Sense of Worth

Word is going around about August Mallory's fictional hero, who truly is helping the homeless one newspaper sale at a time.

August 02, 2005|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

It would be a slick name for a private investigator: Marvin Hammerman, Private Eye. But Marvin Hammerman is actually a Baltimore district attorney who, in the pages of a Washington newspaper, defends the homeless with the help of assistant district attorney - and love interest? - Anna Jackson. Each month, a new case unfolds for the tough softy Hammerman.

"He goes to bat for the homeless," says August Mallory. "He's my hero."

And what of Hammerman and Jackson? Strictly business?

"Something could happen there."

Hammerman is Mallory's fictional creation. Mallory, a 48-year-old Navy veteran living in Hunt Valley, writes for Street Sense, Washington's monthly newspaper for the homeless and one of about 40 such publications in the country. Mallory hopes his newspaper serial, "Marvin Hammerman," will become a novel.

In the meantime, he has other work to do. Homeless for much of the past decade, Mallory has found a home at a newspaper dedicated to the poor and homeless. He may write from Washington about Hammerman's latest cliffhangers, but Mallory's fictional setting and his real-life focus is Baltimore.

He's the guy in Street Sense's church office (10 staff members, three computers, one room) who doesn't let them forget about Baltimore's homeless and its state of social services. Mallory makes them think outside the Capital Beltway.

"August has always made sure to point out to us not to neglect Baltimore. He's always advocating we do stories on the city," says Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the D.C.-based National Coalition for the Homeless. Two years ago, the coalition launched Street Sense, an 11,000-circulation paper sold by homeless vendors who earn 75 cents for every $1 newspaper they sell.

Mallory, who commutes to Washington four days a week, rests his Hammerman character long enough to write a monthly column, "Focus on Baltimore."

"As I go from service provider to service provider, I have noticed a dire need for additional services," he wrote in the July issue. "[The homeless] really need laundry services, more access to clothing and better mail service."

He's not shy about contacting the Baltimore mayor's office, either.

Mallory writes poems for the newspaper, which he, along with other vendors, sells on the streets of Washington. In one poem, "The Fight I Wage," Mallory makes a public plea on behalf of the paper's 120 vendors:

... As you hear "Street Sense, Street Sense. Support the homeless,"

Will you give a dollar to a worthy cause?

Or will you turn away, and continue to give to the beggar man,

Who has nothing to give in return? ...

The newspaper "supports the right to panhandle" but recognizes a prickly dynamic between panhandlers and vendors in Washington. "Vendors see panhandlers as giving a bad image to homeless folks," Stoops says. "Panhandlers, in return, resent vendors."

The poem's hard line on begging comes from a man who has spent a lot of time living on the street. In South Carolina, Mallory was laid off in 1994 from a job in shipping and receiving. He lived in shelters and on the street but says he never panhandled. "I never felt it was necessary." Instead, he found temporary work and better shelters and services elsewhere.

Following a tip from a South Carolina caseworker, Mallory moved to Washington in 1998 for its homeless services. In 1999, he wrote articles for StreetWise, a Chicago-based newspaper for the homeless. Its Washington edition was discontinued that year, but Mallory's work caught the attention of the National Coalition for the Homeless, which asked Mallory to be a spokesman for the nonprofit group.

By September 2003, Mallory was living in Baltimore shelters when he heard about a new paper for the homeless in Washington.

"I was so nervous about starting this newspaper," says Street Sense co-editor Ted Henson. "I just remember this guy - August - talking to me for about 45 minutes. He told me I got to get this thing done."

For starters, the paper's computer system - such as it was - crashed. Just fix it and let's put out a paper, urged Mallory, who had civic and creative motives. In November 2003, Henson, co-editor Laura Thompson Osuri and their band of volunteer writers and vendors produced the first issue of Street Sense. It contained articles on crowding at shelters, legislation concerning the homeless and reviews of books dealing with poverty.

It even had a crossword puzzle - Mallory's idea. By the fourth issue, they had a fiction series - also Mallory's idea.

"He was the pioneer, the guy from the very beginning," Henson says. "He's been very loyal and steady." Mallory has even pulled a Sunday shift for Henson. What editor wouldn't love a writer like that?

Mallory doesn't have a family or his own home - but he has a job. With his made-for-radio voice, Mallory typically vends outside the Farragut North Metro Station in Washington. He makes about $500 a month - enough to pay rent on a small apartment in Hunt Valley.

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