Giving the underrepresented a voice

Student starts up homeless newspaper in Greensboro

by Marlena Chertock, December 8, 2010

The first edition of The New Greensboro Voice. Photo courtesy of Mary Yost.

The shelter sees 40 or so homeless people a day. They come in and out, some stay for lunch and then they have to leave because the Interactive Resource Center (IRC) is a day shelter.

The IRC in Greensboro offers services such as job training, case management, laundry, showers and support groups. Now the IRC has another opportunity for homeless individuals. The New Greensboro Voice, a homeless newspaper set up by Elon University junior Mary Yost, operates out of the IRC.

Gaining skills to form a homeless newspaper

Yost interned at Street Sense, a homeless newspaper in Washington, D.C. over the summer.

“While I was at Street Sense I met with one of the founders, Ted Henson, and I just tried to get as much information as I could as to how he started Street Sense and how that could be replicated in another city,” Yost said. “I got all that information before I left in August.”

As an editorial intern she wrote articles, updated the blog with breaking news stories, helped with layout and production and worked with vendors, homeless people who sell the newspaper. She said she helped type up articles, edit, as well as sit down with homeless individuals and edit for AP as they edited for word choice.

She gained many skills to help her start up a street newspaper in North Carolina.

“I learned a lot about layout because I didn’t know how to use InDesign before I started,” she said. “I laid out the first issue of The New Greensboro Voice. I also learned about patience from working with people and their writing.”

From idea to print

In the middle of Aug. Yost spoke with director of the IRC Liz Seymour to discuss the idea of a street newspaper being founded in the day shelter.

Yost said Seymour told her to come back to the IRC during one of their Friday meetings with all of the guests at the shelter. She did and pitched the idea Sept. 17. During that meeting a team of 10 or more rotating people was formed.

“A month and a half after that we got our first issue out,” Yost said. “Thankfully (Seymour) set us a deadline and we got there.”

The newspaper comes out monthly. The second edition came out Dec. 3 and the next will be out in the middle of Jan., Yost said.

There is a submission box in the IRC where people can put their poetry and art. Or they work more closely with Yost and the team to write articles.

“Since it’s not printed on newspaper yet we started calling it a newsletter,” Yost said. “It has that pamphlet kind of layout, so it doesn’t match the description of a newspaper yet, but it will one day.”

Having a voice

A The New Greensboro Voice meeting at the IRC. Photo courtesy of Mary Yost.

Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater was at the first meeting where Yost pitched the idea. Chiseri-Strater is a professor at UNC-G who is researching the IRC. She’s working on a book about the shelter.

She called The New Greensboro Voice an alternative newspaper and a way for homeless individuals to be heard.

Yost said she thinks the newspaper serves as a good outlet and resource for homeless individuals.

“The Street Sense office gets calls asking what happened to their vendor if they don’t show up,” Yost said. “They become like a friend, someone you see every day. It works in D.C. and I think it’ll work in Greensboro. If people know their reporter’s, their vendor’s name, it might be a start to encourage dialogue.”

In the first edition, reporters talked to politicians who are running, interviewed other homeless people in the IRC and people who run homeless or social service programs.

Shorty, a homeless individual, writes book reviews and distributes the paper to other homeless people, local churches, businesses and the Greensboro Public Library.

“I was involved in helping to distribute another homeless newspaper in Florida called The Emerald Coast Sun,” he said. “I didn’t write for it, but made a small amount of money and contributed a few ides. I liked the camaraderie and the organization and of course a few dollars in my pocket.”

He said he’s not good at interviews but likes to read and provide objective reviews of books. The hardest part is trying to make deadlines and stay within word limits, he said.

“Everyone has a story and eventually I plan to write urban and woodsman survival tips,” he said. “Concrete is not comfortable to sleep on, but a piece of cardboard will insulate one from the powerful heat-sucking potential of manmade stone.”

Shorty said he is involved in the paper to raise awareness for the homeless, nearly-homeless, poor and the general education of those interested in learning about poverty or volunteering to help others in need. He said he loves doing something that will help his brothers and sisters on the street.

“I’m new to this writing thing and am still getting my bearings,” he said. “With everyone’s help I’ll figure it out. This is what I think God put me here to do. Plus it keeps my mind active, as it is a challenge. And it helps me to stay out of trouble.”

The newspaper’s challenges

UNC-G Professor Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater works with a reporter on an at the IRC. Photo courtesy of Mary Yost.

This is the first time many of the homeless individuals have written for a newspaper, Yost said. To teach the reporters AP style and journalistic principles, Yost brought in her Media Writing handouts, detailing lede writing, story structure and more.

“(Chiseri-Strater) is a writing professor at UNC-G,” Yost said. “She has taken a forefront. I’m obviously still learning it and she’s a master.”

When she edits stories, Yost said she looks for AP style errors and shows them to the reporters so they can be corrected next time.

Yost said the hardest part is encouraging homeless individuals to write.

“They’re afraid to type on the computer or doubt they have talent,” she said.

Yost said she hopes to start homeless individuals with smaller articles, interviewing other people in the shelter who are in the same position as them.

“Hopefully they’ll build up to go interview their politician who represents them, to ask them about homelessness and poverty,” she said. “We try to get them out there, and even if they don’t want to, (Chiseri-Strater) will sit and call the person with them.”

Yost said they’re trying to build up homeless individuals’ confidence to conduct interviews on their own.

“It took me a while to feel confident with it,” she said. “I can say I’m a student, I have that to fall back on. It’s practicing the interview process, practicing asking each other questions.”

The newspaper has not yet received word if they are allowed to sell on the street. The vendors in D.C. make money and Yost said she would love if people at the IRC could use this as a job, since they’re hunting for jobs.

Reactions from IRC guests and the community

Yost checks the newspaper’s e-mail and said there are always e-mails from the community.

“(They) tell us they picked up a copy at the library, they say they’re glad we’re encouraging people at the IRC and other shelters to write,” she said.

Shorty, one of the reporters, is the main newspaper distributor to the shelter.

“He’s gotten a lot of interest from people and helped people start to submit art and poetry,” Yost said.

In Jan. the IRC is moving closer to downtown Greensboro, right across from A&T University. Yost said with this move, she hopes some type of internship program can be established for the newspaper and A&T.

“I learned so much at Street Sense,” she said. “Even if you just go to the IRC you’re still going to learn a lot. I think (the newspaper) could really take off with that kind of connection.”

View my documentary about the newspaper