Delphia Simmons had never heard of a street newspaper until her supervisor at the Coalition On Temporary Shelter, an organization that supports the homeless, brought her a copy of One Step Away, Philadelphia's street paper.
After seeing the success of the Philly paper and researching the street paper in Ann Arbor, Mich., she questioned why Detroit didn't have a street paper -- which typically addresses issues related to poverty and homelessness and is distributed by poor or homeless vendors. She realized the difference it could make for a struggling individual in the city and launched her own street publication, Thrive Detroit, which just published its second issue this month.
"I do work in a homeless shelter, and I see first hand how a little bit of money every month -- a couple of hundred dollars every month -- can keep someone housed," Simmons said. "So, that was really the inspiration, the fact it doesn't really take a whole lot to keep someone housed."
Simmons, who has a business degree, said the paper encourages entrepreneurship by allowing participants to profit from their work and initiative.
"We do this by providing the publication for 25 cents and allowing them to sell it for one dollar and allowing them to keep 75 cents for each publication they sell." She added that to kick off people's involvement, Thrive offers vendors their first 10 papers for free.
People sometimes mistake the publication for a nonprofit, she said, but it is actually a low-profit limited liability company. The name Thrive comes from Simmons' strong interest in microfinance.
Like many street papers, Thrive covers issues that matter to the homeless and the "vulnerably housed," people on the verge of homelessness. This month's issue focuses on literacy, and November's issue included information on the Occupy Detroit movement and resources to help pay utility bills, as well as a feature the Coalition On Temporary Shelter. Most of Thrive's writers and production staff are vulnerably housed, not homeless. Organizers at other homeless papers told Simmons this is a typical situation.
"We've only had a small number, less than 10, that are actually literally homeless. So we really want to get that number up," she said. "We've asked people to tell [others] who are homeless about the opportunity."
Because Simmons does not have a degree in Journalism, she has been drawing on the experience of people who work with the local branch of the National Association of Black Journalists and a few other local groups. She has also received help from a member of the Traveler's Aid Society who previously worked with Chicago's street paper, and got some content from Model D, a web-based magazine in Detroit.
Simmons also credited 2-1-1 On the Go!, a branch of the local United Way that provides mobile field assistance to people in need, in helping get the word out about the paper.
"[They actually go] out and engage the homeless population," she said. "They've been going in vacant houses. They've been going under bridges and in the parks, and they've been excellent at distributing the paper and letting people know about it."
Simmons' hard work to get the project up and running attracted the notice of Kiva, a nonprofit organization that uses the Internet and its worldwide microfinance network to issue loans that help alleviate poverty. Kiva learned about Simmons' project from Margarita Barry, a Detroit entrepreneur who helped set up the organization's local branch.
"We all had the task of finding some emerging businesses that would be interested in microloans and that's kind of how I thought of Delphia," Barry said. "I knew she was working on her street newspaper and thought she would be a good candidate."
Kiva's Detroit board liked Simmons' proposal and agreed to loan her the funds to jumpstart her publication. Simmons also ended up becoming a board member with Kiva, and it appears her work there has only just begun. Kiva's Detroit branch recently received support from the Knight foundation, which will match loans dollar-for-dollar up to a total of $250,000.
As for the paper itself, Barry is excited about Thrive's future and believes it offers something of value to the city's homeless and struggling residents.
"I think this is a great opportunity for them to not only work, but also to learn that type of business savvy," she said. "I think that opportunity to learn is really great, and the newspaper itself has a lot of really great contributors, and it's well designed and I think it definitely has a lot of great potential."
According to The North American Street Newspaper Association's website, the benefits of street papers go far beyond economic opportunity:
For the vendor, they offer a positive experience of self-help that breaks through the isolation that many homeless people experience. They offer the public a means to reach out with their dollar to help a homeless person directly and, over time, form a caring relationship. Most street newspapers also provide homeless and/or those living on the margins of society the opportunities for expression by publishing their articles, letters and artwork. These publications build a bridge between the very poor and the wider public by helping people to understand the issues and the personal stories of those on the lowest rung of the economic ladder.
Although Thrive's first issue had some rough edges, Simmons said that her staff has experienced a very sharp learning curve. She said critiques of the first issue really helped improve the look and feel of the current edition.
Simmons encouraged anyone interested in helping Thrive expand to contact her, especially writers and people with experience securing ad revenue. It is clear in speaking with Simmons that she is very optimistic about the publication's prospects.
"I'm just waiting for it to reach that critical mass, and we're going to keep pumping it out there all winter, and hopefully by the spring there won't be a person panhandling," she said. "You'll only see a person selling the paper."
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As 2011 comes to a close, HuffPost Detroit looks to honor those who made an impact in our city this year. The 2011 Detroit Impact series will profile one organization per day until the end of the year. There are 11 organizations included in the series (see them all in the slideshow below), but there are dozens more doing good in and around Detroit. For full coverage of the people and organizations helping others, visit HuffPost Detroit Impact.
Student Mentor Partners makes private school accessible for at-risk youth in the Detroit area. The group supports more than 35 boys and girls in 11 private high schools and is dedicated to helping "the academically average or marginal student who, without proper guidance and support, may 'fall through the cracks,' become frustrated with school, and eventually drop out." Read more about Student Mentor Partners here.
InsideOut works in Detroit Public Schools to bring creative expression to students and offer its fellow an opportunity to connect with kids through the arts. "By immersing students in the joy and power of poetry and literary self-expression, InsideOut inspires them to think broadly, create bravely and share their voices with the wider world. Guided by professional writers and celebrated by publications and performances, youth learn that their stories and ideas matter and that their pens can launch them off the page into extraordinary lives." Read more about InsideOut here.
St. John Hospital and Medical Center is in the process of creating a program unlike anything else in Michigan that will give much-needed support to breastfeeding mothers. The St. John Mother Nurture Project, funded by a three-year, $1.2 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will provide support for mothers and babies and education for mothers and doctors. The hospital will work with city organizations on community outreach, which is particularly important, as over half of Detroit women do not ever breastfeed, compared to the national average of 75 percent. "What we're trying to do is change widespread community perception about breastfeeding," Paula Schreck, M.D., medical director of breastfeeding medicine, said in a statement. Read more about the St. John Mother Nurture Project here.
The Detroit Mower Gang's members are taking community spaces -- and community horticulture -- into their own hands. A roaming group of park and lawn enthusiasts mow abandoned parks that the city no longer maintains, making them usable for children. Why should you join this group, which takes one simple idea and turns it into a noticeable difference for communities? The Mower Gang lays it out on their website: "Because lawnmowers are cool and fun, Because people need us, Because no one else is going to get the job done. You will enjoy joining the Mower Gang if you want to feel the wind in your hair, you like the feeling of a job well done, you enjoy the sound of internal combustion in your ears and the smell of fresh cut grass up your nose." Read more about the Mower Gang here.
The Thrive Detroit street newspaper provides a way for those who are homeless or vulnerably-housed to become micro-entrepreneurs and begin to participate in Detroit's entrepreneurial boom. The paper provides a platform for community news and information as well as an income-producing product to be sold. Read more about Thrive Detroit here.
When long-time community group Eastern Michigan Environmental Action Council moved into their new space in August, everyone benefited. The First Unitarian-Universalist Church was struggling to maintain its large building at Cass and Forest, so the church put out a call for applications for people to take it over, on the condition that the congregation could still meet there. EMEAC's community-building idea for Cass Community Commons won UU over. "Our vision is to transform the UU space into a multi-use facility and Detroit grassroots organizing hub," EMEAC Director Diana Copeland said in a statement. The Cass Community Commons has many groups on or planned for its roster, including The Sugar Law Center, the Detroit Grassroots Cultural Arts Center, the People's Kitchen Detroit, the Detroit Media Arts Cooperative, Whole Note Healing Space, Fender Bender Detroit and the Blair Theatre. Read more about Cass Community Commons here.
Michigan Community Resources (previously known as Community Legal Resources) delivers free legal, planning and educational services to nonprofit organizations throughout Michigan that serve low-income individuals and communities, with an emphasis on community economic development. They support these organizations by providing pro bono legal services and technical assistance. The 13-year-old organization just changed its name in an effort to broaden its scope. Read more about Michigan Community Resources here.
It seems like a simple idea: Roadways should be safe for all users, whether they drive, ride public transit, bike or walk. But Detroit is the 12th-most dangerous area for pedestrians in the country and has a long way to go. That's where the Detroit Complete Streets Coalition comes in. The local arm of the national organization has been working to make the Motor City friendly to walkers and bikers since 2010. The Coalition is one of the projects of the Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative and has support from groups across the region, including city departments. So far, Complete Street renovations in Detroit have been completed or are in progress on Third St. in Midtown, Saint Jean St. on the near east side, along Michigan Avenue, and in the Conner Creek neighborhood. Read more about the Complete Streets Coalition here.
The Detroit Digital Justice Coalition has a rock-solid guiding principle: The group is working towards digital justice, bringing media and technology into education and championing digital access for all, particularly for those who have traditionally been excluded from technology. From Discovering Technology workshops to implementing community wireless Internet networks, the DDJC helps people of all ages access Internet and technology to access information, tell stories and strengthen communities. The DDJC, which started in 2009, includes several organizations that strive for digital justice. In August 2010, the coalition received $2 million in federal stimulus grants to improve community organizing and economic development. Read more about the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition here.
Black Male Engagement (BME or "be me") launched in August. It's aim is to offer support and positive reinforcement to black men who are active in their communities. The program is currently piloting in Detroit and Philadelphia, sponsored by a grant from the Knight Foundation and Open Society Foundation. The program took nominations for black men and boys engaged in their communities. Those who made it were then eligible to apply for grants up to $50,000 to continue their community work. The list of Detroit nominees is long and varied, and includes City Council Member (and former interim Mayor) Ken Cockrel Jr., ballroom dance instructor Charl Washington, barber Deon Coleman, and pastors and deacons from around the city. The grant round winners will be announced in early January.
According to founder Gloria Lowe, a former auto worker, her organization's mission is "to re-educate, retrain and rebuild a 21st century, sustainable Detroit." To do so, We Want Green, Too builds teams and teaches basic construction skills, including dry walling, painting and floor repair. They tackle Detroit's vacant and abandoned buildilngs. The group is providing jobs and renovating Detroit's housing stock at once. "We know that the greenest house is the house that's already there. All you do is take the time to rebuild it," Lowe says.