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Tuesday, August 6, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Street Papers To Link Together

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

For two years, Real Change has given Seattle's homeless a voice and a chance to earn an income with dignity.

Now the 20-page monthly tabloid may become part of a North American alignment aimed at linking other street newspapers largely written and sold by homeless people.

Representatives of North America's street papers will gather this month in Chicago for their first summit meeting.

"This conference is about the fact that the street-newspaper movement is rapidly expanding," said Austin Lynch, a National Coalition for the Homeless conference coordinator.

He said the group will discuss, among other issues, the potential street newspapers have toward changing the plight of the homeless.

Seattle's Real Change is one of 40 street newspapers hawked in the centers of major U.S. cities. There are seven Canadian street newspapers and more than 60 in Europe.

The concept is simple: vendors, usually homeless people, receive 10 free papers. They then pay 25 cents for each additional copy, charge customers $1 and pocket the difference.

In the United States, the papers typically address social issues. But London's Big Issue street newspaper is an entertainment guide.

The papers range in size from Chicago's Streetwise - at 65,000 biweekly copies the nation's largest - to Los Angeles' Hard Times, a 10,000-copy bimonthly. Seattle's Real Change has a monthly press run of about 25,000.

"These papers are a prime example of a new breed of social programs that not only serve homeless people's immediate concerns but engage them in leadership roles," Lynch said.

Marion Sue Fischer of Seattle, formerly homeless, is a prime example of how street papers can change lives, said Timothy Harris, director of Real Change.

Fischer, 54, served on Real Change's editorial board for 18 months and contributes poems about her homeless experience.

Each issue of Real Change has delivered news, letters, poetry and art, with many articles submitted by the homeless, all screened by the paper's editorial board, which consists of homeless and formerly homeless people, social-service-agency employees and local residents.

Past issues have dealt with homeless women and the lack of shelter space in downtown Seattle.

Real Change has a $100,000 annual budget and gets its revenues from vendors, donations, subscriptions, advertising, events and grants.

The paper employs one worker full time and one part time. Twenty to 40 street people sell the tabloid.

The four-pronged thrust of this month's U.S.-Canadian Street Newspaper Summit is to establish a trade association, develop a unified identity, make street papers viable businesses, and expand the homeless news service - an online service used by homeless papers to transmit and download pertinent stories.

The summit will be co-sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, D.C., Chicago's Streetwise newspaper and Seattle's Real Change.

Real Change can be found at: http://www.speakeasy.org/realchange

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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