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How Street Sheet Canada Started

 Street Sheet (Canada) 24 May 2019

(Originally published: 10/2009) “One day I went in search of the ‘squeegee kids’. I spent many hours with them. I learned the truth. They were being railroaded, harassed, used, and oppressed by all the people I just mentioned. The first law criminalizing squeegee kids was enacted in Winnipeg – A municipal law. I started Street Sheet Canada shortly after that.” Rod Graham explains why he felt compelled to start Street Sheet Canada. Rod also picks an article from the San Francisco Chronicle about Chance Martin, Street Sheet San Francisco, which helped inspire him as a Street Papers writer.  - By Rodney Graham

Without the experiences of my youth - And without meeting some heroic people in my life I would probably never have started this paper called Street Sheet Canada

My mother and father divorced when I. was 10 years old. They had separated numerous times and had reunited numerous times. During that time our family of six moved from mining town to mining town - Between Saskatchewan and Northern British Columbia.


My mother spiralled into alcoholism and by the age of 12 my parents were divorced and the other three children were four years older than me and in their teens - able to fend for themselves and work.


I was made a ward of the court and although I love to see mothers and children, fathers and children stay together - Sometimes it is better for the child to leave. After living in foster homes and group homes for several years I had obtained the knowledge the hard way.  With that knowledge I now try to help others who have faced childhoods and youth fraught with carnage and trauma.


Before my mother's death at the age of 68 I reconciled with her and we were very close and loved each other.  The same with my father. The last years of his life we were close. It is always good to reconcile - But only when time has healed the wounds.


I studied journalism in my early years, picking up courses here and there. I wanted to be a war correspondent. I loved the thought of the adventure and intrigue all over the world. I loved taking pictures of people, animals, and life. I found myself doing activities like these to 'escape'.


But in my early twenties I became aware of other problems besides family in society. I left Vancouver and all the bullshit and went up north. I worked in the bush.  I worked n the logging industry. I worked periodically for the Ministry of Forests in BC.  One of my favourite jobs was smoke jumping. I loved the forests.


On a trip to Northern Ontario to go smoke jumping I stayed in Winnipeg Manitoba.  It's a mid sized city in the middle of Canada. An unusual city in many ways. The only city for hundreds of miles in any direction in the middle of the eastern prairies.


After travelling back and forth across Canada I thought I might as well settle down in Winnipeg. By then I was of an age not suitable for adrenalin junkies and very hard work environments. While hanging out in Winnipeg I met interesting people who reminded me of my youth. Activists. I found the anarchist kids intriguing. My neighbourhood was an area where many progressive people lived. The local environmental group in my neighbourhood - Wolseley, had quite an interesting library. That's when I decided to look into the paper waste situation and began a neighbourhood 'no flyer campaign'.


But it was social activism that really interested me - because of my youth and childhood probably.


But it also scared me. When I read articles about injustice and inequity I often had trouble reading the whole thing. It brought back bad feelings. I also wondered if the writer got it right!  One issue in particular sparked my interest and I could barely read anything about it - it troubled me.  Squeegee kids.


When I was young I ran away from several group homes.  Some are not very pleasant.  The articles I was reading bothered me. They seemed to interview only certain people. And then pick the worst example of the squeegee kids and use their interview. Business people, police, social workers, and other government officials. People I had learned NOT to trust. The average person would not agree perhaps with my mistrust.


One day I went in search of the 'squeegee kids'. I spent many hours with them. I learned the truth. They were being railroaded, harassed, used, and oppressed by all the people I just mentioned. The first law criminalizing squeegee kids was enacted in Winnipeg - A municipal law. I started Street Sheet Canada shortly after that. You can Google the key words to find some of my articles.  That's it. Except for a couple of people I should mention. Nick Ternette in Winnipeg and Chance Martin in San Francisco. I admired Nick's work and also Chance's editorials - I named our little prairie paper Street Sheet Canada in admiration of Chance's editorials and Street Sheet - In San Francisco.


I've written many articles about Nick - But I include here article, although a bit, old it tells of Chance Martin and his work…But to ad to my story let me tell you one more thing…I went down to San Francisco North American Newspaper Association convention in 2002.  I wrote an article detailing the invaluable things I learned there and the truly amazing people I met there in an article titled - The Street Paper Dream.

I will never forget those people.  Chance Martin, Tom Boland, and a list of people too long to mention and I can't remember all of them, who are in my mind heroes and who have influenced our world more than anyone I've know.  Why was I so impressed?  Because I knew one thing in life if I knew anything - injustice. I had experienced it.  So I knew they knew what they were talking about!


Please check my article about that conference and my experience there at titled - 'The Street Paper Dream'.


The following page has the article about Chance Martin.


The following article is from San Francisco Chronicle, written by Mike Weiss, Feb 2, 2019

He came to San Francisco a broken man. Speaking for the homeless made him whole.


In 1989 Chance Martin abandoned his middle-class possessions -- all except for his Vuarnet wrap-around sunglasses -- and pulled out of Chicago with a plan firmly in mind: See California before he died, then throw himself off the Golden Gate Bridge.

He was only half successful.


On a recent winter morning, with the fog wrapping the city in a grey cocoon, Martin, now 50 and the editor of the Street Sheet -- a newspaper that champions the homeless and chronicles their desperation -- sat in a Tenderloin coffee shop beneath a plastic hibiscus and explained how his plan had gone right by going awry.


"I was ready to write the whole thing off," he said. "I had a heating and air conditioning business. I was reporting $60,000 a year. My wife divorced me. A year later I'd find myself at stoplights, weeping. A doctor put me on lithium and Prozac, and it triggered a reaction like mania. Three months later I was homeless and headed to California.


"You know," he said, sipping from his coffee mug, "this is really a unique place. A really small town -- you can make a difference. What saved my life was meaningful social engagement." He laughed, a smoker's throaty guffaw that punctuates his talk.

"I like to say that one day instead of suffering my mental illness I decided to make everybody else suffer."


The son of a Gary, Ind., steel mill worker, he planned to attend college and study literature. But in 1972 he was busted at a party where marijuana was being smoked, and faced five years prison time.


"Indiana doesn't screw around," he said, his mild eyes lit by humor. Today, as most days, he was wearing a shapeless, ribbed sweater over his medium-sized, round-shouldered torso, jeans that had lost their shape, and a baseball cap to keep his bald spot warm.


Chance's father persuaded a justice of the peace to expunge his arrest, if his son -- his name then was Kenneth, Chance being a nom de plume he took in San Francisco -- agreed to serve in the armed forces. The war was raging in Vietnam. On the other hand, says Martin, he had been gang-raped in jail.


He served as an avionics technician, and never saw combat. Nonetheless, his military service "kind of devalued my life" by depriving him of a sense of purpose or control of his own destiny.


After his discharge there were jobs, and marriages -- three of them -- and a daughter with whom he no longer is in contact. By the time of his last divorce -- the one that precipitated his plan to kill himself -- a lot of bridges were in smoldering ruins.

Asked if his parents are alive, he answered: "I don't know."


A moment later he added: "I made some bad decisions. I have a lot of regret. Sometimes I feel like what I'm doing now is squaring the ledger."


For about five years he's been putting out the Street Sheet, which has been published by the Coalition on Homelessness since 1989. It is unique among similar papers around the country in that it is mostly written, edited and distributed by people who are, or were, homeless.


"We never purported to be true journalism," says Lydia Ely, its first editor. "A lot of muckraking, a lot of exposés." Also, poems and editorial cartoons. "We always wanted people to be political as well as personal. Provocative."


The Street Sheet's approach to homelessness, said Martin, is multi- faceted. For one thing, it seeks to persuade that the cure for homelessness begins with social justice, not social control.


"Care not Cash is a page out of social control," Martin said about Mayor Gavin Newsom's controversial but popular plan to provide housing for homeless people while significantly reducing their cash payments.


"The people who paid for the Care not Cash campaign -- the hotel council, the building owners, the restaurant association -- have a very understandable dilemma," Martin continued. "The proximity of homeless people affects their ability to make money. "When they see a homeless person, that person is the problem.


"I'm a homeless advocate. When I see a homeless person I understand the problem is a lack of housing, a lack of accessible health care, a lack of a living-wage job and educational opportunities."


For another thing, Street Sheet -- which prints about 36,000 copies a month and is distributed mainly downtown for a suggested price of a dollar -- helps to support the people selling it.


"It's one of the last low-threshold income opportunities homeless people can avail themselves of," said Martin. "I've got 400 vendors. If you work hard, and are good at it, you can make $30 or $40 a day. Legally."


His reasonable and reasoned approach and his good humor help make Street Sheet distinctive. When the mayor gave his first annual homeless address in December, Martin's analysis ran two full pages. It was illustrated with a photo of Newsom and the caption: "Anyone the Christian Right hates so much can't be all bad."


But there aren't a lot of laughs to be found around homelessness, as Martin knows. He is, himself, presently without a home, crashing with various friends. From June through January his full-time-plus job was paying half- wages as the Coalition struggled with diminished financing. He was pulling down $14,000. "About enough to ensure I stayed homeless," he said. "It's getting difficult." (In late January came word that he would go back on full salary, $23,000, enough to rent a room again.)

He also serves without pay on the board of Media Alliance, and was appointed by Supervisor Chris Daly to the city's mental health board.


"You know," Martin said, preparing to leave the coffee shop, "there's always been people with drinking problems, with mental health issues. They weren't homeless when I was a kid. Now they're very much under attack. And the rhetoric of 'social responsibility' is just an alibi our politicians give for evading their social responsibility."


His most powerful writing combines his ability to turn a neat thought with his personal understanding of what homelessness feels like. "It's always unconscious. I know I'm hitting the mark when tears begin hitting the keyboard. People don't understand how much homelessness hurts." Tears were streaming down his cheeks, and he removed his glasses and wiped the tears with a paper napkin. "I can't tell you what a blow to someone's self- confidence and dignity it is to be homeless."


By the time Martin arrived in San Francisco from Chicago it was 1992 -- he got sidetracked for a few years in Los Angeles, where he developed a hard- drug dependency, and found his way into the mental health system.


His first home here was Baker Street House, a residence for the mentally ill. "I don't care if people know I've been diagnosed as mentally ill," he said. "The tragedy is that only one in 10 who are diagnosed will ever return to the workforce. To give somebody hope you've got to give them meaningful social engagement. Not a chore, not cleaning the bathroom. When you're actually helping shape your future, when you see your work valued."


That was what he found at the Coalition on Homelessness. He credits its founder and his mentor, Paul Boden, for helping save his life by teaching him the problem wasn't a lack of charity, it was a lack of justice. Boden also insisted Martin stop using hard drugs or else hit the road.


"Chance is a great writer," says Boden. "He puts his demons out there for everyone to see. That's a risk. Whatever the Coalition was to him, he was strong enough to keep coming back, working hard, answering phones, cleaning bathrooms because he saw they needed cleaning.


"But 'saved his life?' I hear that rap from many people. It's not true. The Coalition wasn't here for him. The Coalition was here. He found it. He saved his own life."

And the meaning he's found, Martin said, is inexhaustible. "It's a big responsibility when you're perceived as a top gun," he said, "even only among homeless advocates. It would waste so much work we've done if I did something stupid. I got a lot of work to do before I'm done."


The first time he was allowed to leave Baker Street House unescorted, he recalled, he walked up and over Pacific Heights, and all the way to the Marina. He could see the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance but had no desire to go there.

Instead, he was overcome with conviction.


"I was waiting all my life to live here. A lot of people come here for a lot of reasons. But I really do believe some of us are called here." He laughed his characteristic guffaw, and drew on his cigarette. "And I don't want to get too religious and metaphysical beyond that.

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