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No August Issue of Street Spirit

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday August 14, 2008 - 08:44:00 AM

There’s a sudden dearth of homeless people in Berkeley crying out the ever-familiar “Street Spirit, only $1.” 

The word on the street is there’s no paper to sell this month. 

American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the organization that has published Street Spirit—Berkeley’s local newspaper for the homeless—for the last 13 years confirmed Wednesday that it had to cancel the paper’s August issue after its editor Terry Messman was admitted to the hospital for surgery. 

“We didn’t have a choice,” said Laura Magnani, regional director of AFSC and supervisor of Street Spirt. 

“It was pretty much a one-person program. This puts a lot of pressure on everyone. Terry kept thinking he would be well enough to do it but found out at the last minute that he was really sick.” 

Magnani declined to comment on Messman’s health, saying it was a personal issue. 

She added that the committee had worked out an arrangement with Street Sheet—the paper’s counterpart in San Francisco—under which it would print more papers for distribution in Berkeley so that Street Spirit’s 100 or so homeless vendors could continue to make a living. 

Financed by AFSC, Street Spirit, which has a circulation of 20,000, provides Berkeley’s homeless with an alternative to panhandling and often provides a leg up to a career and a better life. 

Magnani said the committee had been unable to get a substitute for Messman due to a lack of funding. 

“There are two real tragedies to not being able to publish this month,” she said. 

“The information and contributions we hoped to get out won’t get out anymore. It also puts the vendors in jeopardy. However, Street Sheet has graciously agreed to print more copies to help us. We would like to have more staff, but it’s really expensive to run the program in the first place.” 

Street Sheet has already brought out 1,000 additional newspapers this month to help Street Spirit’s vendors and is scheduled to publish more, Magnani said. 

“It’s a big loss,” said Street Spirit writer and photographer Lydia Gans, who works with Food Not Bombs and sometimes contributes to the Planet. 

“Street Spirit serves a twofold purpose. It has important news on homeless issues, and it allows people to make money. I am happy they have worked out something with Street Sheet because honestly, these people need the income.” 

Contributors to the paper turn in their articles by the 26th of every month, Gans said. 

“Anybody can write for it,” she said. 

“Terry takes all the contributions and edits them. The paper usually comes out on the first of every month. It’s very disappointing that it didn’t happen this month, especially because there’s so much going on and a number of people have written about important things. I am very concerned about Terry. He has been working really hard recently.” 

Besides editing, Messman is also responsible for soliciting articles as well as the design, concept and layout of the newspaper. 

Magnani said Street Spirit’s articles were at times picked up by the mainstream media. 

A July 2005 article about the rise in hate crimes and violence against the homeless was picked up by 60 Minutes, Magnani said. 

Another article, “The Message of Mary Jesus,” which told the story of 33-year-old “Mary Jesus,” who threw herself from the Oakland Tribune Tower on Dec. 10, 2004, after she was evicted, was picked up by the Los Angeles Times six months later, she said. 

“The story of Mary Jesus was the story of heartless landlord policies,” she said. 

“There are important things people bring attention to. Rasputin featured a lot of our artists on its windows recently because their statement about homelessness was so strong. These contributions are more than just stories. These are advocacy pieces and the voices of people whose voices are not heard otherwise.” 

Publishing cost for the paper is around $2,000 every month, Magnani said. 

The paper, which is printed in Marin, has a partnership with the Berkeley-based homeless service BOSS for distribution. 

“We get the papers to them, and they screen the vendors,” Magnani said. 

“The number of vendors are down right now. We have only 50 to 60 people distributing Street Spirit. Earlier it used to be more like 125. It’s something we are looking into right now.” 

Although 20,000 newspapers are published every month, only 18,500 are distributed in the East Bay since the rest are sent to Santa Cruz and Fresno to help homeless people there. 

“The entire $1 goes to the vendor,” Magnani said. 

“It’s a direct economic process.”  

The paper also pays a stipend of $25 for every article to writers who need it. 

“It’s really a pittance, but it adds up in the long run,” Magnani said. 

AFSC, which is based out of Oakland, will soon start accepting advertisements to help boost the paper’s funding, said Kendal Au, program associate for Street Spirit. 

“We have avoided advertisers for a while, but now it seems we need to do it,” Au, who is heading the campaign, said. 

“We are certainly open to accepting financial help if people want to make donations. I am currently working on kicking off our website which will have more information for everyone.” 

For more information on how to help or advertise in Street Spirit, call Kendal at 238-8080 ext. 302 or e-mail her at