He is Vendor 17, homeless, poor, in recovery – and hawking news to make a meager living.
For Robert Salo, 56, from Farmington Hills, making a small living off of selling the monthly street newspaper, Groundcover, for $1 apiece is better than nothing.
The newspaper, dedicated to the homeless population in Ann Arbor, has 25 regular vendors, but has trained 75 potential vendors since its start-up about a year ago.
Anybody that falls in the low-income bracket or is homeless can apply to be a vendor and upon completion of the training, they will be given 10 free papers as a start-up. Once vendors sell the newspapers, they have to purchase more at 25 cents apiece, and suddenly they become entrepreneurs.
Susan Beckett, 50, of Ann Arbor, is the publisher of Groundcover, who got it started in July 2010 by contacting the North American Street Newspaper Association. She was granted a $1,000 start-up donation by 1Matters, which also funded street newspapers in Detroit and parts of Ohio including Toledo.
But her idea was not initially well-received.
“After a lot of discouragement, I couldn’t ignore 1Matters help,” Beckett said. “I thought ‘how could I not do this?’”
Groundcover’s content ranges from features on community members to addressing several homelessness aspects such as trash hopping and can collecting.
Beckett describes the content as “eclectic,” and leaves most story ideas up to the contributors. But she makes it a point to profile the vendors and keeps most content homeless-based.
For now, all contributors donate their work for the sake of the newspaper, and the editor, Laurie Lounsbury, works on a volunteer basis as well.
“At this point, nobody makes any money off of Groundcover except for the vendors and the printer,” Beckett said.
Originally from Waterford, Salo came to Ann Arbor especially for the recovery community and the help Ann Arbor offers the homelessness. After staying at the Delonis Center, Salo was referred to Beckett to find work.
“I thought this would be a good chance for me to get on the ground to meet people in Ann Arbor and become financially independent, too,” he said. “I was in a new community and needed get myself out there in a positive light.”
She hopes it fills a niche for which it was intended.
“There was a lot of concern about people who were excluded from traditional shelters because they wouldn’t follow the rules,” she said. “They were addicted to drugs or alcohol and they wouldn’t refrain from use. And also, there was concern about people particularly during bad weather, during the hours where shelter wasn’t available. People for instance at the Delonis Center, they have to be out by 7:30 in the morning. They can’t come back until 5 p.m., so that’s a lot of hours to just be out on the streets.”
Selling newspapers gives them a mission, a little cash, and some hope.
With the obligation of selling papers to make a living, Groundcover vendors also have to follow a code of conduct in order to sell the paper. In each print paper, Groundcover encourages readers and residents to report violations of the code of conduct.
“Even though we don’t ask about a vendor’s background, we do have rules for the vendors to abide by so we have a framework for the vendors to work with,” Beckett said. “Vendors are allowed to receive more than the $1 for the paper, but are not allowed to ask for more.
And the community for the most part has been more than welcoming of the project.
The Tecumseh Herald, the printer of the paper has provided deeply discounted rates to print. Elmo’s t-shirt shop has donated aprons and T-shirts to the vendors to be worn while distributing the publication.
“Once the vendor completes orientation, they go to Elmo’s and pick out the two colors (of T-shirts) they would like and an apron,” Beckett said. “We provide advertising for their generosity.”
Shelley, 50, a vendor for Groundcover who doesn’t want her last name disclosed, has been selling for a few months. She described her living situation as “one step from homelessness,” admitting that she needs the extra cash from Groundcover to scrape by.
“It’s helped me pick up the tail ends of bills and I can buy essentials like groceries and toilet paper,” she said. “It’s also helped me come out of my shell in a more personal way to.”
For more information on Groundcover, visit: http://groundcovernews.com/index.htm