Toledo Streets offers alternative to panhandlingWritten by Morgan Delp | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Lawrence Staler patrols the area in front of the Toledo Municipal Courthouse on North Erie Street on Monday through Friday, stopping clerks, judges, police officers and others going in and out of the courthouse.
But Staler is not begging or scamming for money. He is working for a better life by selling newspapers that aim to empower and provide opportunities for homeless and impoverished people.
Toledo Streets was founded in 2009 as an all-volunteer project of 1Matters, the local community-funded organization responsible for Tent City, Veterans Matter and other programs designed to aid the homeless and underprivileged.
Ken Leslie, a former panhandler and founder of 1Matters, said he believes that selling these publications not only gives people on the streets employment, but builds their esteem as well.
“We believe if the compassionate community stops giving to panhandlers we can stop supporting the behavior that takes their esteem down another notch, replacing it with behavior that builds esteem each time you support the vendor by buying a paper,” Leslie said. “Sooner or later, whether they want to or not, they soon recognize how good they really are.”
Staler is one of Toledo Streets’ eight vendors and has turned his life around since starting the job, Leslie said.
Staler was imprisoned in Texas for 13 years prior to his move to Toledo, where he is on probation for not paying child support. Now, on a good day, Staler makes $35-$80, which he puts into his new bank account and uses to pay off his child support and pay tithe at church, he said. Staler, who lives at the Cherry Street Missions, said he has sold more than 1,000 papers since he started vending.
“I had no idea how to sell papers, I had no idea how to talk to anybody because I was a convicted convict,” Staler said, referring to his first day of vending. “I sold 10 papers in an hour and bought 20, sold them in a couple hours, bought 30, and now I start buying anywhere from 40-60.”
Staler said he attributes his success in sales to his knowledge of the product. He said he reads each issue, which covers topics about poverty and community issues, from cover to cover, so he can inform potential buyers about pieces that might be of interest to them.
Staler and the other vendors buy their papers from Toledo Streets Managing Editor Amanda Moore, who publishes an issue once a month, then sells them for 25 cents to vendors on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in the Downtown area, Staler said. The vendors then sell them for $1 throughout the week.
Staler said that sometimes people will give him $1 or even five, and not even want a paper.
“I had one guy and he came out of the courtroom mad and he cussed me out, and I told him ‘God bless,’ and he goes to his Hummer,” Staler said. “He came [back] and had what I thought was a five and he said, ‘Can I please have a paper?’ and I took the five, gave him a paper and said ‘God bless you’ and he gets to the Hummer and I open it up and it’s a fifty!”
“I ran over there and said, ‘Hey! You know what you gave me?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, a $50’” Staler said. “‘Why?’ ‘The spirit told me you needed it. Plus you gave me two God bless you’s so we should be just about even here, shouldn’t we?’”
Staler said he feels blessed because of the kindness he has experienced from other people.
“God blesses me in a lot of ways. Hot dog vendors will give me a hot dog or a soda here and there. I’ve had people give me T-shirts and don’t even charge me nothing,” Staler said. “I got clerks here, a magistrate, some cops and a couple lawyers who regularly buy papers from me, or just give me money.”
Inside the Toledo Streets publication, there’s a vendor code of conduct with 10 specifications, which include rules about not selling under the influence of drugs or alcohol, not selling other products along with the paper and respecting the space of other vendors.
“The agreement is that if a vendor has a specific area he works at all the time, and if he or she’s not there, another vendor can be there but as soon as the other person shows up, they gotta leave,” Staler said.
Toledo Streets is a member of the North American Street Newspaper Association (NASNA) and International Network of Street Papers (INSP). 1Matters has funded the start-up of three street publications, the other two being Groundcover News in Ann Arbor and Thrive Detroit. Ken Leslie said he hopes to expand the “Make Change, Don’t Give Change” campaign, which is the panhandling alternative initiative of 1Matters.
Leslie said people can help the cause by visiting toledostreets.org/coupons and downloading the printable coupons to hand out to panhandlers on the street. The coupons read, “If you were selling Toledo Streets, I would be giving you $1 (or more) right now,” with information about how to become a vendor.
“It would be wonderful for all panhandling to be replaced with employment,” Leslie said. “For the record, we are not against panhandling, as people have the right to do it. But we know that in reality it does not help those who do it. When I was on the street I learned it pounds you down. When you’re begging and scheming, esteem goes down. For every paper sold, esteem goes up, whether they want it to or not.”