It’s a familiar sight on the streets of Oklahoma City. Homeless citizens can be spotted from one end of the metro to another at any given time or location. Some are panhandling for money. Some are collecting cans and other recyclable goods. Others are wandering, seemingly without aim, their every belonging strapped to their back or rolled in front of them. But now another vision is appearing on the street corners and sidewalks of Oklahoma City: the green vest of a Curbside Chronicle vendor.
[pullquote][A street paper] is a new idea to our city, but it has proven itself in many cities around the world. Only together can we employ and empower the homeless and eradicate panhandling in our city.[/pullquote]The concept is simple, but powerful: The homeless and at-risk citizens of Oklahoma City are given free copies of the publication (to which many of them also contribute writing) to sell. After the free copies are sold and a small base profit is made, vendors purchase copies for 75 cents each and sell them for $2, keeping the $1.25 profit as income. The idea, explains Ranya O’Connor, co-founder and director of the Curbside Chronicle, is to foster the learning (or often, re-learning) of basic job skills, such as professional behavior, communication skills, customer service, time management and more.
O’Connor’s dream of helping the homeless through empowering them seems to be catching on. Although the publication only just finished its second year in circulation, the Curbside has already sold 26,000 copies and employed more than 160 vendors, with plans to go monthly by the end of 2015.
The idea of a street paper, written and sold by the homeless as a positive option over panhandling, is a fresh take on an old problem in the state’s capitol. O’Connor and her husband, Whitley, were inspired by Whitley’s experience during his college years in Nashville, where a robustly supported street paper changed the face of homelessness in that city. The Curbside is the first and only such publication in the state. With many contributors to the paper being homeless themselves, the Curbside offers a much-needed voice to the marginalized populations of Oklahoma City.
“Street papers seek to eradicate panhandling and instead employ those in need through sales, helping them move forward and achieve financial stability,” O’Connor says. “There is much more forward motion with street papers than with panhandling … [A street paper] is a new idea to our city, but it has proven itself in many cities around the world. Only together can we employ and empower the homeless and eradicate panhandling in our city.”
But the mission of the publication goes far beyond eliminating panhandling and providing employment skills for the at-risk citizens of the city. One of the toughest challenges facing the homeless isn’t even money or shelter; it is social isolation. The true testimony to the transformative powers of the Curbside has been its success in planting the seeds of a connection between the homeless and other members of their community.