A new job-training program for vendors of D.C.'s street newspaper is taking the nonprofit into new media, and taking viewers on a wild ride.
Street Sense is perhaps best known for the biweekly newspaper it produces, sold by homeless vendors, many of whom write for the paper as well. But on April 29th
, Street Sense will take a major step in expanding into the world of digital media, in an attempt to engage new consumers of media and appeal to a larger and ever changing audience.
Street Sense is debuting three documentary shorts under the theme of “Cinema from the Street.” “Cinema from the Street” is a new film series that will document the lives and stories of several individuals in the Washington D.C. metro area.
The first documentary short will tell the story of Levester Joe Green II, a homeless street poet in D.C. who is at a crossroads in his life. The documentary will showcase Green’s voyage to making a very important decision, and it will also show Green as he reunites with his mother, whom he interviews for the documentary.
The second documentary short will follow the journey of Morgan Jones. Jones is a middle-aged man who was the recipient of the Washington Post’s prestigious Herb Block scholarship, and was seeking an internship with the Late Show in New York for the spring of 2015 in an effort to break into the entertainment industry so that he could make enough money to get his mother out of a nursing home. A campaign was held on Jones’ behalf in late October 2014 outside of the Ed Sullivan Theater in NYC to get support for Morgan by handing out flyers to citizens and encouraging them to email the internship coordinator for CBS with “Morgan 4 Late Show Intern” in the subject of the email.
The third and final short of the night is about D.C.’s homeless-run advocacy group called People for Fairness Coalition, and the rally that the group held from the night of December 18th
into the day of December 19th
. The rally’s purpose was to oppose the deaths of those who died outside without a home. The documentary gives a unique insight into the struggles that the homeless experience, especially during the cold of winter.
Each film was filmed as part of a co-op that professional filmmaker Bryan Bello helped lead and orchestrate. Bello is in the process of finishing up his master's degree in film studies at American University, and he is greatly appreciative of the opportunity that he has had to be a part of the filmmaking process for “Cinema from the Street.”
“This has been, hands down, the most difficult but rewarding experience of my life,” says Bello. “It has fundamentally shaped the way I will move forward with filmmaking, but most importantly how I engage with a city. A general empathy needs to be more active part of our urban experience.”
“Cinema from the Street” is a part of an effort by Street Sense to expand into new media, but the newspaper is still the heart and foundation of the organization.
“We have not given up on expanding the circulation of our newspaper,” says Street Sense executive director Brian Carome.
“We opted to expand the channels of media that we produce out of our realization of the transformative power of self-expression we saw in the men and women who wrote for the paper over the first 10 years we published.”
Carome points out that the documentary is just one way that the organization plans to spread its wings through different types of media. The homeless will not only get the opportunity to tell their stories through film, but also through theater, staged performances (drama, song, and poetry), audio story-telling, interactive art, and photography.
“We began this expansion to create new content that would engage new consumers of our media,” says Carome. “We now understand that we have the opportunity to create an apprentice/trade school pipeline toward 21st century digital economy employment.”
Currently, Street Sense offers a series of 90-minute training workshops throughout the week for Street Sense newspaper vendors. The workshops are hosted in a room in the same building as the newspaper, and professionals from each platform offer their free time, and their money/resources, in an effort to train and help the homeless learn creative ways to tell their stories.
The ultimate goal of these workshops is to give the homeless valuable skills and real world experience that they can use in applying for jobs and eventually getting on their feet. The skills learned in the workshop will allow for far greater economic opportunities than selling a paper on the corner, even though that will still be an option. Carome likened what Street Sense is doing to the DC Central Kitchen model, but instead of training future cooks, they are training future digital content producers.
Besides just providing an avenue for stories to be told, Street Sense also offers vendors services to help them find housing and access healthcare. Street Sense also provides classes in job skills as well as financial management.
“At Street Sense, we are not staff and clients,” says Carome. “We are all colleagues, creating and distributing media together.” This is evident by the fact that the homeless who work for and with Street Sense are identified as vendors. They write for the paper, and then go on to sell the papers themselves throughout the D.C. metro area. Vendors can generally be found in downtown D.C., as well as some suburbs on busy corners and near metro stations, usually during the lunch and evening rush hours.
While Street Sense has been doing great work in the community for more than a decade, Carome says that his hope is that the company eventually won’t be needed.
“My job is to put this organization out of business,” says Carome. “Street Sense will complete its mission when there are no more stories to tell. Our goal is to end homelessness in D.C.”
to the April 29th showing of “Cinema from the Street” are free, but space is limited. Donations will be accepted on site.
View the trailer below: