as little money as they want. So, what is bad about it? I think it is a great paper. What I was talking to Chris about the other day when we were in front of the office over there, is that it is a hit or miss. You get experience by inexperience. Do you know what I mean? You can work. Why do you ask people? You can work… I draw disability. My wife and I, we are both disabled. Disabled with what? Your brain. No, no. You are joking. My brother cannot hear, and he works now. He works now? Yes, he is a teacher. He is a teacher? A teacher, yes. Wow. I pray to God that homelessness will be taken and squashed in this country. We allow more food overseas and more moneys overseas and all these troops overseas, yet we are not taking care of what is here at home. What we hear on the news, is that America is rich. My father is very poor. Very poor? Yes, very poor, but I want to learn. I want to study, and I do not want to be… Do you want a job? I want a job. Yes. If you go to Vanderbilt University, man you can get a real good job. Yes, because I study. I spend my time studying. Do you know, this guy, how much he gets per day? $150 per day. Why? Because he studied. He worked hard. He did not stay in the street and ask people for money. I am 66. This is what I learned. We all depend on somebody for something. You depend on your boss to get enough work, so you can work tomorrow. Homelessness is only a paycheck, and you are one paycheck from finding out. I am the typical homeless person. I am not the stereotypical, but I am the typical. What they do, is they misportray us as a bunch of addicts, alcoholics and mentally ill. Yes, there homeless people who are addicts, alcoholics and mentally ill. There are people with houses that are, and it is not like there is more homeless people with those issues than there are people with houses. There is not. We are just like everybody else. That is my main message that I get out. I put different spins on it. I say it in different ways and use different angles. But, that is my message, and that is what I get out by writing for the paper and selling the paper. You will be at 300 at the end of the month, but you have got to do that before next Tuesday. No problem. Is it good to give him 40? Yes, it is alright. You are getting 20? Alright. That gets me my 300 this month okay. That gets you to 300? Yes, that gives me my 300. Have you applied for your spot? Let me make sure I get your name right, David Cline. Yes! Okay. Does anybody have that spot by Kroger and Walgreens over off of Gallatin Road? Come on over here. Let us take a look at the satellite view. Yes, Walgreens is right there. Kroger is right here. Okay, yes. No, he is not going to work today. Not a paper, unless you want to buy one. [laughs] We met each other, and it was instant connection. I think our pain through life draws us closer together. Yes, I do too. We went and took a walk last night to the very spot we are getting married and laid underneath the stars for about an hour just talking and enjoying each other. Like it is our spot now, our square in the middle of the amphitheater. It was dark and all the amphitheater lights were on. Oh, it was beautiful. It was a nice clear sky. We were sitting there laughing, just having our moment, and bells started ringing and playing music. It was really cool. We are excited. We cannot wait. I love her, and I know that she loves me. We have a lot of friends here and people that love you deeply. But, the most cherished guest here today is the Lord Jesus Christ, as you come before him to take your vows, and to pledge today before your friends that this is God’s plan for your life. God has brought the two of you together. We are talking a lot about love, so I just want to talk a little more about it. We were asked the question, “What is love to us?” To me, love is taking responsibility and appreciation of the unknown and knowing, to be able to share with you parts of my life that I have not been able to share with anybody else. And, to appreciate every moment that I can endure with you from now until forever. I want you know that I love you, appreciate you and want you in my life everyday for the rest of mine. I love you sweetheart. I, Jasen, take you Melissa to be my wedded wife. Do you take Jasen to be your wedded husband and to live together in the covenant of faith, hope and love according to God’s intention for your life? I do. Do you promise to be honest with him and openly communicate with him, to listen to his innermost thoughts and be patient and understanding and forgiving for him? I do. And finally, do you promise to stand by him and comfort and encourage him regardless of the circumstances, preferring him above all others, and to build a home strong in the knowledge and example of Jesus Christ as long as you both shall live? I do. Jasen and Melissa, it is in the presence of our Lord, and by the authority granted to me by his church that I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss your bride. [Applause] Friends let me introduce to you for the very first time anywhere ever, Mr. and Mrs. Jasen Howard. [Applause] Thank you! Thank you all for coming. Tom says we are going to hit 66,000 today, so that is huge. I think last month was 47,500. This month had an extra week, so of course it was going to be a little more, but 66,000 is quite a bit more. I am here. [coughs] Hi Karren. I do know last June, we hit 5,000. We were really excited that month…5,000 circulation, that was huge for us. We thought that was our leveling point, and then to this month to have circulated 66,000 just a little over a year later just blows our mind as well as other things you know. It is good, but we have grown past our capacity. Hello vendors of The Contributor! Welcome to the wild world of vending. We trained 30 extra vendors yesterday, so we are glad you are here. If you trained this month, if you went through training this month, could please stand up? [applause] Alright that is not a small number. We have grown. We now have 312 active vendors, and about half of you are going to be on this list. The list is different this week. If you are looking to get that permanent spot, and your name is on the front of the list, you did it. Congratulations. Last week, we had sold 56,077 papers. Now, we have sold 66,142 papers. We are doing great. The average number of papers sold per vendor is 212. That is about $400 of profit, a little less than $400 of profit at an average, in your pockets. You are out there with a brand. That brand is what makes you money, and when that brand gets thrown around and dirtied, it hurts you. The reason our numbers keep going up is because you do a good job. You do a great job. Corey Paul is our number one vendor. [applause] He sold 1,710 papers this month. May I present Mr. and Mrs. Jasen Howard? [applause] You know Jasen is in love if he sacrifices his number one sales position for it, so that is a good thing. [laughs] Every month we have been growing by a factor of about 20 percent. You guys are doing great. We are on pace to sell over 500,000 papers this year. That is a remarkable feat in seeing that we sold a little over 50,000 last year. That is 10 fold increase. People are out there talking to us about the paper, and it is almost always, “Your vendors are always so well dressed. They are always so polite. They are always so hardworking.” Always dress up when you vend. Never dress down. If you can dress up, dress up. People want to support successes, and you are successes. [applause] I am going to do a group photo outside on the front steps. Let me get out there and then Tom is going to handout the numbers. I think I can pretty much get the whole thing, so spread out just a little. I will try not to get hit by a car. Here we go. Okay one, two, three. I think we are good. Thank you guys. The Contributor sold out of the November issue achieving the largest single-month circulation in the country by moving 75,000 copies. I do not think we are the best street paper. We are working on our content. I do not think our content is the best. I do not think we have the best staff of any other paper so I do not know why our circulation is so high. Many customers are compelled by homeless people helping themselves instead of asking for a handout. One in four vendors selling for a month or more, now has a place to live. The salesmen collectively will make close to a $1 million this year. The Contributor became the best-selling street paper in the U.S. selling 615,229 papers in 2010. The Contributor and ACLU filed a lawsuit in 2011 against the City of Brentwood for violations of the First Amendment rights to free speech after seven vendors were issued citations. The lawsuit is still pending. In 2011, The Contributor became the largest circulating street newspaper in North America selling over 1.3 million papers. Tasha Frech is now the president of NASNA. The Contributor continues to grow and has annunced plans to publish twice a month in 2012. The nespaper now has nine employees and 393 active vendors. Renee left The Contributor after the paper did not run her article for October. She was awarded Best Vendor Essay at the 2011 NASNA Awards. Renee returned as a vendor in November 2011. She plans to continue selling the paper as long as they publish her articles. Chris Scott was evicted from his campsite in October 2010. He has now been published by The Contributor over 50 times. He currently shares a rental home. Patricia remains a top vendor. She is currently staying with a friend. Anthony became a top vendor with a permanent territory. He is still vending and is currently staying with a friend. David remains a top vendor with a permanent territory. He still lives with his wife in their home. James and Vickie were evicted from their apartment. Vickie was forced to drop out of nursing school. They are homeless again and continue selling The Contributor. Jasen and Melissa moved into an apartment soon after their wedding. Jasen Howard was incarcerated for violating probation in June 2011. Jasen is schedule for release in April 2012 and plans to continue selling The Contributor. Jerry and Karren still live in Nashville. They are now partners in a used auto business in Nashville. Corey Paul, 35, passed away June 24, 2011.

7 thoughts on “Street Paper: A Documentary About America’s Top-Selling Homeless Newspaper (2012)

  1. My name is Edwin Learnard. I am a vendor and also write a sports column for The Contributor. The paper has been advantageous for many people. It gives others hope to extricate themselves from poverty, oppression and homelessness. It helped me for part of my homeless period. I was able to afford my basic necessities and items for subsistence and survival. Homelessness should not be perceived as an interminable illness. The Contributor may not have completely eradicated homelessness in Nashville, but it has made a good dent in it. Thank God for The Contributor. I think it is great a documentary was made about it.

  2. Best film ever made. Yes, better than Fried Green Tomatoes, Forrest Gump, The Color Purple! This is a fascinating window on the world of homelessness that captures the lifestyle of Nashville's street paper vendors. It chronicles the rise of The Contributor to the top-selling street paper in North America. The Contributor is as integral to Nashville as the Grand Ole Opry, or the Titans. You might never want to be a geisha, a groupie, a trucker, or homeless, but that is why it is so fascinating to catch a glimpse of a culture so radically different than your own. This film conveys the essence of living the homeless life, selling papers on the street to survive, as part of a force of 400-odd Nashville vendors. It is a cohesive, seamless masterpiece constructed from tons of footage. I learned from this film the similarity between the filmmaking process and writing an article for The Contributor– you shoot footage/you make notes, and then you segue them together. Street Paper effectively showcases the distinct personalities of vendors like me and my friends (Chris Scott, David Cline, etc.) while at the same time getting the point across that we are all just like you who have a roof. I burn up the data cap on my phone watching and re-watching this extraordinary film. (Btw, I was fat in the film but I went on a diet and I weigh like 105 pounds now; I am not fat anymore!)

  3. let anyone who wants to sell it, SELL IT……. some people are at risk of being homeless. ITS STUPID TO HOLD ANYONE BACK FROM SELLING IT.

  4. The video was very touching till ACLU was mentioned . I bought a paper and most of time gave it back, but the name ACLU popped up at the end and I WILL NOT BUY ANOTHER

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