Street Newspaper Calls Attention To Hartford's Homeless | Connecticut Public Radio

Street Newspaper Calls Attention To Hartford's Homeless

Mar 18, 2011

"Street newspapers" are designed, written and sold by the homeless. They are small, usually no more than a few pages, and feature articles, photographs and poetry about what it's like to live in shelters or on the street. They're easy to find in cities like Portland, Oregon or Providence and as WNPR's Patrick Skahill reports, now Hartford has its own street newspaper.

In other cities with more foot traffic, a paper like Beat of the Street would be a way to make money for the people who sell it. But Hartford's paper is brand new, so their goal for now is to break stereotypes. The first thing they think is - oh you're either a drug addict or an ex-criminal or you're just lazy. That's Harry Mitchell. He's been homeless for more than three years.  On the street, he's got a lot of nicknames. Harry-O, Skittles, O.G., Mr. Mitchell. Harry writes a column for Beat of the Street called Harry's Heart-2-Heart. He says his life hit a streak of bad luck about four years ago.  I was living in Hartford in my apartment with a good job. A fiance and living life oblivious to the homeless, just as everyone else. I could go downtown and catch a bus and go to work and not pay attention to the man on the corner or the person walking down the street with the backpack.  Today, Harry does pay attention. After losing his job, he spent some time in jail. He's lived on the street ever since. Harry says he talks with people on the street. He asks them what they struggle with. What they're feeling. And all the observations go in his column. I see people struggling just to get through the day. Struggling to maintain a sense of dignity when you're treated like a third-class citizen. Harry spends most nights in a shelter, but during the day - he's left to figure things out for himself. Things like where to use a restroom.  You know, simple things like that. That people might take for granted. But when you wake up in the morning and you're homeless, that's one of the first things on your mind. What am I going to do today? Where am I going to go? Where am I going to eat? Beat of The Street is sponsored by the Charter Oak Cultural Center. Donna Berman is the center's executive director. Berman says the paper works as a kind of microenterprise. Charter Oak talks with local business owners and sets up vendor locations. The homeless sell each issue for a dollar and they keep the profits. Berman says Beat of the Street also provides the homeless with an outlet for their creativity and gives them marketable job skills. In fact we're going to start some classes for our staff so they can learn graphic design and photography and take writing classes and things like that. And in the summer it gives them a cool place to be. It also gives them a meal. Over sandwiches and coffee, the staff meets to talk about what's in the newspaper. Joan Artis is military veteran who spent one year without a home. She's working to craft a code of rules for street vendors. Artis now lives in an apartment and wants her story to give hope to others living on the street. The goal is to try to learn how to help a person like that who has no more self worth ... who'd rather live on the streets, who'd rather live under a bridge. That's sad, it really is. It shouldn't be like that.  Donna Berman says she understands selling the paper on the streets of Hartford could be difficult. But she's starting small - placing Beat of the Street in libraries and community centers around the city. Berman says people are starting to notice the paper.  The next step, she says, is having them notice the homeless.  The way our culture and our society are designed - homeless people are invisible. But this is an opportunity to learn from experts of homelessness - the homeless themselves.  For WNPR, I'm Patrick Skahill.