- May 18th, 2018
- by Meredith Cummings
- in Education, Interviews, Journalism, Travel, Video
- Leave a comment
Street Sheet, San Francisco
11:30 a.m., San Francisco, California, June 30, 2017
T.J. Johnston has a story that’s straight out of a movie.
He discovered journalism accidentally, through a free class offered by Media Alliance. The class included homeless people, and did some impactful, investigative reporting on “poverty pimping nonprofits.”
Ultimately, Johnston became homeless himself.
“I’m not even quite sure you could qualify it as an irony but I suddenly found myself in the same circumstances that a lot of people find themselves in,” Johnston said. “The journalist who covers homelessness finds himself without housing. I’ve been pretty much making do in the shelter system ever since.”
Now he heads up Street Sheet as an assistant editor. In the gritty Tenderloin neighborhood in downtown San Francisco, past scores of neighborhood people hanging out, through a red door and up a tiny, thin stairwell, is Street Sheet. I am there during Pride Week, in the same neighborhood where the first resistance to police sparked the Gay Liberation Movement.
Street Sheet reminds me of a college newsroom, and I realize that I’m a long way (geographically and metaphorically) from the polished halls of Sports Illustrated or Buzzfeed. Shopping carts line the newsroom, which has walls covered by posters with slogans about social issues.
Street Sheet started out as a newsletter in 1989 as an offshoot of the Coalition on Homelessness. It recently underwent a major redesign with help from working artists.
“Most of it is done by volunteers,” Johnston said. “We’re able to get the word out on the issues that homeless people and low-income people face. That’s pretty much an accomplishment in itself. We’ve been doing it for three decades now.”
The staff welcomes me until I’m rightly called out for being from Alabama. (The day before I visit, the governor of California issued a travel ban to seven states, including Alabama. This was getting a lot of news coverage in Alabama due to its potential impact on football, but in California the focus wasn’t football, but Alabama’s laws that target prospective LGBT people who want to adopt.)
At Street Sheet, there were certainly bigger fish to fry. Call it public service journalism or advocacy journalism, but the reporters at Street Sheet work hard to shine light on issues that affect the homeless and people in need. At Street Sheet, they do social justice loud and proud.
They hit the streets to sell papers as an alternative to panhandling. Dozens of local ordinances forbid that, along with other homeless activity, which could include sleeping, sitting and hanging out. There are another dozen or so state ordinances that restrict the activity of homeless people.
“San Francisco is the most criminalizing of homeless people throughout the state of California,” Johnston tells me.
Street Sheet Vendor Manager, Scott Nelson, oversees people who choose to sell the paper on the streets. Nelson explains how the system helps homeless people in the area and gives them an alternative to panhandling.
“Some street newspapers charge 10 — 50 cents per copy. We don’t do that because we want our vendors to be able to impart the information that the Coalition wants people to know about homelessness and the struggle. So we have a lot of interesting articles about that and if we impose a fee, we would have less vendors getting less papers and we would have less papers out there.”
Street Sheet Vendor Manager Scott Nelson explains the process for selling papers.
Inextricably linked to social justice, the mission of Street Sheet extends to watching out for those who cannot help themselves, and giving voice to the voiceless.
Next up in the #followmylede series: Chronicling journalism in 2017, the home stretch: The final leg of my 10,000 mile #followmylede project
Reblogged with permission from a post with the same title at Medium.com, published August 26, 2017.