America’s Oldest Homeless Newspaper Folds

April 9, 2008

Indio in Street News Gear in Manhattan, New York

Very few have heard that the New York-based Street News, the oldest homeless newspaper in the United States, and according to its last editor-in-chief and publisher, John Levi Washington aka Indio, the oldest in the world, has folded. It was ironic how the “soul, spirit and voice of the homeless” died without a whimper; not making news. Well, a small snippet appeared in an obscure Bronx newspaper and that was it. Moreover, it was written by David Greene, a former contributor and photographer of Street News.

When it was first started by Hutchison Persons, a rocker from Ohio, it became an instant news. From New York Times to Times magazine, everyone covered the first few months of the paper’s infancy. Persons must have spent a lot of time giving interviews providing the tabloid-size paper much-needed publicity. And with it came widespread support and donations from the corporate world as well as celebrities.

Street News closed shop in December 2007 after 19 years in print. Indio held the post of editor-in-chief for about 11 years closing it finally in the face of mounting debts. Bills he couldn’t pay for the printer, office utilities, and other personal problems including having to support his extended family members. At the time, Indio claims, the paper had a circulation of 5,000 copies. Each paper cost $2 with about 40 pages. In its early days, the circulation ran over 100,000 copies. The paper was also the only “for-profit” homeless newspaper that provided the homeless a source of income.

Each homeless person began their first job at Street News by selling 25 copies free of cost. After that they could pocket a commission from the other copies that they sold afterwards. Indio himself came up the ladder, first working as a hawker in the streets and subways and then moving into the paper’s offices in Manhattan first as a staff in the advertising department and finally becoming the editor after Lee Stringer, another editor who later became famous after writing three books, went into rehab for drug addiction.

I met Indio last week in Manhattan. At 69, he is someone who betrays his age through his extremely alert brown eyes and his lively way of talking with quick gestures. Age however shows in everything else. He limps on his cane due to arthritis; coughs occasionally; wears a denture; hair’s gone grey and a weak heart makes him breathless even after talking for a few minutes.

But guess what? He still wants to restart Street News. He says he is trying to raise money and start all over again. It must be hard to let go of something that had helped him get back on his feet and gave him respect as an editor. When I met him in a park off West 23rd st. in Manhattan, I can actually see him miss the good old times. He was wearing a black sweatshirt and sweatpants both screaming “Street News. The Soul, Spirit and Voice of the Homeless”. He treasures the old issues of Street News like his pets. He borrowed me some to read but not before cautioning me with “Make sure you return these next week clean without any coffee spill.” Oh yes, the park we were sitting in was right across the U-haul building which once used to be one of the five distribution points of Street News.


Street Homelessness down in New York: Survey

March 5, 2008

This will come as a surprise for those who meet panhandlers in the streets and subways almost everyday. Street homelessness is down by 12 percent compared to 2007 figures.

The city now has 3,306 unsheltered individuals according to latest figures by the Department of Homeless Services (DHS). This latest statistics released on March 4, 2008 is the result of the annual street survey conducted by DHS on the night of January 28, 2008 in the streets and subways all over the five boroughs of the city.

Borough-wise, Manhattan still tops the list of unsheltered homeless individuals on the streets at 1,263, followed by 336 in Brooklyn, 279 in the Bronx, 152 in Staten Island and 135 in Queens. On the street count includes unsheltered individuals found in the streets and parks, not subways. Some 1,141 unsheltered individuals were found in the subways.

About 1,700 volunteers walked a total of 8,291 miles and surveyed more than 1,000 subway cars to carry out the survey.

But advocates for the homeless people questions the accuracy of the survey figures. Patrick Markee of the Coalition for the Homeless said in March 5, 2008 issue of Metro newspaper that the figures do not reflect the actual number of unsheltered homeless people in the city. “Most street people do not sleep in visible locations.”

Eric Deutsch of DHS says not all panhandlers are homeless but his contention was challenged by Metro in the same issue saying a survey conducted by the daily in Union Square found every panhandler homeless.

Will the real homeless man on the street please stand up?

Grounded Cold in Union Square

February 23, 2008

Homeless people in New York’s Union Square talks about their lives, struggles, hopes and dreams in this award-winning documentary titled Cold Ground.

Shot in the winter of 2001 by Carlington Silburn,
Cold Ground won in the category of best documentary short at the 2003 Jamerican Film and Music Festival. Silburn was then a 24-year-old film student at The New York Film Academy.

The four-day Jamerican Film and Music festival, held annually in Jamaica, was once rated by E! Entertainment TV as one of the top ten film festivals in the world.

Type in Cold Ground (Life on the Street) on Youtube to watch Part 2 and 3 of this documentary.

Bowery Soup Kitchen

February 21, 2008

On February 2, the soup kitchen in Bowery Mission served lunch to about 200 homeless men including those who are enrolled in the 6-month program that the Mission runs to empower and rehabilitate homeless single men. Currently, there are 75 men in the program. In an intensive faith-based curriculum, these homeless single men study the Bible, learn computer skills and participate in de-addiction and career counseling. Some are preparing for their GEDs. They attend prayer service three times a week in the chapel where former president Abraham Lincoln gave a speech.

An old photo of Bowery Mission in the 1800s

Founded in 1879, the Bowery Mission is considered the oldest in the country that serves the poor and homeless people. It was originally located at 36 Bowery but was later moved to its present address at 227-229 Bowery where there once stood an abandoned coffin factory.

bowery_kitchen2.jpg Volunteers preparing lunch in the Bowery soup kitchen

Unsheltered Homeless People in New York City

February 18, 2008


The Department of Homeless Services conducts an annual survey of homeless people living on the city streets and subways. Called “clients” in official parlance, these unsheltered homeless people are then placed in various drop in centers, transitional shelters or permanent housing depending on whether they wish to be sheltered or not. The survey results for 2007 documented 3,755 unsheltered homeless people, a 2 percent fall compared to 2006 results.

According to DHS surveys, the number of homeless people living on the streets, roaming in the subways, sleeping on park benches and putting up makeshift shelter underneath the city bridges continues to decline with 2006 survey registering a 13 percent fall compared to 2005 survey results which showed 4395 homeless people without shelters.

Determining the exact number of unsheltered homeless people is a difficult task fraught with risks of inaccuracies and duplication. Quoting Molly Heyman, a junior at NYU’s School of Social Work and president of Oxfam America at NYU, a January 31 news story on 2008 survey said the accuracy of the survey result was doubtful. Heyman contends that the annual survey is always done at night during winters so that the numbers are kept low.

On January 28, 2008 from midnight to 4 am, about 2,500 volunteers canvassed the streets, subways and parks in all five boroughs to survey the homeless people without shelters.

As one of the 2,500 volunteers for the 2008 survey, I think the risk of duplication and inaccuracy is a possibility. It so happened that the person I interviewed for the survey in the area assigned to my team would have been interviewed by another team in another area. The chances are I would be interviewing a person who had already been interviewed a few minutes or hours before by another team. To counter duplication, the DHS survey requires volunteers to describe unusual appearances about the interviewee, but then again it depends on the kind of observation a volunteer does which is subjective. Reality appears different to different people. Also the fact is not all homeless people spot outlandish tattoos or prominent scars.

Again, the volunteers cannot disturb those who are sleeping, so one never knows whether they are homeless or someone who forgot their way back home in drunken stupor. I saw a person sleeping in an ATM outlet few blocks down Bleecker Street. Another one was sleeping in the doorway of some shop in the same area.

Homeless Shelter for Transgendered Youth in Queens

February 6, 2008

This is old news reported back in May 2007 in New York Times about a homeless shelter for the transgendered youth in Queens. But I think it is an interesting read. It is probably the only homeless shelter in New York that is exclusively meant for transgendered youth.Following is an excerpt from the Times’ story:

“The shelter is called Carmen’s Place and was named after Carmen Solis, a missionary who started a youth outreach program at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Astoria, where Father Braxton was the pastor. After the church closed in February for financial reasons, Father Braxton, 50, rented a nearby two-bedroom apartment above a clothing store on a section of Steinway Street lined with hookah shops and ethnic food stores.”

The shelter funded through donations is run by Father Braxton who along with a few volunteers cook meals for the residents, tries to keep them away from prostitution and advises them to go to school and get a job, the report said. It quoted Father Braxton as saying that throwing them out for peddling their bodies would make things worse.

“So as they leave the shelter dressed in skimpy outfits, he reminds them that the shelter door is locked from 2 a.m. until sunrise and leaves them with his standard parting wish: “I hope you get arrested.”

Homeless People living in New York’s city shelters

February 6, 2008

The February 2007 figures from Department of Homeless Services says there are 34,465 homeless people living in municipal shelters in New York City. Among them, 13,790 are children followed by single men at 13,254. There are 5,355 adults in families which also includes single mothers. At 1,927, the share of homeless single women living in various homeless shelters is the lowest.

The DHS broadly defines homeless people into two categories: single adults and families. Single adults are further divided into three groups depending upon the nature of their homeless condition. Chronic and episodic cases are often associated with psychiatric disability, substance abuse and prison history, while transitional short-term cases are often associated with temporary unemployment. On the other hand, homeless families consists of single mothers with children; married or domestically partnered couples; parents with adult children; and adult siblings.

But the homeless advocacy groups have a slightly different set of statistics on homeless shelter population. The Coalition for the Homeless in its March 2007 figures says there are 35,113 homeless people sleeping in city shelters, an increase of 11.1 percent. The number of homeless families also rose by 17.6 percent; there are now 9,190 homeless families including single mothers sleeping in municipal shelters all around the city. These statistics released in a report titled State of the Homeless 2007 show an 18.1 percent jump in the the number of homeless children in February 2007 pushing the total figure to 14,219. In February 2007, the Department of Homeless Services reported an average of 9,287 families in the homeless shelters which, the Coalition report says, is a record high number of homeless families living in municipal shelters. A significant portion of the homeless families are headed by single mothers. Advocacy groups say over 60 percent of single mothers are victims of domestic violence.