Photo: Zengzheng Wang
Spare Change News is more than just a newspaper. It is the focal point of a community of men and women, many of whom have know each other for over twenty years. Spare Change has provided “a hand up, not a hand out” to over a thousand Bostonians.
Twice a month, dozens of vendors fill up the main downstairs hall for our weekly vendor meetings when each vendor receives fifteen free papers. It is a time to see friends and check up on each other. The meetings are filled with laughter and boisterous discussion about the future of the organization.
Fred Boykin, a vendor who sells in Jamaica Plain, loves the meaningful relationships he has formed with this regular customers over the years. When Fred was missing from his usual spot, one of his customers worked with Spare Change News staff to locate him. Finding Fred on Thanksgiving Day was a joyful moment for all of us. “My customers know me and love me!” explained Fred when we told him how many people were asking about him.
Gary Brown is a relative newcomer to the Spare Change News community. Seven years ago he was recruited by his friend Joe who is now deceased. Gary appreciates the income he is able to earn but also recognizes the value of the Spare Change Community and staff as a resource. “I’ve enjoyed meeting a lot of people getting information on housing, healthcare, what hospitals are best for homeless people, and different shelters.”
Beatrice Bell, who works in our distribution office as well writing for Spare Change News, is excited by some of the positive changes she sees in the Homeless Empowerment Offices. As one of one of two vendor representatives elected to the board of trustees this year, Beatrice has moved to a perspective of advocacy and submitted her first grant proposal for a project designed to attract more women to the organization. “I like the idea of women supporting other women in the work world,” she says with a smile.
Even as our vendors sell print newspapers, they must navigate the changes that come with living in a digital age. Our goal is to give our vendors (both long and short term) tools to build more satisfying lives. Information is power, and we seek to empower our vendors by creating access to opportunities that are mostly found online in 2016.
The Spare Change News distribution office allows us to share important news, such as availability of a vaccine for a strain of bacterial meningitis within the Boston homeless population that has claimed two lives and sickened at least four more. This community watches out for one another and understands that living on the street takes a serious toll on vendor’s health. Our distribution office is staffed by vendors who receive job training that enables them to gain skills and recommendations that open up new employment opportunities.
As an organization, we are focusing on new ways to connect our vendors with vital social services that will help them navigate these transitions. We are excited to announce the opening of a computer literacy center later this spring that is designed to both provide additional job skills training for vendors looking for ways to improve their earning prospects, and also to serve as an important information hub for vendors like Gary who rely on Spare Change News to access social services that are desperately needed.
As our vendors age alongside a world that has changed since 1992, they face new challenges. It is our goal to provide the support for each member of the Spare Change family to experience the sort of support they need.
We also want to serve a new generation of individuals who seek to improve themselves by providing new tools to connect them with a way to earn an income and access to opportunities that can be found online. Please give generously so that Spare Change News can continue to serve as a source of hope that provides “a hand up, not a hand out”.
Cher Jordan, President of the Homeless Empowerment Project, and Katherine Bennett, Executive Director of the Homeless Empowerment Project
P.S. In lieu of our yearly gala, the Homeless Empowerment Project Board has chosen to focus its efforts on an exhibit that will be on display at the State House from June 6- June 10. This exhibit will tell the stories from the early days of Spare Change News, make introductions of current vendors, and share our vision for building a bridge between the haves and have nots in the twenty first century. We welcome your contributions to our new initiatives as Spare Change News begins its twenty fifth year of empowering Boston’s homeless to improve their lives.
Homeless Empowerment Project
115 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138
Federal Tax ID# 04-3203910