Jan D. Thomas
a monthly literary publication is helping homeless people
earn pocket change—and a shot at lifting themselves into
a new start: Dwayne Alado. Photo
by Teri Currie.
Dwayne Alado needed was for someone to see him for who he
really was. He wanted someone to realize that the circumstances
he was in were not a reflection of his personality or his
work ethic. At 33 years old, Alado found himself without
a job or a home, and depressed over a recent divorce and
the subsequent separation from his three children. He had
come to Albany after leaving his former home in Pittsfield,
Mass., and he was staying at the Capital City Rescue Mission
Shelter on South Pearl Street. But then an opportunity came
along, and he took it.
Someone from the Homeless and Travelers Aid Society in Albany
approached Alado about selling a monthly literary newspaper
called BIGnews as a way to earn a little money so
that he could go out and look for employment. He took advantage
of this break and started selling the paper on the corner
of Lark and State streets.
For a month, Alado hit the pavement, selling papers to passersby.
He used the money earned to buy food when he wasn’t able
to make it back to the mission in time for a meal. Sometimes
he bought his own cigarettes so he didn’t have to bum them
from someone else.
He got to know quite a few people on Lark Street, including
Tom Despart, owner of the swanky new restaurant McGuire’s.
Soon after, he was offered a job there as a dishwasher.
BIGnews] was giving me money to be able to go out
to fill out those applications and try to get a job,” says
Alado. “I used it to try to get myself in a better position.
This is how I got my job today at McGuire’s.
was only working a couple hours a week at first,” Alado
says with a smile, “and then I guess they liked the way
that I worked, because I was always on time and determined,
and now I work there full-time. I guess [BIGnews]
gave people a chance to see who I was and not judge me because
I was selling a homeless-type newspaper.”
the homeless help themselves” is the motto of BIGnews,
a newspaper designed to create transitional income opportunities
for homeless and formerly homeless persons until a greater
level of self-sufficiency can be attained. Ira Mandelker,
executive director of HATAS and cofounder of BIGnews,
explains that homeless people can become registered vendors
and sell the newspaper to earn extra cash while seeking
other forms of employment or taking part in rehabilitation
programs. The first 10 issues—sold on the street for $1
each—are given to vendors for free to help get them started
earning some money. On their second visit, vendors must
purchase five issues for 30 cents apiece, but they also
are given 15 for free. On the third visit, they can buy
10 copies at 30 cents and they are given an additional 20
free papers. On each subsequent visit, they can purchase
10 papers and they’ll be given another 10.
content of BIGnews consists of art, fiction and poetry.
All of the work published in the paper is donated by artists
and authors from around the world seeking notoriety. Just
this year at the North American Street Newspaper Association
convention in Boston, the paper won awards for Best Editorial,
Opinion or Essay, Best Art (for Street Photos), and Best
paper’s revenue comes from a combination of advertising,
grants and foundational support. Mainchance, the New York
City-based nonprofit that publishes BIGnews, actively
seeks sponsorships and subscriptions, in addition to new
advertisers, to sustain the publication. Any revenue that
the publication generates goes to support HATAS programs.
says that one of the best features of BIGnews is
the confidence and positive self-esteem it helps to build
in its vendors. Selling the paper helps the vendors shed
the negative stereotypes that people often associate with
homelessness. At the same time, it provides the homeless
with a chance to be proactive about earning money when they
might not have been given that opportunity in the job market.
made me feel good [when someone bought a newspaper],
because when most people think of the homeless, they
think of someone out there panhandling and begging, and
it wasn’t like that,” states Alado. “I was really
making an honest living, making an honest dollar. And it
gave me incentive to pitch the papers more, because this
was basically where my bread and butter was coming from.
. . . It made me feel better about myself and kind of put
me back in the mood where I knew I can do this. Because
I think I lost that for a while. It put me back to being
and Dennis Mosley, both of whom now live in Albany, were
part of BIGnews’ humble beginnings in New York City.
Mosley, who at the time worked as the director of special
projects and housing at Grand Central Neighborhood Social
Service Corporation, says that the idea for BIGnews
was gleaned from another publication, called Upward,
that was developed at a drop-in center.
started out as tips from homeless people helping other homeless
people cope with homelessness,” says Mosley of Upward.
“It was distributed free through all the shelter systems
at first, to homeless sites, from Manhattan to Queens to
Brooklyn. We got different writers and we paid them money
for each article. They were all homeless at the time
and living in the shelter at night. And the articles
that we liked, we’d put together, and the executive director
would edit it out and put that together. It was a
one-page thing and grew to be five, 10 pages.”
Upward sprang BIGnews, which was modeled after
a London-based publication called Big Issue, which
is still distributed by the homeless throughout Europe and
has even seeped overseas to parts of the United States.
Originally intended as a New York chapter of Big Issue,
BIGnews developed into a nonprofit publication geared
toward helping the homeless.
the time, Mandelker was the associate director of Grand
Central Neighborhood Social Service Corporation, which runs
Mainchance and provides social services for the homeless.
When Mandelker left New York City to come to Albany to be
the executive director of HATAS in 1999, he wanted to bring
BIGnews to the Capital Region. Finally, last month,
BIGnews hit the streets locally. Currently, 25,000
copies of BIGnews are being distributed every month
in New York City, and in its first full month in Albany,
more than 2,000 were circulated. Right now there are 33
registered vendors in the Capital Region, but most don’t
sell on a consistent basis.
should not be looked at as a pity purchase,” explains Mandelker.
“This is a quirky, eccentric, fun magazine to read. . .
. Will it be embraced by Albany? Who knows? I know it’s
being embraced by homeless people, and that’s a start. If
people like what they read, they will buy. And if they don’t
like what they read, they won’t. I think there’s a market
for this kind of edgy art and fiction in Albany.”
being a source of income for the homeless, Mendelker explains
that the newspaper fosters an entrepreneurial spirit among
those who sell it.
the homeless help themselves: Dennis Mosley.
Photo by Teri Currie.
like any other businessperson, they have to pay for their
supplies,” says Mendelker. “They have to manage their inventory.
They have to schedule their time. They have to pick good
places to market their paper. They have to work on
their people skills, because you want to be able to smile
and be charming to people you’re selling to. You want people
to want to buy from you. They’re working on their
social networking skills, as well. It’s also a great
engagement tool for employment and social-service programs
here, because when someone gets involved in this project,
they come back regularly.”
money made from the sale of the papers is the vendors’ money
vendor came to me before and said, ‘Ira, a guy walked up
to me and was interested in buying a newspaper and asked
me what happens to this money,’” Mendelker chuckles. “It’s
pretty funny, because if you went into the convenience store
across the street and wanted to buy a newspaper, can you
imagine asking the person that sold you the newspaper what
happens to that money?”
Cato, 38, has been a BIGnews vendor in both New York
City and Albany. He says that a very important part
of selling the paper is appearance. Cato claims that when
people buy a paper, it’s almost as if they are buying a
piece of the salesperson. In order for people to take him
seriously, he invests some of his profits into clothing,
boots and grooming.
see, the whole thing is that the shelters, they give you
stuff, like clothes and such, but you can’t get stuff that
fits you,” says Cato. “You got a certain body, so
I gotta invest some of that money toward my looks. I always
feel, particularly with BIGnews, it’s how you approach
people. Your appearance. That’s everything. ’Cause
sometimes people look down on people.”
Cato and Alado developed a sales pitch that emphasizes their
personalities, using a polite and personable approach when
selling papers. Cato claims to have sold thousands of papers
on the streets of New York, and Alado used to sell 35 papers
a day, six days a week in Albany. Now that Alado has a full-time
job, he does not sell the paper anymore, but Cato is still
actively involved with BIGnews.
walk around like this, like everything is all right,” explains
Cato. “You never know who they are or where people are coming
from, but there’s a hurt that you just don’t see. Some people
know how to cope with it, some can’t. But if you can get
people to participate in things like that within the shelter
system, it’s not just selling the paper, but developing
skills and not just stuffed up in a homeless shelter. That’s
a whole ’nother world. [With BIGnews], people feel
a part of it. They feel a part of something.”