A team of Rhodes College students are giving a voice to the homeless and possibly a chance to earn a little income as well.
The Bridge, Memphis' first newspaper written by and for the homeless population, hits the streets this week. The monthly paper follows the model of other successful street newspapers in Nashville, New York, and Washington D.C., which contain articles written by homeless people and are sold to put money into the pockets of the paper's homeless vendors.
Unlike other popular street papers, which tend to be run by a full-time staff, this one is run entirely by Rhodes College students. Sophomores Evan Katz and James Ekenstedt conceived the idea for launching a newspaper for the homeless after picking up a copy of Nashville's street paper, The Contributor.
"James brought the paper back from Nashville, and we were fascinated by it. When we realized there wasn't one here, we started working on how we could bring one to Memphis," said Katz, a business major and creative writing minor.
Rhodes College's Kinney Program, a community service outreach program, is funding the first three months of printing. But The Bridge staff has been securing private donations to keep the paper going after that initial three months. They've also put a mechanism in place to ensure the paper can continue after the current staff graduates.
Student Caroline Ponseti serves as the managing editor, and she oversees a staff of 16 students who write articles about homelessness or poverty-related issues. Additionally, they edit articles written by homeless people, many of whom are involved in Door of Hope's writing club for the homeless. They also accept contributions of artwork and photography by the homeless.
"Our first issue is on origins," Ponseti said. "We're trying to address the issue of how a person becomes homeless. We have eight writers in this issue who have shared their experience of how they became homeless."
Also in that first issue: a feature on Binghampton's Caritas Village, a piece on local resources for the homeless, photos taken by homeless people for Rhodes' "Unsheltered/Unseen" art exhibit, and more.
The first issue is 12 pages long, and future issues are expected to be 16 pages. Copies will be sold by homeless people who have been certified through The Bridge's vendor training program. They'll sell for $1 each, and since vendors only pay 25 cents per issue, the remaining 75 cents is theirs to keep as profit. To get them started, each vendor will receive 20 free issues to sell.
"Other cities have had tons of success with this model," Ponseti said. "Nashville's paper, which is bimonthly, regularly puts about $500 into the hands of each homeless person who sells it with each issue. We want to make sure these people have $6 to stay in a shelter each night, but we're also hoping they will eventually use their money to get off the streets and into homes."
Vendors won't have assigned locations, but they'll likely be scattered around street corners and intersections in Midtown and downtown. Katz said buyers should look for vendors wearing The Bridge badges to avoid scams.
"We think the paper will provide new and creative ways for the homeless to earn an income that's sustainable, but the paper will also serve as a way for the public to connect with the homeless," Katz said.