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Homeless newspaper is a good first step

A partial panhandling ban for Tampa went into effect this month, limiting the practice to Sundays, but allowing newspaper vendors throughout the week at all but the 10 most dangerous intersections.

Tampa was the last legal place for panhandling in Hillsborough County, but a new plan implemented by South Tampa Community News publisher Bill Sharpe will take advantage of the newspaper loophole to keep more poor and homeless people on street corners.

He created the Tampa Epoch, a street newspaper that will feature content relating to homelessness and contributions such as stories, art or poetry from the homeless, according to the Tampa Tribune.

The papers will sell for $1, and vendors will keep all the profits for the first 25 papers sold and 75 cents for subsequent papers, according to Creative Loafing.

Selling the papers would allow people to still make money, now that soliciting has been limited, but the effort will only make a small dent in Tampa’s homelessness problem.

Considering the declining interest in print journalism in recent years, now may not be the best time to launch a new paper. The content of the paper is also questionable, as the target audience seems to be the homeless themselves rather than commuters waiting at red lights. For people who have trouble buying food, getting the newspaper is likely a low priority.

However, the street newspaper idea did not originate in Tampa. According to Creative Loafing, New York City and San Francisco have had street papers since 1989. Atlanta Overlook, a Georgia newspaper whose reporters are all homeless, was also launched this month and contains similar content.

The main reason why street papers stay in business is likely the same reason panhandlers flocked to busy intersections in the first place. The people who buy a homeless newspaper are probably the same people who would give money to someone armed with just a cardboard sign.

In all likelihood, commuters will buy from street vendors out of charity rather than a desire to read. While employing the homeless is certainly a noble endeavor, street vending is only a step removed from flat-out panhandling.

Still, the Tampa Epoch can be seen as a positive development. The homeless in Tampa are given a productive and creative outlet, and one vendor was even offered a job pouring asphalt, according to the Tribune.

The paper will provide an immediate, if meager, source of income for the poor and homeless, and in that regard, it will be beneficial. However, it will also put people back at busy intersections, bringing issues, such as safety concerns that motivated the ban in the first place, back to the surface.