Brief History of Street Sense
Street Sense was established in August 2003 after two volunteers, Laura Thompson Osuri and Ted Henson, approached the National Coalition for the Homeless with the idea to start a newspaper as a means of empowering the less fortunate. On November 15, 2003, the first issue of Street Sense debuted with just a dozen homeless vendors selling 5,000 copies. Street Sense functioned as a volunteer-based organization until Osuri was named Executive Director in 2005. Today, Street Sense has four employees, more than 100 active vendors and nearly 30,000 copies in circulation each month. Street Sense is a member of the National Association of Street Newspapers (NASNA), which comprises thirty street newspapers across North America. In November 2009, Osuri stepped down as Executive Director, and Abby Strunk, a leader with ten years of marketing and communications experience, assumed the role.
Testimonial by Laura Thompson Osuri, Co-Founder of Street Sense:
In the fall of 2002, three years into the “real world” after graduating college, I was on a quest for something more meaningful to do with my life. I was happy with my job as a reporter covering community banking issues, but it just wasn’t satisfying. I had briefly thought about going into the Peace Corps or volunteering abroad, but I felt a calling to stay put in D.C. I felt that there was no need to go to Africa to help the poor and hungry as there were plenty of poor and hungry right outside my door.
Then on a trip to visit a friend in Seattle I came across a copy of Real Change, the street paper there. And I thought it was the best idea: helping homeless people help themselves, while also letting the public know about the issues this population faced. I had been volunteering tutoring at-risk kids and cooking for a monthly breakfast program for homeless people. So a street paper, I thought, was the perfect marriage between my professional interest and my humanitarian interests. And I had a feeling that this street paper idea might just be the meaningful goal I was on a quest for.
About 10 months after I stumbled across Real Change, through some random connections and persistence, co-founder Ted Henson and I began the startup effort for what was to become Street Sense. While I knew this effort would change my life, I did not quite realize how many others it would touch. I am blessed to see all the vendors who have made their lives better through Street Sense and amazed to see how many readers have been changed by the articles in the paper and interaction with vendors. I would have never guessed back when the first issue came out in November 2003 that this scrappy little startup paper would effect so much positive change.
Testimonial by Ted Henson, Co-Founder of Street Sense:
Prior to starting Street Sense, I had worked for many years in different capacities at shelters in Louisville and Nashville. The most powerful part of those experiences for me was hearing the stories of the people who were experiencing homelessness. No matter what awful experience someone had gone through, there was always some fragment of humanity left in them and it would often manifest through stories about growing up, or music, or home-cooking, or whatever else it was. The street paper seemed like such a brilliant idea because it empowers the individual through self-expression and also through income generation. It truly is a unique form of social entrepreneurship designed to be that first rung on the ladder out of homelessness. Luckily for all of us, enough individuals believed in the concept and mission of the paper and were willing to stand out on the corners and sell the paper through rough weather, especially when Street Sense was relatively unknown in the city. The vendors have written articles and sold the paper and really made it the integral part of the Washington, D.C.-community fabric that it is today.