What a dollar can mean

'Word on the Street' newspaper gives the homeless a chance at a living — and a chance to give voice to their experiences

February 28, 2012|By Verinda Birdsong

I have heard it time and time again: "I don't want to give money to people on the streets because they are going to use it for drugs." The people who say that must have never had a hard day in their lives.

Most of the people I know use that money for food. But I do not give a lot of thought about giving away a dollar to anyone. That is not in my Christian experience. I have been taught to help anyone I can help, if I have it in my power to do so. ("Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you," Matthew 5:42, NIV).

A lot of people reading this may be thinking: "Well, I'm without a job and struggling too." I know all about that; I've been unemployed a time or two in my adult life, and it is not an easy journey. I know about hard times, doing without and making ends meet with "more month than money," as my pastor always says.

But — a dollar? I know what it is like to eat Oodles of Noodles for a week and to call into the unemployment line, but a dollar? Consider what a dollar is to someone who has nothing but the clothes on his back.

Here's something that I think is worth a dollar. A new Baltimore quarterly publication, a street newspaper called "Word on the Street," is set to begin publishing in March. For many of the homeless people living in our city, and those who are planning to become vendors to sell the paper on the street, that dollar will be a source of income for those who have suffered the loss of home, hearth and human dignity. These are things that might be regained as they take back their lives and independence.

That "mighty dollar" you hold so tightly can represent, for those who have nothing but a paper to sell, a voice to speak about the experiences of homelessness to thousands in Baltimore City who ignore them, step over them and make them invisible. They will now have the opportunity to say what organizations like Healthcare for the Homeless and others, as well as many journalists, politicians and activists in the city have been saying for years: We must end homelessness in our city today.

The newspaper will be managed, and 75 percent of the content written, by people who have experienced homelessness in the past or are still surviving on the street. Just like any other newspaper, there will be feature stories, reporting, opinion columns, artwork and classifieds. For people who are suffering the indignities of homelessness — fighting rats, lack of food, the weather, the inability to deal with real health issues, including mental illness and drug addiction — this is their time, not to "shine" but simply to tell their stories. We, the organizers, supporters allies and journalists, have been doing all the talking; it is time for them to talk back to us. It's time for us to be the "students." Let us humble ourselves and hear what they have to say, shall we?

If you don't want to give a dollar to a homeless person, then buy a paper for a dollar. Put your money where your mouth is and give citizens like you and me the opportunity to give voice to this most pressing social disease in one of the richest nations in the world.

Verinda M. Birdsong is a Christian writer who lives in Baltimore City. She writes a local weekly column on homelessness in Baltimore. Her email is wordlot674@hotmail.com. Word on the Street (wordonthestreetbaltimore.org) is a project of Fusion Partnerships, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that provides financial support to grass-roots organizations.

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