More than 20,000 people in Wisconsin experience homelessness, according to a 2019 report from the Institute for Community Alliances. Among those are vendors for Street Pulse newspaper, a Dane County publication whose mission is to amplify the voices of individuals experiencing homelessness and encourage advocacy in the community. WPR’s Alyssa Allemand introduces us to one of the Street Pulse vendors.
Whenever I go to Trader Joe’s, there are three things always on my grocery list: matcha ice cream, a couple boxes of chicken tikka masala, and a copy of “Street Pulse” newspaper.
If you, too, are a frequent Trader Joe’s shopper on Madison’s west side, you may have noticed Chris Hubbard, a vendor for “Street Pulse” who spends his days selling newspapers.
Hubbard has been experiencing homelessness for ten years. Before that, he worked in the Capital Newspapers pressroom, which happens to be where issues of “Street Pulse” are printed.
Hubbard said it’s hard to find employment after losing a job, because once something is on your record, it’s there for all future employers to see. But with “Street Pulse,” “All I had to do was walk in and shake a guy’s hand and I was hired like the olden days,” he said.
“So the first couple of years, I was like some of the other homeless, like sitting on the bench all day, not doing really anything, hanging out at the library” Hubbard said. “So this was doing something — not real hard work, just holding a paper and hoping someone would buy a couple.”
He’s been a “Street Pulse” vendor for seven years.
Karen Andro, who has experienced homelessness herself, is the former editor-in-chief of the newspaper and former president of the “Street Pulse” board of directors. She is currently the director of Hope’s Home Ministries at First Church in downtown Madison.
“The topic of homelessness is so diverse and complex,” Andro said. “It isn’t one issue … it’s not a cookie cutter problem and it’s not a cookie cutter solution.”
She said the goal of the newspaper is to “provide job readiness for vendors” by helping them build on their skills and passions.
“Building upon job readiness is one thing, but it’s even just as simple as feeling good about a person, feeling good about themselves, feeling a sense of purpose,” she added.
“Street Pulse” is run by volunteers. Vendors purchase newspapers for 50 cents per copy to then sell the issues around Madison. Their income is tips from selling the papers. The suggested donation from the public is $1 per copy, but any amount is welcome.
Like most things, the pandemic has had an impact on “Street Pulse.” Normally, the goal is to publish an issue of the paper every month. But there was a lull after the August 2020 publication; Street Pulse came back for a holiday special in January 2021 and another issue in May 2021.
Joel Girard is president of Street Pulse’s board of directors and the resident services manager for YWCA Madison. He’s also former lead guest service specialist at The Beacon, a resource center for people without homes in Madison.
Girard said capacity restrictions at businesses has been the hardest part of the pandemic for “Street Pulse” vendors. They aren’t always allowed to sell on business’ property because they would count as one of their guests.
Another obstacle, both amid the pandemic and prior, is having enough writers to fill an issue of the newspaper.
“We used to (print) monthly, but we’re just not having the articles to write right now and the writers,” Girard said. “So we encourage people to write, but that’s kind of been a big draw, too,” Girard said. “No one wants to buy a paper that only has, like, two pages.”
When Hubbard doesn’t have newspapers to sell, he relies on photography prints to bring in some cash. I have six of his photos hanging on my refrigerator. The back of the photos all say the same thing: “Stay happy 🙂 – Chris Hubbard.”
“I don’t need to have every refrigerator in Wisconsin have my photo, but … my ego then would increase,” he said. “Some people want the paper, some people, they want just a photo. And then I’d like to keep everybody happy and maximize my money, too, at the same time.”
With his earnings, Hubbard does his best to take a trip to visit his mother in Florida every year — a chance for him to compensate for Wisconsin winters, relax and shower twice a day.
One time, Andro said she was with Hubbard as he was selling copies of “Street Pulse.” She was asking people walking by if they wanted to purchase a newspaper.
“And then Chris said to me, ‘Karen, don’t do that,’” Andro said. “He said, ‘I have my own style… My style is people come to me.’”
Andro and Girard both have wishes and goals for the future of “Street Pulse.” They aim to get youth in the community involved, promote education and advocacy around the issue of homelessness and improve “Street Pulse’s” website. They also want to diversify the “Street Pulse” board and share a wider range of experiences in their work.
“(We) definitely want to get more voices from people who are on the street and who have gotten off the street, or whatever that looks like to them, because it’s an individual journey for everybody,” Girard said. “I’d like to have more vendors and be in more locations, you know … whatever makes it best for the vendors.”
Andro shares the same objective.
“What I’m hopeful about is in Dane County and Madison and our continuum of care, I’m seeing very big changes in representation of individuals who are sharing voice at the policy level of people’s experience of barriers,” she said.
To support and learn more about Dane County’s resources for those experiencing homelessness, click here.
MUSIC: “Pulse” by IDER