Push To Save East Bay’s Street Spirit Underway

The campaign to resurrect Street Spirit went into full swing with a benefit attracting over 100 people to the Tamarack restaurant in Oakland on July 15.

The event raised over $8,200, Street Spirit editor-in-chief Alastair Boone announced on Instagram. She told a panel audience that her goal is to raise $250,000, which would pay for printing, paying staff and covering other expenses for one year after the relaunch. 

The Berkeley-based newspaper covering homelessness in the East Bay announced in May that its publisher, the arts job training program Youth Spirit Artworks, could no longer fund the paper after June 30. Youth Spirit Artworks had been operating the paper since 2017, when it took over from the American Friends Service Committee, which had been publishing the paper since 1995. 

Boone told Street Sheet that she doesn’t exactly know which dominos need to fall into place before relaunching the paper.

“I don’t think there’s a super clear answer to this, and that’s part of what I’m sorting out right now,” she said. “I need to raise the money, but also figure out where Street Spirit will ‘live,’ so to speak. For example, are we working toward becoming our own independent nonprofit? Are we looking for another publisher (a relationship such as the one between the Coalition on Homelessness and Street Sheet), or are we trying to do some kind of hybrid thing? I don’t know yet, but I’m working with some great folks who are helping me think through my options.”

While Boone is fundraising by hosting public events and through a fiscal sponsorship with the Western Regional Advocacy Project, a San Francisco-based activist organization, Street Spirit vendors will continue to earn pocket money from selling San Francisco’s Street Sheet. A few of Street Spirit’s star vendors were on hand at the Tamarack fundraiser testifying how selling the paper improved their lives.

Vendor Derrick Hayes, known to his regular customers as “Brother Hayes,” told the panel audience that he’s housed now and was able to visit his dying mother in Florida last year, thanks to Street Spirit. 

Hayes also recalled being at the right place at the right time one day when he was selling papers on Piedmont Avenue. He thwarted the abduction of a baby by running to the would-be kidnapper, wresting the child away from his hands and knocking him out.

That incident led to a neighborhood merchant commissioning a mural likeness of Hayes on Franklin and 14th streets, one block around the corner from Tamarack.

After the fundraiser, Hayes told Street Sheet, “The store owners know me because I’m part of the street, stopping cars from being broken into. They watched out for me because I watched out for them.”

Working as a vendor had as much an impact on Hayes as the people on his beat, eventually leading him to housing. 

“The more papers I was selling, the more people I was meeting, the more network I was doing, the more help I was receiving, the more it changed my life,” he said.

Vernon Dailey, a vendor who’s usually found at the Berkeley Bowl West and the Trader Joe’s in the Grand Lake neighborhood, told Street Sheet how saddened he felt hearing the news of Street Spirit’s sudden halt.

“I even had a tear in my eye,” he said. “ Other people were feeling bad and upset like I was. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Dailey’s homelessness journey began when his wife died of cancer in 2016 and their house was eventually foreclosed on. Through his nephew who also sold the paper, he began his vending gig to supplement his Social Security benefits.

At the Tamarack panel, Dailey announced that he found housing and was moving in the following Tuesday, drawing applause from the audience.

“Gradually, I made a comeback,” he told Street Sheet when reflecting on his experience. “I’m still coming back up.”