Columbus street paper crowdfunds to save publication and vendors

A street paper in Columbus, Ohio has turned to crowdfunding so it can continue to support its vendors through winter.

A recent funding loss of $30,000 from a local church had put the fate of Street Speech and its vendors in jeopardy. Facing a monthly shortfall of $3,000, editor Jess Peacock knew he had to raise money fast if he wanted to keep the paper alive.

Street Speech cover June 2015.The day after being told by his board that, barring a financial change, the paper would fold at the end of November, Jess started a GoFundMe campaign to save Street Speech.

“My short term goal was raising enough funds to keep the program afloat until the end of February, that way our vendors would be through the holidays and the coldest months of the year,” said Jess.

Concerned readers responded. Within ten days of the campaign starting on 18 September, more than 90 backers helped raise the $9,840 needed to keep the paper running for a further three months.

It’s a temporary relief for Jess and his team. Additional funding has secured the paper until February 2016 but beyond that, the future of the publication remains uncertain.

Launched in 2008, Street Speech offers a lifeline to 60 homeless and formerly homeless vendors across Columbus, Ohio. If the paper were to fold, Jess said: “It would be nothing short of devastating.”

He added: “Our vendors rely on the Street Speech program to put food on their plates, keep a roof over their heads, to take care of their families.

“Without it, many of them would undoubtedly be thrust back into the already overflowing shelter system, or at a very minimum be relying even more on the social welfare system of Columbus.

“But they are also aware of how quickly we raised the funds to stay open through February, so there’s hope and excitement as well. They know that we will do everything within our power to keep them employed through Street Speech.”

“Our vendors rely on Street Speech to put food on their plates, keep a roof over their heads, to take care of their families. They know that we will do everything within our power to keep them employed.”

For vendors like Eleanor Subere the loss of Street Speech would be a huge blow.

“I wouldn’t know what to do,” she said. “Street Speech has helped me get on the bus and get something to eat.”

The monthly street paper is produced by the nonprofit advocacy group Columbus Coalition for the Homeless. As well as providing a source of income to people living in poverty, the paper acts as a voice for vulnerable in the community while advocating on poverty, homelessness and social justice issues.

Despite the recent crowdfunding success, Jess admits there are many barriers to year-round fundraising. Among them is a lack of awareness about the work of Street Speech and its vendors.

But Jess says the paper’s recent financial worries may actually yield a positive outcome.

“After the coverage of our potential closure in the local news, I have heard from many people who gave us money saying, ‘I didn’t know this was an actual job. This is really important!’” he added.

“This whole unfortunate turn of events could turn into a big positive, as the crisis has definitely created an awareness of the program that may not have existed previously.”

You can donate to the Street Speech fundraising campaign here and continue to show your support by visiting the Street Speech Facebook page.