Imagine the next time you pass the man selling a newspaper on the corner downtown. But this time is different. The change from this morning’s breakfast is still in your hand. You hand the money to the man, and he sells you a newspaper with the headline, “Our Paper: Building Lives”. As you go about the workday, the newspaper rustles amongst your briefcase, and you read it realizing it is dedicated to Louisville’s homeless.
Our Paper Louisville, Louisville’s newly published street newspaper, is made up of the stories of the city’s homeless and by the city’s homeless. When the publisher of Our Paper Louisville, Bob Millard, moved to Louisville less than a year ago, he took on the Herculean task of giving a voice to the homeless in Louisville in the form of a street newspaper.
“Louisville has never had a street newspaper,” Millard said, “and there are a lot of infrastructures here to help homeless people.” After talking with Nashville’s successful street newspaper, The Contributor’s, circulation and editorial staff, Millard decided to take the idea of a street newspaper to Louisville. “I’m not from Kentucky, but this place feels like home. So I said, I’m just going home,” said Millard.
Millard describes himself as “publisher, editor, writer, chief cook and bottle washer.” And with several other dedicated people involved in Our Paper Louisville, the task of a street newspaper is great and the challenges are even greater in giving a voice to the homeless of Louisville.
With the February and March issue under her belt, Our Paper Louisville copyeditor and writer, Lara Kinne admits at first she “wasn’t sure what a street newspaper was,” but Kinne says, “I love what it’s about now.” With a passion for giving a voice to the Louisville’s homeless, Kinne works with Our Paper Louisville in between her time as a student at the University of Louisville.
In the first edition of Our Paper Louisville, Jessica Holley Stewart tells her story of homelessness. She writes telling her story of homelessness in Hollywood, “I have had the fortune of great misfortune.” Stewart’s story may seem unusual, but the story of homelessness in American cities of success, wealth and economic flourishing has become a common modern trope.
Millard has an ability to relate to the ups and downs of Louisville’s homeless, who work as vendors of Our Paper Louisville. After around 20 years in the newspaper business “doing everything but circulation,” Millard was laid off for seven months while working for the government. “I lost my home, and you just don’t think that’s going to happen to you,” said Millard.
Bob Millard is the founder and publisher of Our Paper Louisville, a street newspaper.
In the jobless months of house sitting and house surfing with friends, Millard was fortunate to never live on the streets. But he knows what it is like to not have a home, to not have a job and to not have a voice. “You have a college education, you have a master’s degree, you work hard, and you’ve got experience. But (homelessness) has happened to more and more people since 2007,” said Millard.
In 2009 there were about 6,000 homeless individuals, who were counted, in Kentucky and more than 1,500 were in the Louisville area alone, according to a study by University of Louisville’s Kent School of Social Work.
Millard trains homeless vendors to sell Our Paper Louisville, and then they buy the paper at half of the cover price and sell it for the cover price of $1.50. Millard is clear in that vendors of Our Paper Louisville “don’t use this to panhandle.”
The idea of a street newspaper isn’t new, but taking the voices and writing of Louisville’s homeless is new. Kinne said of Our Paper Louisville, “it gives writers a place to put their words and it gives a voice to people, who don’t normally get it in print.”
Some homeless vendors of Nashville's The Contributor have made it off of the streets, according to Millard.
Kinne said, “In our first issue Nathan Green told his story, and you see a different face of that part of Louisville.” Green, who was once homeless and living on the streets of Louisville, is now a mentor at The Healing Place. Green writes his story of not only of homelessness in Louisville, but of “peace, acceptance and compassion (replacing) resentment, intolerance and anger in (his) heart.”
While Louisville’s street newspaper, Our Paper Louisville, is gaining momentum, other street newspapers throughout the country have already weathered challenges and even made it possible for some homeless vendors to get off of the streets. Street Sense, Washington D.C.’s street newspaper’s once homeless vendor, Eric Thompson-Bey said, “What keeps me focused a lot is selling papers. If you only knew how much this paper helps me,” in a Street Sense documentary.
“In homelessness you can forget who you are,” said Mary Otto, Editor-in-Chief of Street Sense, “and the world can forget who you are, too.” Street newspapers, such as Our Paper Louisville, strive to give a voice to the homeless in a world that sometimes has forgotten that they are lost.
Taking the idea of a street newspaper, which exists throughout the world, to Louisville’s homeless, Bob Millard doesn’t strive to solve homelessness in Louisville. “We don’t have any grand ideas. Homelessness is a very complex issue. There’s not a one-size fits all fix,” said Millard. What Our Paper Louisville does do is lend a voice to the city’s homeless and lend a hand up, rather than a hand out.
Photo Credits to Bob Millard