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News straight from the streets of Kamloops

First issue of Street Scene scheduled to be published in June
street scene street newspaper
An early meeting of Street Scene staff. (From left) Editor Elmer King, marketing and communications co-ordinator Cynthia Travers, busking co-ordinator Teresa Shayler, reporter Benjamin Traeger and Greg Burns, who is in charge of layout and design.

The first street newspaper was published in 1989 in New York City. It was called Street News.

Today, more than 100 newspapers by people who have experienced homelessness can be read worldwide and Glenn Hilke wants to add one more in Kamloops — a newspaper called Street Scene.

The first issue is scheduled to be published in June.

Hilke said the social-enterprise project will provide a concrete and proactive solution to panhandling while shedding light on underrepresented voices in Kamloops.

“Here is an example of people who are poor and on a fixed-income who are working,” Hilke said. “They’re out there selling newspapers. They’re not just out there for charity — they’re working.”

Staff will come from the city’s lived-experience committee, which began five years ago under the umbrella of the Elizabeth Fry Society and consists of people who have been homeless.

In addition, the homeless and those with low incomes can become vendors, selling the newspaper for a cut of the profits.

Six full-time positions and 25 vendor positions will be created. Hilke will facilitate the group, but staff will be responsible for the stories, design and distribution. A street newspaper wire service will supplement content.

“This is an opportunity to help people that have multiple barriers,” Hilke said.

The street newspaper model has been in the Lower Mainland for decades. Spare Change launched in Vancouver in 1992 and was succeeded by Megaphone, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year.

“It works really like a micro-business for people,” Megaphone executive director Jessica Hannon said.

“It’s flexible, low-barrier work for people who would not otherwise be able to access employment.”

Vendors buy Megaphone for 75 cents per copy and sell it for $2, keeping the profits. It takes about an hour of training to get started and they get the first 10 issues for free. Between 3,000 and 5,000 issues of Megaphone are sold each month, amounting to between $3,750 and $6,250 for the 50 to 60 people who sell the magazine in Vancouver and Victoria.

Hilke said Street Scene in Kamloops will cost vendors 50 cents per issue. They will sell them for $2.

If a vendor sells 100 issues in a month, they will make $150. Asked if that is enough to make a difference for somebody on the street, Hilke said donations are key.

“When I see somebody selling that and it’s $2, I’m giving that person a $5 bill,” he said.

A three-year budget for Street Scene is $250,000.

Hilke recently made a presentation to the city’s social planning council to apply for a $45,000 grant over three years to launch the newspaper.

“It went really, really well,” he said.

Results from that application will go before city council in May. Hilke said the project will go ahead with or without the city’s cash, noting the group will apply for additional grants or seek philanthropy. Additional funding streams planned include advertising, sponsorships, subscriptions and donations.

Beyond funding the project, a city bylaw prohibiting vendors from selling on public property is another obstacle.

Hilke said the city’s social planning department is talking to bylaws and business development services.

In a worst-case scenario, Hilke said he will work with businesses to allow vendors to peddle papers on private property.

“The City of Vancouver does permit it on public property,” he said, noting vendors are prohibited from impeding pedestrian traffic and being aggressive.

Hilke said he has received positive feedback about the idea from business associations and the city.

He plans to work with the Thompson Rivers University research community to evaluate the program.

The first edition of Street Scene will span the summer months before monthly issues begin in September.