Interview with StreetWise

A new street newspaper for the homeless: A start-up that hopes to make a real difference. Sleeping Rough Film talks to the founders, Dave Wotherspoon and Jennifer Marshall to get the lowdown…

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Jennifer and Dave believe their highly structured system is the best way to cater to the needs of each specific group within the homeless community. We decided to have a chat with them to get all the details about their new venture. Before we begin, here is a brief rundown of the basis for StreetWise…

StreetWise is a street newspaper for the homeless, aiming to give back to the vendors by supporting them through a ‘personal community reward fund’, made up from the sales of 60p per copy of StreetWise and public donations. All of the charity’s overheads will be met by grant funding, advertising revenue and public donations, meaning that all funds raised go directly back to the vendors. There are supplementary publications including ‘Stood Down’, the proceeds of which go to healthcare & wellbeing courses for Armed Forces Veterans,  ‘Under the Rainbow’ which does the same for LGBT community members and ‘Crash’, which provides the same service to under 34 year olds. On top of that there is a surplus fund that provides all other vendors with the same services. Vendors have a maximum selling period of 5 years. All vendors must be referred to StreetWise through a recognised and affiliated homeless service provider.

 

Melita: Could you briefly describe both your backgrounds and how you both began working together?

Dave (CEO): I joined the Royal Engineers at age 16 and served in the Corps for 8 years before leaving for family reasons.  Having experienced homelessness myself and been a Big Issue vendor for several years, I have insight into what are realistic solutions for the genuinely homeless. I identified the potential for an affordable, independent street paper and infrastructure which would solely benefit those who are truly homeless.

Jennifer (Managing Editor): Having had a career providing PA and operational support in various commercial and non-profit sectors, I returned to education to study Journalism & Sociology and Human Rights & Ethics and am currently part-way through a PhD.  I bought the Big Issue from Dave and after becoming friends, Dave began sharing his insights with me and between us we formulated the basis for StreetWise.

 

M: Could you sum up how StreetWise aims to improve a vendor’s life?

D: StreetWise will provide homeless people with a day-to-day income and funding for homeless charities to rehabilitate the vendor and then provide further funding for rehousing. All the money raised from StreetWise is invested directly back into the vendors. For example, using a vendor’s community reward fund, we might put him through college to become a bricklayer. He’d sell StreetWise 4-5 days a week and go to college 1 day a week. Then we would help him to find a bricklaying job and we would then spend the rest of his community reward fund either by purchasing a property and leaving him with a reduced rate mortgage or to pay for his rent in advance. If we don’t manage to rehabilitate, re-employ and rehouse, I consider that a failure of the program.

 

M: What’s the reasoning behind the 5 year time limit?

D: The StreetWise programme is not designed to be a long-term option.  It is designed to engender a sense of purpose and to encourage vendors to be goal-oriented. Vendors will be able to start using their fund from year 2 to access training and/or education courses, reconcile debts, access the job market and ultimately become rehoused.  Once rehoused, if a vendor has not yet found employment, they will have a 6 month period of grace to continue selling StreetWise, at the end of which they will be entitled to a further 6 months of community reward funding.

Dave and Jen, the founders of StreetWise

Dave and Jen, the founders of StreetWise

Owain: It’s a well thought-out idea, providing different services for different people based on their needs (army veterans, LGBT, etc); in what ways are the services you’ll be providing different, and in what ways are they the same? And what specific needs are independent to each group?

J: All vendors will receive the same opportunities to access health and wellbeing courses, training and/or education, debt management and financial advice, and re-housing. StreetWise will also offer mentoring, via our volunteer force and our readership, which can be utilised in any way that fits the vendor’s aspirations.

D: In terms of the different needs of each group, armed forces veterans often face problems in adjusting back into civilian life and can also be dealing with issues such as PTSD.  Many veterans become homeless because these factors contribute to a breakdown in their relationship.  LGBTQ community members often face discrimination and violence while sleeping rough and the hostel systems are predominantly occupied by heterosexual males, which can be intimidating.  As with homeless women, the LGBTQ community can be exploited and be the victims of sexual grooming and predatory practices. Young homeless people are vulnerable on several fronts and can have missed out on their education through non-attendance at school, been subject to physical and emotional abuse and are also at risk of being drawn into use of drugs and alcohol.

There is also provision for all vendors who do not fall into any of these demographics. It is important to point out, though, that those who would be considered particularly vulnerable would not be accepted onto the vendor programme and instead we would advise the referring organisation to refer them to local authority or health services.

 

O: What gave you the idea to split the funds into groups?

J: Creating separate funds allows for transparency in how the money paid by vendors for their publications is saved and, in turn, spent. Funds from each supplement will be added to a healthcare and wellbeing fund for each of those demographics (armed forces veteran vendors, LGBTQ vendors, and vendors aged between 18 – 34).  We expect circulation of each supplement to be in direct correlation with the proportion of vendors from each demographic, which will in turn be reflected in the value of each fund.

In addition, we wanted to keep funding for healthcare and wellbeing separate from the community reward fund, as it will be available in the first 12 months of the vendor programme, during which time, a vendor cannot access their community reward fund.  The health and wellbeing funds will be available to all vendors based on need, whereas the community reward fund will be awarded to each vendor based on their sales and donations from the general public.

 

O: It’s very important to have a goal, such as putting people into jobs and education, as you plan to do; are you working with any charities/organisations on this, and could you say a bit more about how the process would work?

J: We wanted to create a system which takes the basic model of the homeless street paper, which, in our opinion, has not evolved in over 30 years, and build an organisation which puts the homeless at its centre, around which will evolve the services and resources they need to progress through from start to finish. Because third party homeless service providers build up relationships with their clients, they are best placed to refer clients to us who they believe would engage with the programme.  To be referred to StreetWise, a homeless individual must not have any dependent children and must be sleeping rough, in squats, night shelters, hostels or sofa surfing between addresses.  Once a vendor begins the programme, his/her progress will be tracked. There are no targets involved.  What a vendor gets out of the programmes relates directly to what they put in. As the vendor progresses through the programme, the referring service provider will be kept up-to-date with their progress.

 

M: What are StreetWise’s plans for the future? Where do you see yourselves by 2020?

J: We have already built collaborative relationships with homeless service providers in Manchester, having signed up to the Manchester Homelessness Charter and began consulting with organisations who are part of Streetsupport Net, and the Big Change initiative. StreetWise’s long-term aim is to replicate our model throughout the UK in 19 different regions, and build similar relationships with service providers in those regions. We expect to be servicing around 4000 vendors nationwide and for there to be vendors successfully exiting the programme.  We would like to expand our collaborative relationships and our aim is to create and expand the StreetWise community.

We do not perceive StreetWise to be a tool for making commentary on the socio-political conditions which have caused the levels of homelessness we see today, though there will be no doubt be content that addresses these issues; ultimately this would make no immediate or tangible difference to the day-to-day situation of the person on the street.  Instead, we have devised a system, including the editorial stance, to maximise the appeal of the publications (which notably do not stand in any particular political camps), which will drive sales, which will drive advertising revenue, and in turn will enable a vendor to benefit to the greatest extent. StreetWise vendors will also, by default, be members of the charity because they build the funds up themselves, and they will also have the opportunity to work for us in the future and become Trustees if they so wish.

 

Melita: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us about StreetWise. We wish you and your vendors all the best for the future!