While people normally read newspapers to find out what’s happening in the world, a group of homeless individuals hope to use the print media to provide economic relief, empowerment and a sense of community.
The monthly street newspaper Groundcover, founded in April 2010, provides job opportunities and serves as a collective voice for people facing tough financial conditions. Seventy-five people total have been trained at seminars provided by the newspaper, which contains articles on numerous topics as well as advertisements from local businesses. The paper is now garnering greater support from University students.
Vendors receive 10 free papers to sell and can subsequently buy additional papers for people to purchase for 25 cents each. The paper sells for $1 per copy.
Groundcover publisher Susan Beckett said the newspaper plays an important role for homeless people by offering them a source of income.
“The way the economy is right now, there are so many people who have no alternative,” Beckett said. “(For one vendor) that dollar is what lets him do his laundry.”
Currently, the newspaper has 25 active vendors. The seminars the 75 people have attended include classes on advanced selling, basic computing and writing for potential contributors to Groundcover.
Beckett described Groundcover’s content as “eclectic,” which ranges from interviews with members of the Ann Arbor community to articles on how to reduce one’s carbon footprint.
“We want people to buy the paper, we want people to enjoy the paper and 12 pages of poverty and homelessness can get pretty depressing,” Beckett said. “Typically, a quarter or less of our content is about that. There’s a lot that’s local community news, in-depth features about interesting businessmen, people around town, things going on.”
When she asked vendors around the city to distribute copies of Groundcover, Beckett said she was surprised at the initial reaction. Many of the sellers expressed a desire to write for the newspaper.
“It was an interesting response, especially the writing — I had not anticipated that,” Beckett said.
Tony, who requested to keep his last name anonymous, grew up in Grosse Pointe, Mich. and has been selling newspapers on the corner of East Liberty and Main Streets since last summer. He became unemployed following the collapse of his once-prosperous business.
“I went everywhere looking for a job. I couldn’t find one,” he said. “Everywhere I went, I got turned down. But I said, ‘I could sell a paper for a dollar.’”
Tony said he hopes to write an article for Groundcover one day. But until then, he is grateful for the opportunity to work as a vendor because the job has improved his life.
Despite having to endure days when the temperature in Ann Arbor drops 20 degrees below zero or reaches a heat index of 115, Tony said he enjoys working as a vendor for Groundcover because it allows him to interact with community members.
Groundcover was created after Beckett visited her daughter about a year and a half ago in Seattle, where she came across the city’s street newspaper, Real Change.
Initially, her idea was not well-received, but Beckett eventually contacted the North American Street Newspaper Association and received a $1,000 start-up donation by 1Matters, which also provided funding to launch street newspapers in Toledo, Ohio and Detroit.
Beckett said the majority of people who buy Groundcover are Ann Arbor residents, rather than University students or faculty.
“Sales in the University area generally have been way, way lower than anywhere else,” Beckett said. “I think part of it is because of the lack of publicity to that particular community.”
However, in an effort to remedy this, Education junior Marquise Williams plans to start a Groundcover Club by the end of the semester to increase awareness of the newspaper among the University community. He hopes to recruit students to help the Groundcover staff, organize workshops for the vendors and increase awareness about poverty and homelessness.
“Hopefully, in time, people will begin to be more receptive to the paper and begin buying the paper,” Williams said.
Groundcover currently has more than 15 regular advertisements from local businesses, many of which have provided resources to help the newspaper and its vendors. Beckett said Elmo’s Main Street T-Shirts has donated waist aprons and T-shirts for the vendors to wear while they distribute their publication.
“Every new vendor goes to Elmo, and he lets them pick out the color that they want and he gives them two free T-shirts on the spot,” Beckett said. “He’s just so generous.”
John Roos, owner of Roos Roast Coffee — which is located on Rosewood Street and is sold in a number of Ann Arbor cafés and restaurants — said he is proud his business was the newspaper’s first advertiser because he supports the opportunities the paper brings to those without a job or home.
“Some people were like, ‘Why should you advertise there? It’s not your demographic,’” Roos said. “That didn’t even come into my mind.”
— Sydney Berger and Steve Zoski contributed to this report.