Curbside Chronicle is well-known in the core of the metro where about 50 vendors wearing the signature green smocks sell the award-winning magazine at street corners.
Only three people produce it and coach some vendors on how to write stories.
But the impact of the monthly magazine is big.
They help people who are homeless transition into having a home and earning a living by some other means than panhandling.
“Our goal is to work alongside these vendors and break down these barriers to traditional employment,” said director Ranya O’Connor. “You have to approach that with out of the box thinking.”
The magazine is produced with money from sponsors, ad sales and copy sales by vendors.
About 50 vendors buy copies for 75 cents and sell them for $2.00. The profit goes directly into their pockets.
Ranya O’Connor is the director and her husband, Whitley O’Connor does design and layout. They both write articles along with selected vendors.
Marty Peercy is a recent addition as vendor coordinator.
His job is to train vendors, resource them, and get them the services they need to move into transitional housing and off the street.
Curbside Chronicle works closely with over 20 nonprofit, government and faith-based agencies connected with the Homeless Alliance of Oklahoma City. Most of their representatives are on the campus.
It makes it far easier to connect their vendors with help to end their homeless status.
But, it’s easier said than done because their vendors have been let down so many times before.
“The biggest issues have been housing,” said Peercy. “Some won’t participate because they won’t believe it. They don’t return a call because they assume it just will never happen.”
He said some of their vendors have been on the street for so long they really don’t know any other life until they start selling Curbside Chronicle.
And some have been in the life for a long time.
“We had a vendor recently housed that got case management to Journey Home,” said Peercy. “He became homeless at 16 and now he’s 38 years old. Twenty-two years of living on the street.”
Saturday, Free Press reported Curbside Chronicle’s two international awards they won that week for Best Cultural Feature and Best Vendor Contribution.
They were competing against 115 other street papers from around the world, some of which have been in existence for up to 20 years.
Curbside Chronicle just had its fourth birthday in July.
When Ranya and Whitley O’Connor started the publication, they were not at all certain about its future, but they were determined to give it a try.
“When we launched this in 2013 we had no idea if we would have one issue or if we were going to have a few issues,” said Ranya.
“We started with less than a handful of vendors. We had three or four people that carried the publication. They trusted us enough to really dive into this.”
This year they are working with around 50 vendors at any given time.
Ranya and Whitley did not come from publishing or journalism training.
They found out what skills and knowledge they needed to know to produce the magazine, learned that knowledge and put it to work.
That means their skills are closely tailored to the unique demands of producing the Curbside Chronicle and the needs of their vendors.
It also means they have not wasted their time on journalism orthodoxies better suited to for-profit publishing.
Ranya and Whitley both had a passion for helping the poor and especially the homeless even when they were in college.
That’s how they met.
A mutual friend put them in touch with each other even though Ranya was at the University of Oklahoma and Whitley was at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee.
“Whitley introduced me to the street paper world,” said Ranya. “They have a really large street paper [in Nashville] called The Contributor. He saw the impact that street paper had on the whole city’s view of poverty and homelessness as well as what it meant to the vendors.”
Although in magazine format, Curbside Chronicle is a “street paper” in its structure and function.
Street papers are publications used to provide people who are experiencing homelessness with both a voice and a legitimate source of income says the International Network of Street Papers.
The first one was started in the 1980s in New York City. The concept has now spread to over 100 cities throughout the world.
Homeless Alliance connection
Ranya convinced Whitley that there was a strong need for a street paper in Oklahoma City. It wasn’t a hard sell to get the Seminole native to return to Oklahoma.
That’s when they started shopping the idea to the Dan Straughan, executive director of Oklahoma City’s Homeless Alliance.
“He’s open to creative solutions to homelessness,” said Ranya. “He’s open to creative solutions out of the box. He gave us a lot of credibility and the ability to get this started.”
They worked together to birth the project.
Now Curbside Chronicle is a financially self-supporting project of the Homeless Alliance.
They have a one-room office at the Homeless Alliance campus at NW 4th Street and Virginia.
Free Press talked with Straughan about Curbside Chroncle.
He said most street papers are free-standing programs that provide the homeless with a job. But the magazine provides much more.
“That’s the big difference here. Marty is essentially a social worker. He’s working on getting each one of those vendors the services they need to get them into sustained housing,” said Straughan.
The former banker seems to relish his work with the Homeless Alliance.
“There really is never a dull moment in this place,” said Straughan. “I love it here.”