“People act like homelessness is a choice—but when you lose your place and you have nothing, it’s not a choice. It’s something you have to deal with.”
That’s what Lee McCoy told me in October 2013 when I trotted alongside him as he marched in the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition (GCHC)’s homeless awareness march. After the march, I wrote an article for my monthly high school newsmagazine, Spark. I wove my article around Lee and the issues that he faces with the homeless shelters and gentrification in Cincinnati.
That article later won a national social justice award. I was flown to Baltimore in October 2014 to give a speech about the article in front of prominent media figures like Brian Ross from ABC News and James Risen from NYT. In the speech, I talked about the impact that Lee McCoy had on me.
Lee McCoy works with Streetvibes, a bi-weekly newspaper that covers social justice issues and is put out by GCHC.
The cool part about Streetvibes is that it’s sold by 50+ distributors – all of which are homeless or extremely low-income. Each paper is bought by a distributor for 50 cents, and then sold for $1.50. All profits go directly to the distributor who sold it to help save or pay for housing, food, etc.
A few weeks ago, I sent an email to Justin Jeffre, the editor of Streetvibes who I had interviewed for my article last year. I asked him if there was any way I could help out, and, remembering me, he quickly replied and asked me to stop by the office when I was in town so we could talk about opportunities.
Yesterday, I braved my fear of downtown driving, made it down to Over-The-Rhine. I wasn’t surprised that a few people panhandled me for money on my three-block walk to from the parking garage to the office, but I was happy to be approached by a Streetvibes distributor asking me to buy a paper.
The stout man wore sunglasses and a hat, and had little gray tufts of hair poking from the sides of his face. Before I could explain to him that I was already fairly familiar with Streetvibes, he gave me the whole spiel and asked if I would be interested in buying a paper.
I pulled out my money and explained to him that I was headed to the Streetvibes office now to talk to Justin.
“Well that’s great to hear miss,” he said, tucking the newspapers beneath his arm so he could shake my hand. “And what is your name?”
“I’m Rachel,” I said, shaking his hand.
“Rachel,” he nodded and smiled. “I’m Lee McCoy, it’s great to meet you.”
Lee McCoy. Neither of us recognized each other at first, but after I refreshed him, he remembered our interview. I told him that he had helped me spread Cincinnati homeless awareness and win this national award in which I talked about him in my speech, and he couldn’t believe it.
“Could you show me that next time I’m at the office?” he asked.
I’m no expert on homelessness, and I’ve really only have a sliver of an idea of the struggles that they go through every day. I start my internship tomorrow, and I can’t wait not only to expand my understanding of the misconceptions of homelessness and share that knowledge with others, but also to help out with an organization dedicated to doing good.
Maybe it’ll be a good summer after all.