For several years now, I have been watching in dismay as some grubby offshoot of Gresham’s Law became the law of the urban street corner:
People whose hearts bleed red with simulated compassion will no doubt chide me for my lack of sensitivity. “Walk a mile in their shoes,” they’d say. Actually, most of them seem to have better shoes than I do, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t walk from the shelters, which tend to be west of downtown, all the way to Penn freaking Square.
But causing me annoyance is hardly a hanging offense. (Otherwise, there’d be a worldwide rope shortage right about now.) What’s happening here is that people who do need help, and I presume there are a few such on the streets, are going to be spurned because we can’t distinguish between who’s really begging and who’s really bogus. And locking up everyone who asks for spare change runs into serious First Amendment issues, which is not something to be encouraged.
I wrote that six years ago. I was not at all expecting that it might be possible to come up with a marker to distinguish the actual homeless from the unreasonable facsimiles thereof; the city was trying to license individual panhandlers, but all else being equal, I’d prefer a private-sector solution, were one possible.
This is where The Curbside Chronicle came in. It’s a street paper, a publication by and for people who live in the streets, an idea with at least 100 years of tradition under its tattered belt. (See, for instance, Hobo News, which flourished around 1915.) The Chronicle started last year, and publishes bi-monthly.
The operation is fairly simple. Vendors are staked to 15 copies of the magazine, which sell for $2 “suggested donation.” After that, they can get more for 75 cents each. How many can they sell in a couple of months? I’m not sure, but the Chronicle says that “To date, we have helped six vendors find and sustain housing!”
Issue 11, out now, contains a startling pictorial called “How I See OKC”:
We paired local photographers with Curbside Chronicle vendors and friends experiencing homelessness. These pictures seek to open people’s eyes to what the homeless see on a daily basis, as well as share parts of their stories… Vendors titled and captioned all of their photos in their own words with what they want the community to take away from their images.
Some of those captions may well break your heart even mine. (I came entirely too close to joining their numbers three decades ago, which helps to prevent cynicism and which informs my irritation with those few poseurs whose panhandling conceals a perfectly ordinary suburban lifestyle.)
What can a 32-page color glossy do that years of activism and scores of governmental actions can’t? It’s perhaps too early to tell. But if the Chronicle is accomplishing anything at all, it’s way ahead of the activists and the politicians.
Incidentally, my copy of Issue 11 (two bucks) was sealed in a freezer bag, an acknowledgment of the fact that the weather by the side of the road is capricious at best.