We Also Publish the Street Sheet

by Paul Boden, Coalition on Homelessness co-founder

Giving people the voice of our community and educating the public to respect ALL people’s Human Rights pretty much sums up what the Street Sheet means to me, and what I recall us talking about in the office when we started the paper up. While our desire to put out the paper came largely through our incredible frustration with how we and our issues are defined in the mainstream media our goal with the paper was/is always will be to show our creative talents, to express our collective knowledge as the true experts on the systems that impact our lives and to be the community outreach arm for the organizing efforts of the COH workgroups.

In spite of the fact that the Coalition wouldn’t let me name the paper (I wanted Street Shit), 30 years of continuous publishing would indicate that the Street Sheet has been pretty damn successful at staying true to being vigilant as to WHY it was created in the first place. May not sound like much, but believe me, in many endeavors 30 years down the road, being able to say “we’re still consistent to why we exist” is a remarkable achievement.

Many homeless street papers have drifted towards the professional. The lure of more sales, bigger revenue and most dangerously, mainstream acceptability has co-opted the intent of some early papers that were born to be a voice of the need for systemic change, and that’s a damn shame. With the ever shrinking number of outlets for groups to speak truth to power the need for the Street Sheet’s of the world is greater than ever.

A recent example of the power of Street Sheet showed itself when Art Hazelwood, Bob Offer-Westort and I were working on a retrospective of homeless organizing in SF entitled “House Keys Not Handcuffs – Homeless organizing, Art and Politics in SF” published in 2015. The way we made sure what we wrote about was accountable to what was happening and not just what three people remembered from their perspective was to go through the extensive archive of past Street Sheet articles. We reference the articles as “Real Time” documentation of the events we describe.

With the Coalition publishing a newspaper, as a community organization, we’re letting everyone know what is happening — at the time it is happening — people learn directly what’s really happening and by connecting the dots from year to year we get a true history of the events as they unfold in “Real Time.” No individual opinion piece, no BS. Straight up street outreach, workgroup meetings, community forums, research and artwork compiled into a compelling narrative to bring to life the artistic, creative brilliance and talents of our community.

I am sure this is not a unique experience of mine but when I was at the Coalition and people would ask me what the Coalition does, I would mention our civil rights, our housing, our family work, etc. and they would kind of look at me like “Oh, what’s that?” Then I would say “and we also publish the Street Sheet.”  Nine times out of 10, they would say “Oh!!! The Street Sheet, I know that.”

People, like me, may come and go – the true power of the COH and the Street Sheet is staying true to its mission, being fearless and never ever becoming the system we were created to change.

To everyone who has ever contributed artwork, poetry, articles and managing the process of putting out the paper – congratulations.

To the thousands of people who have donated and supported getting the paper out continuously for 30 years, thank you and congratulations.

And to the many thousands of people who have purchased and hopefully read the Street Sheet please know it is you who have kept it going and congratulations for caring enough to learn about homelessness from the community of people living in it.