By Ret Boney
RALEIGH, N.C. — The first issue of a newspaper for Wake County’s homeless population is scheduled to hit the streets in August, bringing to life the dream of two formerly homeless Raleigh men.
Called News From Our Shoes, the paper is designed to provide news and information to the more than 1,200 people living on the streets and in the shelters of Wake County, and to change the perception of the homeless among the county’s residents.
“I want the homeless to be able to walk around like everyone else, with their heads held up,” says Michael Watkins, who came up with the idea for the paper four years ago.
With the help of a few local leaders, 10,000 copies of the first issue are scheduled for printing early in August.
If successful, Watkins sees the paper not only as a resource for homeless people trying to access the services they need, but eventually as an employment and training opportunity for them.
The News & Observer is donating printing for the first run of 10,000 copies, Watkins says, and financial support is coming from the A.J. Fletcher Foundation and Capitol Broadcast Co., both in Raleigh, and Watkins is hoping for additional support from Wake County Human Services.
“He believes, and I believe, too, that this could be really helpful in helping people find the services they need,” says Barbara Goodmon, president of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, which publishes the Philanthropy Journal. “I’m always for giving a person a chance to do it and see what happens.”
Funds from the foundation and Capitol Broadcasting, headed by her husband, Jim Goodmon, will help cover salaries and rent, Barbara Goodmon says, and the supporters currently are helping Watkins find office space for the newspaper.
Once the paper is up and running, Watkins and his partner, Thomas Glover, also known as “Scoop,” hope to publish the paper monthly as a project of a new nonprofit they are forming.
The first edition will have about 10 stories covering issues such as affordable housing, domestic violence among homeless women, and cuts in food stamps, Watkins says, as well as art, poetry and photographs by homeless people.
“That will help break that negative stereotype,” Watkins says. “Most homeless people are very smart and very talented.”
Watkins, a 43-year old Clinton native, earned an undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, but began the path to homelessness after serving more than two years in prison for breaking and entering.
He has been homeless, off and on, for 14 years since then, struggling with a drug addiction most of that time, but is now clean, he says, working as a landscaper, and moved into his own room in March.
“I made some mistakes and it cost me my whole life pretty much,” he says. “It seals the fate for a lot of people who just want a chance. That kind of thing leads to homelessness.”
Glover, 53, who was born in New York and raised in South Carolina, was homeless off and on for four years.
Now in an apartment, Glover works 12-hour days as a landscaper, he says, while doing some writing for the newspaper and talking it up wherever he goes.
“I’m a walking advertisement, myself,” he says.
News From Our Shoes has a website containing information and links about services and information for the homeless, as well as articles and writings by homeless people.