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StreetWise Homeless?

By Kate Gardiner in News on Apr 14, 2009 6:00PM

2009_04_14_streetwise.jpg We've just heard that StreetWise, the venerated Chicago publication that provides jobs for many of the city's homeless people, may be going under. The publication, which has been around in Chicago for the past 17 years, depends on an unusual mixture of advertising, grants and vendor fees to support itself. We talked to the magazine's executive director Bruce Crane who said his magazine has been hit in every single revenue stream. "We're receiving lovely letters from organizations that usually fund us," he said. "All of them say 'due to the changes in the financial market...'"

"It's been a perfect storm, and we're in a dire financial situation," Crane continued. "The loss of grants, the advertisers cutting budget, the vendors having a hard time selling the magazines, and the increase in vendors asking for papers to sell."

The group collects content from a mixture of editorial staff, college journalism programs and regular contributors into a magazine that is sold by vendors on street corners throughout the city. According to their Web site, the not-for-profit group has helped more than 8,000 people who were homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless, to earn money from their sidewalk sales of the magazine, while learning to manage the money that comes in. "Many of the people who've sold the magazine have used it to supplement their income," Crane said. "They attend school while they're selling it, and eventually they make it off of the streets."

Crane said one of the common misconceptions that has been hurting his circulation, and therefore his advertising revenue, is that just giving the vendor the $2 for the magazine - and then leaving it wit the vendor is better for all involved. "The goal is to provide a sense of entrepreneurship," said Crane. "And if circulation's up... ultimately we can help more people."

Asked whether or not he thought the advent of internet journalism was having a significant impact on circulation, Crane said his magazine has no internet version - and that online journalism was probably hurting his organization just as much as anyone else's. Crane said the organization is dependent on the vendors' revenue (they pay 75 cents per issue and sell the magazine for $2 on the street) for about 50 percent of their costs. The rest of their funding, Crane said, comes from a mixture of grants and donations (about 40 percent) and advertising (10 percent).

Ald. Manny Flores (1st) told us the magazine is a vital option for the city's homeless population. "It's something that's been designed to help the homeless get a job, and get out of poverty," he said. "People have come to count on the employment that StreetWise provides." Flores has called for a hearing at the City Council tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m. to address the magazine's "dire financial straits."

"It's always good to have another voice active in the community," said Flores. "We're calling on the public to help support it, as independent community journalism, and as a good idea."