Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Spare Change Not Just for the Homeless

By Ariel Shearer

CAMBRIDGE -- Spare Change News, a Cambridge-based street paper, has recently changed its slogan from ‘Helping the Homeless Help Themselves’ to ‘Helping People Help Themselves.’

“In the last couple of years we have seen an influx of middle class vendors,” says James Shearer, a co-founder of the paper and current board president. “It is a myth that Spare Change is only for the homeless, it is here for anyone that needs it.”

As the economic recession in our country has touched individuals of all walks of life, Spare Change News has changed its slogan to adequately describe the people who sell the paper in efforts to better their financial situation.

“It’s difficult to categorize the vendors in any unified way,” says David Jefferson, editor of the non-profit paper. “They range from people who are very involved and sell seven days a week … Some of the vendors sell a very small number of papers … All of them are very diverse in terms of experiences that led them to become a vendor.”

Spare Change News is a volunteer based publication that focuses on poverty issues while providing the poor with a product they pay 25 cents for and sell for a dollar.

Jefferson says the paper aims to combine the idea of social enterprise with civic discourse and civic journalism. It has been affected by the economic recession in who is selling the paper, but also in how the paper receives funding.

“[The recession] made it more difficult to get funding … Charities have a limited amount of money to give,” Jefferson says.

The paper has recently seen an increase in the number of vendors from the unemployed middle-class.

“We've been affected deeply by the recession,” Shearer says. “We are more engaged with our own survival. We need to be here, because now more than ever, people need us to be.”

The vendors are not always homeless, but people seeking any chance to earn a profit.

Jefferson wrote in a March article, “A subset of our newest vendors represents a manifestation of modern economic reality—they are the unemployed who have been out of a job for an extended period of time, who may have lost or are at risk of losing assets, such as savings and homes after a lifetime of work.”

Jefferson says Spare Change News allows people unable to find jobs due to situations of a criminal record or being disabled, opportunities they would not otherwise have. Even people receiving unemployment benefits are selling the bi-weekly papers to earn extra income.

Shearer said the recent influx of middle class individuals working as vendors has not taken away from the number of homeless vendors.

“I think that the most effective part of what Spare Change does is the direct economic benefits, of selling and the psychological support it provides,” Jefferson adds.

Jefferson is a graduate student in psychology at Suffolk University. He took on the position of editor after the paper had to lay off the editor in April. Jefferson says he has seen lives given meaning by Spare Change News.

“We were all homeless when we were approached by someone to create a newspaper,” Shearer says. “But more than just something to sell it was to give us a voice, an opportunity to help ourselves.”

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