GroundCover is joining street papers across the globe, as well as sister papers in Detroit and Traverse City, to celebrate International Vendor Appreciation Week Feb 3 through 10. The annual celebration commemorates more than 9,000 street newspaper vendors worldwide.
GroundCover is a local newspaper sold and written by low-income and homeless people in Washtenaw County. GroundCover vendors buy newspapers as independent contractors of the nonprofit to sell to pedestrians in Ann Arbor and neighboring locations.
Susan Beckett, publisher of GroundCover News, started the company nine years ago when she saw a need in the community after the 2008 recession. In the past, GroundCover has celebrated International Vendors Appreciation Week by inviting community members to open houses or selling newspapers with local community and government members. This year, Beckett says, they decided to try a different approach.
“As we were planning for this week this year, a couple vendors said that they want to celebrate by spreading awareness about the city paper and showing the community to know that selling GroundCover is legitimate work,” Beckett said.
Lit Kurtz, who lost her teaching job in Detroit during a large layoff of approximately 4,000 teachers in 2012, discovered GroundCover after she was evicted from her house and left without permanent housing.
Kurtz saw this vending opportunity as a business introduction and potential for financial growth. Since 2014, she has been writing and selling GroundCover newspapers, and has been vocal about how this industry has changed her life. Kurtz says there are difficulties in securing a job when permanent housing is unavailable, and GroundCover gives work to persons in the midst of housing issues.
“When you are living homeless or without conventional housing, you’re living without access to showers, laundry, storage, which means you can’t always be presentable as you’d like for a job interview or for holding down a mainstream job,” Kurtz said. “So GroundCover meets you where you’re at — on the street — and puts something in your hands that you can sell to the public.”
Kevin Spangler, owner and founder of Boober Tours, a local pedicab service that works with recovering drug addicts, was a vendor for GroundCover News before he molded their business model into his own local vending service.
Spangler believes in a second-chance job philosophy, providing work for those who may not be able to obtain work because of their personal history. Spangler also provides programs for recovering employees to enroll in, and says vending services give productive opportunities to people struggling in the community.
“…I think the vendor’s importance is that we are contributing something positive to the community,” Spangler said. “We are providing a positive newspaper and we’re not just asking people for money. We’re at the level of trying to get back on our feet. Same thing with Boober Tours — I structured my business like GroundCover, creating a second-chance job for people in recovery.”
Hussain Ali, Public Policy senior and president of Michigan Movement — a student organization focused on providing aid and relief to people experiencing homelessness in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County — has been working to spread awareness about GroundCover.
Ali says GroundCover adds an important aspect to the community, and provides meaningful content to the community while simultaneously creating cohesion among the public.
“GroundCover News vendors and Boober Tours offer the community, the city of Ann Arbor, and the University of Michigan a way to recognize that homelessness and poverty exist in our community, and that they’re able to generate an income in a meaningful and impactful way — defeating stereotypes and stigma about this population that students, professors or Ann Arbor residents might have,” Ali said. “Meanwhile the community has become more aware that they are here, and that we are one community.”
Beckett wants the Ann Arbor community to celebrate this week with vendors by respecting and recognizing the hard work it takes to sell a product.
“If someone notices that a vendor has done a particularly good job in some aspect of the sales process, compliment them, even if you cannot purchase one,” Beckett said. “Selling these newspapers is legitimate work, and some members of the community see it as glorified panhandling, but it’s not. We as a community should challenge that idea, and show our vendors appreciation.”