Median Income

Homeless people hawk three different publications on curbs all over the Valley. What's brought about the proliferation of street sheets, and who, if anyone, benefits?

Scott hasn't tracked advertising results, but is convinced dividends are reaped. "Whether or not it's profitable for business," he says, "it shows you have a concern for the community, and people can translate that however they want."

The Grapevine reads like the product of a small group of politically passionate people on a mission. The July 4 issue listed a "declaration of grievances" decrying tyranny and despotism, and it got as far as Number 6. "Due to limited space," it read, "the remaining 32 grievances will have to wait until next week."

Articles are often reprinted in subsequent editions. One recent issue, about half of which was written by Grapevine founders Philip Janes (the paper's editor), David Broome (copy editor) or Barr himself, included summaries of cases before the state Supreme Court, an essay on antiauthoritarianism by a prison inmate doing time for failure to pay taxes, stories on Gulf War Syndrome and the Sonoran Desert Museum, and a series of brief book and recording reviews.

Barr wrote a short piece on homelessness. He outlined an imaginary scenario wherein a man loses his job as the result of depression over a divorce. Drowning his sorrows at a local bar, the man loses his front teeth in a fight with bar patrons, can't afford to get them fixed, looks terrible at job interviews, falls behind on rent and ends up on the streets.

"It is in emergencies such as this that the Grapevine newspaper often comes to the rescue," Barr writes. The homeless man, he says, receives copies of the paper with a phone call. "He is now employed making cash money that can be immediately converted into food. Now, if friends or associates inquire as to his new job classification, he can always reply, 'It's just something I'm doing to help me make ends meet.'"

The story ends with the man making enough to get off the street, get those teeth fixed and land a job, finally buying a Grapevine from another down-on-his-luck vendor.

At its peak, the Grapevine was printing 60,000 copies an issue.
That was just before Barr and Leigh Butler, the sprightly woman who sank $62,000 into the operation, bifurcated bitterly in March.

This summer, Butler began publishing Southwest Solutions, a health and social issues paper with a national scope.

Then last month, a former Grapevine driver unveiled the low-budget View Points, the only one of the three papers set up specifically with homeless people in mind.

Barr figures he's got 100 to 125 homeless people pushing papers these days. Since he and Butler parted ways, circulation has fallen to about 40,000 a month, he says--5,000 issues of each paper hitting the streets twice a week. That number could double with cooler weather approaching and more vendors willing to stand outside and work.

Vendors pay $5 per 50-paper bundle, or 10cents a copy, which they then sell for 50cents apiece. Drivers often will hand over a dollar and decline the change. But sometimes they'll hand over a dollar and even decline the paper.

"I've read articles in the Grapevine a couple of times," says Margaret Quintana of the Downtown Neighborhood Learning Center, which offers free educational services, mostly to the homeless. "And my reaction was like, 'Oh, these people [writers] are angry. I don't know if I want to read that.'"

Barr and his cohorts can, indeed, be angry. Barr once chained himself to the flagpole outside the Arizona Corporation Commission to protest a ruling against him.

Some say the Grapevine should publish more stories about homelessness, or personal narratives and poetry by homeless people. Heck, even coupons for downtown luncheon specials might not be a bad idea--anything to better encourage a reader's investment.

"It has to be more than political diatribes," says Dennis Burke, director of development for Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS), a downtown shelter for single men and the mentally ill.

But Patrick Tucker, a local homeless advocate, says the paper's content is negligible.

"I don't know that it matters to the people donating money," he says. "They're not going to make a judgment about the quality of the paper; they're going to be making a judgment about the person selling it, that whether they're out there selling pencils or pieces of gum, they're willing to work."Louisa Stark, a 13-year Valley homeless advocate who chairs the Phoenix Consortium for the Homeless and directs the Community Housing Partnership, knows several Grapevine vendors who report earnings of $15 to $20 for a good eight-to-ten-hour day."I was on this call-in talk show," she says, "and somebody called in and said, 'These people look strong and healthy. Why aren't they working?' Well, I think these people think they are working. How many of us would stand out in the sun in 112-degree weather with all that exhaust, making $2 an hour?"

Although there are plenty of minimum-wage jobs available, Stark says some eschew such jobs because they don't go far toward establishing a place of residence, anyway, not when the average one-bedroom apartment runs $450 a month, plus deposits. Moreover, recent changes in landlord-tenant laws and low vacancy rates favor landlords, and background checks are being done with more scrutiny, spitting more families into the streets."People may well say to themselves, 'Why not sell the Grapevine?'" she says. "'I can't find housing, anyway, so I'll live outside, work outside, work my own hours. I might make less money, but at least it's not routine.'"Advocates estimate that up to 80 percent of the homeless population has some sort of substance-abuse problem or mental-health condition. Others are victims of circumstance, but they generally don't stay homeless for long.The ones who don't go away are the ones with the problems that don't go away.

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