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One Step Away

Philadelphia's first street paper gives voice to homeless

Sitting in the RHD Ridge Center, the largest men’s homeless shelter in Philadelphia, John flipped through the newspaper, smiled and nudged Jeff. He showed Jeff a feature story in the paper, complete with a photo of the writer and asked: “Hey – who’s that guy?”

“That’s me,’’ Jeff said, laughing.

And it is, in One Step Away – the first street newspaper in Philadelphia’s history, which made its debut to great fanfare Tuesday. One Step Away is produced by homeless men, women and children residing in Ridge and the Woodstock Family Center, two shelters supported by Resources for Human Development.

The monthly tabloid gives the city’s homeless a voice on issues of shelter and affordable housing and is distributed by men and women without jobs or permanent shelter. There are 26 street newspapers across North America, but One Step Away is the only one in which the content is almost entirely produced by the homeless.

“This is our voice,’’ said Robertus, one of the members of the paper’s editorial board, who wrote the lead story in the debut issue. “This is a world I’ve never known before. We really came together as a team to do this, and we’re grateful to RHD for giving us this chance to shine a light on a voice that’s been silent for too long.”

Residents of Ridge and Woodstock formed One Step Away’s editorial board. Their first task was naming the paper. They chose One Step Away because they liked the dual meaning – each of us may be just one step away from homelessness, and each of the men and women producing this paper may be just one step away from independence and getting out of the shelters.

In the weeks leading to publication, the paper’s editorial board met regularly to produce the final product.

“They never missed a meeting,’’ said Eddie Byrd, RHD director of communications and marketing who lent his background in newspaper management and design to help OSA get started. “They made every deadline. Nobody dropped an assignment. They wrote their stories longhand, sometimes on scraps of looseleaf paper, and typed them in on computers at the shelters.

“From the start, they overwhelmed us with their energy and enthusiasm for this project. They really wanted a voice in the community, and they embraced One Step Away as a chance to finally be heard.”

Dainette Mintz, Director of the Office of Supportive Housing in Philadelphia, gave a $1 donation to One Step Away and received the first copy of the city's first street paper in an event at the RHD Ridge Center Tuesday.

OSA relies on the standard street newspaper model endorsed by the North American Street Newspaper Association. RHD funds the initial press run. The homeless men and women who distribute the paper give RHD 25 cents per copy to offset the printing costs. They then distribute One Step Away on the street for a donation of $1.

In an Associated Press story on the One Step Away debut, John Lozier, executive director of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, called street papers like One Step Away "a really important phenomenon."

"It provides an expressive outlet for people who are often ignored," Lozier said, adding it can also be a means of survival. "People very legitimately make enough money to find shelter some nights."

One Step Away’s debut issue featured several articles on homeless issues, starting with a front-page story on fly-by-night employers who take advantage of the homeless. The paper also includes creative writing and poetry, and included selected writings from some of the children at the Woodstock Center. Stephanie, a 13-year-old residing at Woodstock, wrote the lead column on the One Step Away feature page.

“I’m so proud of her,’’ said Stephanie’s mother, Rosa, who is an original member of the OSA editorial board. “She did a beautiful job.”

It was clear very quickly that One Step Away would provide a new avenue and a new identity for the homeless men and women who were working on it. At one of the first OSA Editorial meetings, everyone at the table introduced themselves – “I’m Claudell from Ridge,” and “I’m Leslie from Woodstock” – until one man smiled and said: “I’m Mike, and I’m a cub reporter for One Step Away.”

To find out more about One Step Away, please contact editor Kevin Roberts at kevinr@rhd.org