Carrboro Commons

Magazine gives homeless a voice in community

Posted on November 23rd, 2010 in Uncategorized by jock

By Stephanie Bullins
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

They’re familiar faces, passed every day. They’re homeless, and they’re often ignored.

But they’re also writers and artists, defining their own voices.

Mike Woods, a contributor to Talking Sidewalks, reads his story, "Dr. Buzzard," at this fall's release party for the magazine. Woods has recently moved out of the shelter but still attends the magazine's staff meetings. (Photo courtesy of Talking Sidewalks)

Talking Sidewalks, a magazine published online and in print twice a year, gives homeless men and women in Chapel Hill a voice through the publication of their prose, poetry and artwork.

“The magazine functions in a number of ways,” said Jonathan Young, who is in charge of organizing the men’s group. “First, these people in these situations and stages of their lives often feel like they don’t have much, but everyone has a story, and everyone has an opinion or thoughts, so we give them an opportunity to form and craft what they have. It’s therapeutic — writing — but it’s also about owning something.”

“And then it gets out to the community,” he added. “And people that would normally just walk past others on the sidewalk, they can get insight into their lives in magazine form. Talking Sidewalks gives an under-represented part of the community a place where their voice can be heard.”

Young, a visual journalist in Chapel Hill, has been part of the magazine since it began two years ago.

When he was a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Young got involved with Homeless Outreach Poverty Eradication, or HOPE. Young said he was working on a documentary about homelessness when he met one man that really inspired him.

“He was homeless, but he was writing as a freelance journalist for different newspapers, and he was also writing from the perspective of being homeless,” Young said. “He inspired us to create a venue where the perspectives of that community could be heard.”

Young and other members of HOPE then went to the homeless community to see if there would be interest in creating a magazine.

“We had some relationships with men on the streets and in the shelters, and we had interest meetings to see what the men wanted in the magazine,” he said.

Writing classes and magazine meetings are now held weekly at both men’s and women’s shelters in Chapel Hill and are led by volunteers, Young said.

After participants introduce themselves and read what they’ve been working on in the past week, Young said the group listens to an inspirational passage or poem to set the topic for the night. Then, participants have time to write on that topic or work on a piece that has already been started.

“Sometimes what comes out of that free writing is really good stuff, so we’ll take that and publish it, or sometimes they’ll take it on their own and work on it,” Young said. “I think the women’s group does most of the writing out of class. They get to talking a little more.”

Young said one of the main challenges the magazine faces is finding funding. It costs around 1000 dollars to put out one issue, he added, and that money comes from sponsors and grants.

But the impact of the magazine is worth the challenges, according to Young.

“For the writers, it’s about owning something, about being heard and being seen,” he said. “But I get blown away by the things I learn on a weekly basis from the group, and the community can see that too, through the magazine. It’s more than just how they became homeless. There’s a lot more to a person’s humanity than that.”

Young expects that the next release of the magazine will be as soon as early this December. Copies of Talking Sidewalks can be found in the Campus Y at UNC, and in various locations and coffee shops in downtown Chapel Hill.

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