A Voice for the Homeless
By: Paul Beattie

      Homelessness is a situation that is very evident in today’s society.  Although it is not seen everywhere it is a problem and is growing form year to year.  It is more evident in the large cities.  Also growing from year to year is technology.  The homeless people are not in tune to this technology and often not offered it.  This is a problem because as technology soars the homeless people are becoming more and more out of touch with it.  They also are not allowed any voice. 

      The Internet is a huge part of today’s society and the homeless have no access to it.  If they are allowed access to it, it can open up endless possibilities.  Over the past decade homeless people in the big cities decided that they need a voice, so they started numerous publishing’s which allows the homeless themselves to speak to the world. From street newspapers to journals there are a number of publishing that are written by and for the homeless.  Some examples are Street Wise, which is a newspaper for the homeless and Journal of Ordinary Thought, which is a journal in which homeless people write poems for. 

       There are many different types of journalism present in the society today.  The homeless people’s journalism is unique and differs from all the others.  Most types are trying to write for a specific audience or purpose.  Most write because they have to, or are getting paid to, but not the homeless.  They write straight from the heart.  They talk about real issues and the real consequences.  This is what makes their writing so unique and interesting.


      Journalism is today’s society plays a big role.  There are so many different forms of it around.  There is the normal journalism, which we see in our newspaper and.  This type of writing is mainly to inform people of what is going on.  The reporters report on the news and interesting events.  Sometimes they put their opinion in, but a majority of the time it is just straight facts on what is going on in the world.  Then there is the journalism that we see in the national inquirer and things like that.  This is the type that satirizes people or things that are going on.  The main purposes of this is usually to make fun of, or destroy peoples reputation.  The journalism that we see in our magazines is usually intended for a specific audience.  Different magazines write for different age groups, sex, racial background, areas of interest, and many more things.  Their target is usually the group that they are trying to sell their magazine to.  So they will write what that person wants to read.  The list of different types of journalism goes on and on.  But there is one specific type that strikes me. This is the writing by the homeless.

      Writing by the homeless people for the homeless people has grown immensely over the past decade.  There are many types of street newspapers in circulation today.  A street newspaper is a specific newspaper that the homeless people publish and sell to keep people informed and to make a living.  These are growing year by year and many of the big cities have one.  Another very interesting publication is the “Journal of Ordinary Thought”, this is a listing of poems that homeless people themselves have written.  I found all of the poems very interesting because they are the truth.  The people writing them are not trying to impress a certain group or inform anybody, they are just writing from their heart.  I believe that this is the best type of writing or journalism around, because it is the truth and it is real life.  These street newspapers are not only in the U.S. but they are becoming present across the entire world.  France, United Kingdom, England, and many other countries have similar publications foe the homeless.  This writing not only is interesting but it gives a homeless person something to do and make themselves feel good.

Street Newspapers:

      Street News was one of the very first street newspapers in the U.S. (Donaton, Scott 45)  It is sold by homeless people in New York City, and in February 1990, increased its frequency to twice a month instead of just once.  It also expanded its selling to 15 other cities within that year.  They will be sold in cities like Chicago, Los Angles, and Washington.  Advertisers fund the paper.  Each issue of the 28-page newspaper has at least 10 pages of ads.  A large portion of the newspapers revenues ends up in the pockets of the people selling them, which are the homeless.  They buy the paper for 20 cents and turn around and sell it for 75 cents. (Donaton, Scott 45)  Since 1990 the paper has grown enormously, it now has online editions and is providing thousands of homeless people with jobs.  There has also been about 50-70 street newspapers emerge during the 90s.(3)

      Some topics that are published in these homeless newspapers are worthy of being kept in libraries, but the press often neglects them.  Issues that are dealt with in these newspaper focus on poverty.  “According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, between 1 and 2 million people experienced homelessness during 1996” (Dodge, Chris 60).  Other studies have suggested that as many as 7-12 million people have been homeless at some time.  Homelessness is growing in the big cites and has been over the past ten years.  The mass media usually covers homelessness as something that affects “other people” not regular people.  Street newspapers don’t do that, they cover the real issues and make homelessness a reality.  The viewpoints in the newspapers are extremely different than that of the corporate press.  An example of this is, that most street newspapers list free-meal sites, legal services, and shelters.  Some also report on the weather that affects the homeless.(Dodge, Chris 60)

      These newspapers not only interact with the homeless but they also include the middle class.  An example is in Chicago’s Streetwise each issue includes a listing of services for homeless people as well as nonprofits seeking material donations.  This type of interaction is shown in many of the other street papers. (Dodge, Chris 60)

      One special type of newspaper is the Street Spirit, which is in San Francisco.  This newspaper is social change journalism.  A majority of the articles in it have to deal with laws and ways to help the homeless.  Unlike all the other street newspapers, this one does not carry any advertising.  It also carries powerful original artwork.  Although this was an effective paper it was shut down after a series of reports documenting physical abuses at the largest psychiatric facility in Contra Costa County, due to public protest. (Dodge, Chris 60)

      One of the main concerns of these street newspapers is that they don’t get enough credit.  Of the 40 papers that are listed in the North American Street Newspaper directory, which is maintaned by the National Coalition for the Homeless, only 11 are held by any local public library.  The libraries often give these newspapers second-class status.  They do not acquire them and archive them like they would with magazines and stuff like that.  In Baltimore, the Street Voice editor Curtis Price wrote “The main branch library here (Pratt) always removes SV from its table of free literature and actively discourages visibly homeless [people] form loitering on the premises.”  (Dodge, Chris 60)  Activist of these papers feels that they should have a place in libraries because they are part of the history of the nation.  They believe that in order to serve all of the people of their communities they should offer collection that would help to better serve the poor and homeless of that community. The street newspaper is a good way to start. (Dodge, Chris 60)

      In Miami a street newspaper was recently started. This recent magazine publication hit the streets in December.  Articles were about poverty and homelessness, there were also guides to community events and service available for the homeless.  Of the magazines 32 pages, five of them were in Spanish.  This helps them reach everyone.  Timothy Harris, chairman of the NASNA and founder of two street newspapers says “ The homeless are like any minority group: they need media coverage because the mainstream media doesn’t cover our issues”.( Glasgow, Kathy A1)

Street Newspaper Across the world:

      The rising interest in the popular street newspapers has grown throughout the world.  One of the leading publications in the world is in London, England.  It is known as “The Big Issue”, this is a magazine that is published every two weeks and is sold by the homeless.  It encourages articled that are written by the homeless.  It also helps them earn an income. (Hutchings, Vicky)  This magazine was started in September of 1991. (Perry, Sheila & Cross Maire)  From the spring of 1993 onward a string of these popular publications appeared in France.  They focused primarily on homelessness and were not in any competition with the conventional news media.  There are also street newspaper present in the U.K and many other countries. 

Journal of Ordinary thought:

      The Journal of Ordinary Thought is a publication that is produced by the homeless.  In this publication homeless people are given the chance to write poems and submit them to it to be published. (The Journal of Ordinary Thought)  While I was reading over several issues the writing really struck home.  I think that the reason I liked it so much was that it wasn’t fake.  I could tell than an ordinary person just like myself was writing.  That kept my interests and kept me wanting to read more.  Every single one of the pomes that was present in it was true.  They were about real life situations and dealt with real problems.  You could tell that the authors were not writing to impress anyone, they were writing because they liked to.  I believe that is the best kind of writing there is, the ones that come directly form your heart. 

      The Journal of Ordinary Thought is not the only publication that allows homeless authors to express themselves.  There are many more, there are even ones online now.  They are sites they are dedicated to only homeless people.  They can get onto them and post something that they want to write.  There are also many discussion boards for the homeless present on the Internet.  These are simply places where homeless people can go and discuss certain topics with other homeless people across the nation and world.  This is a growing popularity and helps the homeless to learn how to communicate with one another. 

Analysis of Certain poems:

      I am going to analyze a few poems that I found in The Journal of Ordinary thought and give my opinion on what makes them different from the every day journalism and why I like them.

      The first poem is titled “ What Bothers Me” by Bettina Van Pelt

               I don't mind being alone 
               There are a lot of things 
               I can do when I'm alone 
               I can crochet myself a sweater 
               or make a dress for someone else. 
               I can read a book or simply go to sleep. 
               I can do a dance or just take a bath 
               I can make plans for the days to come. 
               Or I can daydream myself to a place 
               that's lovely, fresh, and clean. 

               I really don't mind being alone. 
               Nope. I sure don't. 
               It's the loneliness 
               I feel in a crowd 
               of laughing people, 
               that's what bother's me.

      In this poem a homeless person is writing about loneliness.  She mentions all the different things that she can do when she is alone.  Then she mentions that she doesn’t mind being alone.  This shows that she is used to that feeling and is trying to make the best of it.  The thing that bothers her is the loneliness she feels when she is in a crowd of people.  This lady evidently is alone but she is happy.

      The second poem is titled “ Damn this Love” by Penny Holmes

               I tried to keep focused 
               On my work 
               My art 
               My writing 
               I chose you because you did not appear to
               be a 
               You looked common 
               You acted 
               Common. You seemed common 

               "You'll do" 

               I needed affection 
               I needed a 
               Person. I needed flesh 
               You noticed me 
               I noticed you noticing me 
               I needed what you were willing to give 

               "You'll do" 

               You were so appropriate 
               You gave me space 
               You gave me sex 
               You gave me an ear when I wanted one 
               You went away when I asked 

               And now I'm all messed up 

               I can't think 
               I can't write 
               I can't see 
               You did everything right 

               "What did you do wrong?" 

               I'm not supposed to be in love with you 

               You were supposed to be for my needs 
               For my pleasure 
               For my use 

               But -- somehow -- you have overwhelmed

               Damn this love 
               Damn this love

       This is a poem about love.  We all can relate to that.  Love is a common every day feeling that most people have.  Yet in this poem it talks about why she had to fall in love.  The author mentions the only reasons that she was with this guy.  They were just stupid reasons, yet she fell in love with him.  She seems upset about this because she did not want to fall in love.  This is shown in the last two lines, which say “ Damn this love”.  The reason she probably did not want to fall in love is because she knows that he can’t support her and she can’t support him.  This is common and it is shown in this poem perfectly.

      The third and final poem that I am going to analyze is “Life (Less)” by Nannette Banks.
               Foreign land trampled 
               Foreign people stole 
               Foreign traditions passed 
               Foreign history told 
               Brothers lynched 
               Sisters pimped 
               Mothers alone 
               Daddy stoned 
               Family ripped 
               Education not equipped 
               Health care none 
               Drugs and guns...the income 
               Heaven awaits 
               Hell abides 
               Souls sacrificed 
               Are we dead or alive? 

      This is a poem evidently about homeless people.  It mentions the struggles that they go through.  It also talks about all the things they have to do in order to survive.  This is a very powerful poem and you wouldn’t find it in your normal book of poems. 


      The homeless population is growing year by year.  The technology is also growing rapidly.  In order to help the homeless we must allow they to communicate with each other.  If this means teaching them the Internet and how to use it, then so be it.  I definitely think that the street newspapers and other resources that I have talked about are helping the homeless tremendously.

      Not only have the street newspapers and other journals help homeless people communicate but that have also give them job opportunities.  This business can help many homeless people survive, by simply selling the publications.  That was one of the main goals when they first started.  I think that they have achieved that very well. 

      The main thing that sets homeless writing apart from the every day journalism that most people experience is the realism.  The homeless authors aren’t afraid of what other people are going to think.  They write because they want to, and they write the real life situations, even if they are not perfect.  These writing are extremely powerful and unique.  We should strive to encourage homeless people to keep writing and communicating with other people in the world.



Dodge, Chris. (1999, August). Words of the Street: Homeless People’s Newspapers.  American 
         Libraries. 60

Donaton, Scott (1990, February 15).  ‘ Homeless’ niche.  Newsweek. 45

Glasgow, Kathy (1999, January 9). Brother, Can You Spare a Byline?. Miami New 
       Times.   A1, A8.

Hutchings, Vicky. (1993, April 2). The Plumber, the Crook, his Wife…and the Social Worker.  
      New Statesmen & Society. S29

 Perry, Sheila & Cross Maire (ed). Voices of France. London, England: Wellington  House.

The Journal of Ordinary Thought.  http://www.jot.org

The Real Change Site Map. Real Change, Seattle’s Homeless Newspaper.