Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

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.

"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.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun