Creating a New Niche in the Digital Market

Street Sense Vendor (Credit: Zoe King)

According to the 2014 Point-in-time Count of Homeless Persons in the Metropolitan Washington Region, a one day “snapshot” of the homeless population conducted by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, 7,748 people living in the District of Columbia were found to be literally homeless, an increase of 883 people from 2013. Of that grouping, 44% of people are employed, 25% are disabled and 22% are on Public Assistance.

Street Sense is a 16-page, Washington, D.C., area newspaper sold by people experiencing homelessness to help them earn an honest income. For over 10 years, Street Sense has used their unique model to carry out the organization’s dual mission of providing public education on issues of homelessness and poverty and creating economic opportunities for people experiencing homelessness. Building on the growth of online media, Street Sense is incubating a digital learning program to provide vendors with the tools to pursue the new class of jobs that the digital age has created.

The Model:

Street Sense features news, editorials, poems and art about homelessness, poverty, and other social issues. About 50% of the paper is written by homeless and formerly homeless individuals and the other articles come from staff and volunteers including journalists, students, advocates and an array of other professionals.

Street Sense vendors pay fifty cents for each paper to cover publishing costs and distribute it for a suggested donation of two dollars. Vendors choose their own sales locations, and can be found in downtown D.C., busy suburban corners, and near Metro stations usually during the lunch and evening rush hours.

The Addition:

The Street Sense Digital Marketing Certification course will aim to give participants the necessary technical skills and a solid portfolio to pursue online writing opportunities. With the ultimate goal of matching writers to freelance blogging contracts and microjobs, the new program provides a structure where not having a permanent address or interview suit will not hinder the individuals’ consideration in the hiring process. The course is designed for lasting impact giving participants the skills and tools they need to work independently and improve their lives long-term.


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