By Mario D. Zepeda
Hundreds of busy daily commuters exit transit stations in Cambridge and pass by what appears to be panhandlers yelling, “Spare Change! Spare Change! Spare Change!” Often ignored, these individuals aren’t asking for money, but are working as vendors for the newspaper Spare Change News.
The newspaper’s articles focus on stories that deal with what the journalists and vendors consider the misrepresented parts of society: the homeless population.
The newspaper was founded in 1992 by a group of homeless people who had a commitment to spread awareness of homeless issues and to help the homeless obtain empowerment through employment.
Spare Change News aims to get the homeless back on their feet by offering them jobs as newspaper vendors.
“I am here every morning at 9 and every afternoon at 5 to catch commuters,” said Eddy, a veteran vendor who only shared his first name, holding a few dozen copies of the newest edition of Spare Change News at the Longwood transit station in Brookline.
“I pick up the newspapers every morning in Cambridge and travel across the city,” said Eddy, as frequent costumers of the newspaper have grown used to seeing him at transit stations. Eddy is one of several vendors that can be seen on a weekly basis working for Spare Change News.
The vendors, who are primarily homeless, have a job by selling Spare Change News editions. “To sell Spare Change is really simple. We have rules. But the two basic rules is be sober when you’re selling the paper, and don’t be a jerk,” said James Shearer, co-founder of the newspaper.
Vendors get the first 10 newspaper copies for free, then pay 50 cents for each copy, selling each one to customers for $2. “You can sell as much as you want. You can make as much money as you want. It’s all yours to keep. Hopefully you’ll do something with that,” said Shearer.
Shearer, who himself struggled with homelessness, said by selling the papers, ”this restores a person’s dignity.” He explained, “when you’re in the street, you feel ashamed. It gives you back your voice and gives you the chance to turn your life around.”
Originally from New York City, Shearer experienced homelessness for 14 years in the Cambridge and Boston areas. Shearer’s personal connection with living on the streets has turned him into an advocate in helping the homeless in the community.
“I always ended up back in the street, no matter what I did,” said Shearer as he explained how his troubled past with substance abuse and crime led him to homelessness. Shearer recalls bouncing from shelter-to- shelter hoping to find help and resources with finding and keeping
“I made some bad choices, and it ended up costing me,” said Shearer, adding that his incarceration opened his eyes for a new start of life upon his release from prison.
Before establishing Spare Change News, Shearer said he had visions of becoming a substance abuse counselor. For his certificate requirement, he would later intern at a shelter in Lynn, where he remembers sleeping in during his homelessness. Shearer saw interning at the shelter more than just a job. He said it was his opportunity to give back and help people in the community.
Shearer talks more about his experiences being homeless and his thoughts on how to address it.
Connecting with Homeless Demographic
Alejandro Ramirez, editor of Spare Change News, focuses on stories about social justice, youth homelessness, housing, medical needs, elderly rights, legal issues, and substance abuse.
The newspaper provides information about resources relating to food, shelter, clothing, employment, healthcare, and legal aid.
“I started to take the homeless beat more seriously when one of our vendors died. It made me rethink, ‘Who are we helping here?’ Not so much seeing the vendors as people but the homeless community as people,” said Ramirez on his motivation to help the homeless.
He believes that the articles in Spare Change News aim to help give the homeless a voice in the community. The homeless represent a vulnerable population, which is often ignored by the main stream media.
“The homeless aren’t just a group of individuals who got it bad; they link into societal problems. That’s become my approach as an individual writer and editor for Spare Change News,“ said Ramirez.
Spare Change News publishes articles that help spread awareness on issues that can impact the at-risk in the community. “We are slightly closer to the ground and have a somewhat alternative view. We offer a different view of what’s actually helping and effecting the homeless,” said Ramirez.
Ramirez explains the kinds of stories in Spare Change News as opposed to other publications.
Spare Change News releases a new publication every two weeks. Copies can be purchased by the vendors in transit stations across the city for $2 an issue.