It must be a sign of the times. A wonderful newspaper for the poor and homeless in Oakland and Berkeley is being defunded by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Evidently large AFSC donors prefer to focus on nationwide issues. The decision was made behind closed doors, with the only explanation being "lack of funds".
STREET SPIRIT is a weekly newspaper that is distributed by homeless people. They ask for a dollar in return for the paper, and for some, this is their only income. Edited by Terry Messman, STREET SPIRIT has, for 22 years, reported on issues of housing, justice, mental health, as well as public attitudes concerning the poorest of the poor in the East Bay. It gives these people an outlet for their creativity, publishing their poetry, stories and artwork. It gives them respect and hope, sometimes transforming their lives.
By highlighting injustice, STREET SPIRIT has greatly influenced public policy. When laws are passed making it difficult for the homeless to survive, STREET SPIRIT raises a ruckus and often gets them repealed or modified. When unscrupulous landlords evict elderly or sick tenants in order to raise rent outrageously, STREET SPIRIT'S reporting exposes them. It is an important educational tool for administrators and lawmakers whose decisions impact the poor and homeless.
STREET SPIRIT maintains a high quality of investigative journalism and integrity. It serves as a model for other papers across the country. It also serves to build community among people who would otherwise be isolated in their misery.
We live in an era of multiple calamities. Environmental disasters abound. Fascism threatens this country. Disenfranchised groups of all sorts are clamoring for justice. A local endeavor to serve the poor, no matter how highly successful, no longer takes priority for the wealthy philanthropists.
But the community that serves and is served by STREET SPIRIT is planning to continue, scrambling to find ways to survive without the ongoing support of AFSC. This paper is too valuable to lose. And perhaps the effort to exist with local support will actually strengthen the paper. It's too soon to tell.
You can read STREET SPIRIT at http://thestreetspirit.org. You can sign up for weekly alerts there, and also make donations.