Saturday, February 9, 2019

Homelessness, Poverty and Groundcover

How are we going to solve the problem of poverty. Is it just a question of bad individual choices? For some people, it certainly is. For others it's not. An overemphasis on individual decisions can lead people to miss the big picture. 

MLK wrote that "True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring." Doing the work of "restructuring" is very dangerous and very tiring. Sometimes it is easier to concentrate on the small changes that you can make. And there's nothing wrong with that I think.  Although it is good that this non-profit organization is taking individual steps to assist people I still think that the entire society must make institutional changes so that people who have reached advanced age or who have fallen on hard times have a more robust safety net.  

I'm not sure that selling papers in freezing weather is all that different from panhandling. But if this project has helped some people transition into business owners or higher paid employees I can't say anything negative about it. We all just need to do more, that's all.

ANN ARBOR, MI - On a gray February afternoon, the temperature barely above freezing, Elizabeth “Lit” Kurtz reported for work on the sidewalk along East Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor.

She greeted passersby and made her sales pitch: $10 for a special edition of Groundcover News. Kurtz has to sell at least five copies of the special edition every day to afford the hotel room she’s stayed in for the past three years.

Before moving into a hotel, she lived in her car for a few years after she was laid off from her teaching job in Detroit in 2012 and then evicted from her apartment. Groundcover gave her a chance to improve her circumstances.

“It’s like any sort of business,” said Kurtz, 61, who has been a Groundcover vendor for six years. “We have to do our transactions.”  She’s as proud of her newspaper sales record as she is of the teaching certificate she put to use for more than 20 years.

Groundcover is a nonprofit news publication dedicated to helping people living in poverty and elevating their voices. Since 2010, the Ann Arbor publication, has been part of a network of street newspapers aiming to combat poverty and homelessness. Groundcover vendors are independent contractors who buy copies of the newspaper at a wholesale rate and then sell them on the street at a marked-up price to earn a living. Standard editions are $2 and special editions are $10.

Selling newspapers is an alternative to panhandling that allows people to gain entrepreneurial experience and share their stories if they choose to write for the publication. Groundcover also facilitates classes on financial management, mindfulness, mediation and other life skills for vendors.“The ultimate measure of success is how many people have been able to sustain themselves (by working at Groundcover),” said publisher Susan Beckett.

Groundcover has trained about 470 vendors over the years, and about a dozen people are selling the newspapers on the streets at a given time. Five Groundcover vendors sat down with The Ann Arbor News to talk about their sales experience and offer insights into day-to-day life for people living in poverty.

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