Erica Smith and the staff of Word on the Street -- a new homeless newspaper in Pittsburgh that is currently in the works -- have one less obstacle in their path to a first issue.
The city has agreed to waive the vendor license fees normally required for anyone to sell wares in public, according to Smith, a coordinator and case manager with the local homeless outreach group Operation Save-A-Life.
"We have to say we've never seen the wheels of bureaucracy spin so fast," Smith wrote in an open e-mail sent to state Sen. Jim Ferlo's office. "In getting those vendor license fees waived, you have helped us overcome what we anticipated to be a major hurdle in our endeavor and you have our deepest gratitude."
Smith was initially concerned that Word on the Street, which will be distributed and written in part by homeless people, would have to pay the license fee of $307 per person. But after an article in City Paper ("Group hopes to start homeless newspaper in the city," CP, June 26, 2008), and with help from one powerful ally, the vendors will be allowed to sell the monthly papers free of charge.
Ferlo, who is also a former city councilman, put in a few calls to the city on behalf of the vendors, and says he found no resistance to waiving the fees.
"After I read [the] article, obviously I was concerned mainly because I went through this in the past with city council where there was an attempt at one point to charge the newspapers for the boxes they have on the street," Ferlo says. "Whether it's a stationary vending box or a person on the street, I feel they are protected under free speech."
Personally, Ferlo is also supporting the paper with a $500 donation. Word on the Street vendors will sell the papers for a suggested donation of $1 (profiting 75 cents after paying a quarter for each paper). Smith says she hopes to have the first issue out in August.
Ferlo is encouraging Pittsburghers to support the paper, calling it a more productive alternative to panhandling for the city's homeless.
"You never know what's going to happen to somebody," he says. "So when initiatives like this take place, I think it's important to be supportive at any level."