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Keep Westword Free
4

Denver Voice vendors could use a hand -- not a hand-out

The 16th Street Mall used to be a panhandlers' paradise. But one recent Friday, when I walked the mall from one end to the other on a challenge from a booster who thought it'd gone downhill, I saw nothing but busy, happy people -- and Denver Voice vendors, so polite and friendly they could have been Visit Denver ads.

Like so many newspapers these days, the Denver Voice is in financial trouble. Otherwise, though, the Voice is very unlike so many newspapers. The paper is sold by vendors -- all homeless people who get to keep the proceeds.

Since the Voice was resurrected in August 2007 and turned into a far more professional operation (one honored with a Westword MasterMind award two years ago), over 2,000 vendors have peddled the paper, increasing circulation from 1,500 papers a month to 16,000 a month, and earning an income in the meantime.

But while the money goes to the vendors, it does not do much for the paper's costs. And so, last month, the Voice started a major fundraising drive, with a goal of raising $68,000 by the end of the year to keep the paper alive.

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"In our most recent vendor survey conducted in August, roughly 33 percent of our vendors said they're using the Denver Voice to pay for some form of housing, permanent or temporary, which includes temporary stays in hotels. Sixty-six percent of our vendors said they are in some form of housing," says Tim Covi, executive director:

"Before the Voicestarted our jobs program in 2007, one of the only viable alternatives to day labor for the homeless was panhandling," he continues. "The city recently reported that in the past three years, panhandling has gone down by as much as 90 percent in downtown Denver. The Denver Voice provides dignity to the homeless by offering independent jobs, where people earn a dollar from selling a product they're proud of, something all of our vendors can attest to. That dignity carries over into every aspect of their lives."

Think about that the next time you encounter one of those polite, friendly vendors on the mall.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

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