It’s a job.
Henry Haze sells One Step Away, a street newspaper, with a smile on his face and a guitar case by his side near LOVE Park, trying to catch people on their way to work in the morning.
“I’m not complaining,” he said, grinning.
Though some days are slower than others, Haze said he’s happy he was able to buy a new pair of shoes and take care of a load of laundry or two with the money he made.
The woman in charge is Emily Taylor, who partially runs the publication at a plastic pop-up desk in the basement of Arch Street United Methodist Church at Broad and Arch streets.
There, she sits quietly as fluorescent lights hum overtop her while she enters information on her computer in a room big enough to fit a small Sunday mass, with walls as starkly white as a hospital room.
Taylor works as the director for One Step Away, which calls itself “Greater Philadelphia’s first newspaper produced by those without homes for those with homes.” It takes article submissions from members of the community, students and more importantly, those who consider themselves homeless.
“It’s exactly what I want to do,” she said. “I believe in the mission, I believe in the cause and so I think it’s a good fit.”
Taylor said the paper’s mission, which is a program of Resources for Human Development, is two-fold: “to provide a meaningful source of income to those experiencing joblessness or homelessness, and to raise awareness and advocacy for the homeless community.”
Though anyone can volunteer as a vendor to sell the papers on the streets, the position was created with the homeless in mind to help them with their job search.
After a short orientation process, vendors are able to buy the publication in bulk for 25 cents a copy and sell them on the streets for $1, pocketing the donation for their benefit.
Taylor said she finds herself getting asked about the position more often than having to recruit.
“It spreads from word of mouth. I can come in and talk about what One Step Away is and how it can help you, but it means a lot more when the guy you saw panhandling three months ago is now upright selling the newspaper, clean, dressed in nice clothes. It means a lot more when you know the person and you see the difference in their lives,” she said.
Taylor gets to know the vendors at a personal level. The Arch Street United Methodist Church allows One Step Away to use the building as a vending site, where vendors stop by Taylor’s makeshift office between 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. to pick up their copies to sell.
Well wishes of good weekends and inquiries of how the other is flow naturally as Taylor counts vendors’ money and papers.
For those whose names she doesn’t know, she still calls them “our guys.”
“At the same time, One Step Away is a job. Our guys are out there working for themselves and not panhandling, and they’re not asking for money. They’re providing a paper in return for a donation,” she said.
However, the job is not as easy as it may sound.
Charles Sarazin has been a vendor for about two years, and sees his share of good and bad days.
“It’s not like we get paid time off or anything. If you want to take a week’s vacation, you got to figure out how to budget on our own,” he said.
In the meanwhile, Sarazin is looking for another job.
“Being out there in January when it’s the coldest month out of the year and the money’s not that good because everybody’s already spent a lot on the holidays, it’s not the most fun thing in the world,” he said.
Though the colder months are rough for vendors, One Step Away does see some major success during the warmer months.
In the summer, One Step Away distributes about 17,000 papers in the city, and even sells out copies in April and May.
The content speaks for itself. Taylor said the homeless who want to get their stories out there are either paired with volunteers, or use computers at the paper’s centralized office in Germantown, or at the public library.
From there, articles, poems, short stories and other forms of creative writing about homelessness and causing factors are sent to the marketing and communications department at Resources for Human Development’s office to be edited, laid out and sent to print.
Though the concept may be foreign to many Philadelphians, Taylor said street papers such as One Step Away are rather common, with 120 international and 40 national papers, including in cities such as Chicago and Washington.
Being a part of a larger movement has obvious benefits, including eligibility in international and national awards for the paper and its writers. With many writers already having awards to their name, One Step Away added an International Street Paper Award to its achievements in 2011.
Despite its success, Taylor said she is still reaching out to the Temple community for help.
“We would love to get more writing submissions, or get people working with our guys to help with their writing, because a lot of our guys have stories to tell, but they just don’t know how to get it down on paper,” she said.
Taylor said some colleges even buy bundles of the paper to have on campus, including Villanova.
For now, Temple students will likely find the paper sold in Center City or around Main Campus.
“A lot of times, the homeless population is often silenced and pushed out of the way and so we try to give the homeless a voice and an outlet to express themselves,” Taylor said.
Patricia Madej can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.[vimeo 74598464 w=750h=400]
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