In September of 2010, Shelley Deneve was 2 months behind on her rent. Shelley’s landlord told her that if she couldn’t pay rent by the end of the month, he would have to evict her.
With this in mind, Shelley visited a local food bank where she came across a woman named Rissa Haynes. Rissa was selling a newspaper called Groundcover News, a street newspaper that community members were starting to sell in Washtenaw County to earn money. Rissa asked Shelley if she would be interested in buying a copy. When Shelley responded saying that she didn’t have the $1 to spend, Rissa replied, “If you don’t have a dollar to spare, you should be selling for Groundcover News.” Shelley was trained as a vendor (Groundcover News vendors sell the newspapers out in the community) and soon thereafter began to sell newspapers out in the community.
Groundcover News is a monthly street newspaper written and distributed by community members of Washtenaw County, including those facing poverty and homelessness. Built on the idea of microenterprise, vendors buy the newspaper for 50 cents and sell them to community members across Washtenaw County for $2. In this way, vendors are able to save money and earn or supplement their income. Founded in early 2010, Groundcover News has been sold throughout Washtenaw County by over 450 vendors for the past 8 years. Shelley is vendor #22.
Susan Beckett, Groundcover News’ founder, says she initially had the idea for the newspaper after visiting her daughter in Seattle where she saw a street newspaper named Real Change. She was impressed by the idea, and after working many years as a volunteer lobbyist on issues of hunger and poverty, Susan was ready to execute this idea at home in Ann Arbor. Initially, however, Susan’s idea was met with skepticism. While the idea worked in Seattle, many doubted that a street newspaper would be successful in the much smaller city of Ann Arbor. Months later, after the recession hit, The Religious Coalition for the Homeless convened to discuss how to best support the homeless population of Washtenaw County. Here, Susan pitched her idea of the newspaper again. This time the idea stuck, and with the help of volunteers, the first issue was published in July 2010. A few months later, Shelley began to sell the new newspaper along Main Street and East Liberty.
While the paper was initially hard to sell, a few standout vendors started to spread the word. With each month, more community members around Ann Arbor had heard about the newspaper, and by the time the recession started to abate in 2014, the paper exploded. Many new vendors joined Groundcover News as a way to supplement their income and to become involved in a new community. In this excitement, Susan says she found great joy. “The most rewarding part of the process,” she recalls, “is the transformation the paper has had on people’s lives.” The initial amount of money saved is often what vendors need to pay off tickets and bills, get their chauffeur’s licenses, save, and get the tools and supplies to get a job. Shelley agrees, and recalls when she first started to sell papers, she was shy and found it hard to get people’s attention. With time, she notes, she was able to step outside of her comfort zone, become confident in professional settings, and even wrote articles for the paper.
As Susan, who will be retiring from her position at the paper this year, transitions the leadership of Groundcover News to a new editor, she states that the biggest lesson she has learned is the importance of direct giving. “There are many organizations that act as a middle party to distribute care to populations in need, but the act of direct giving is so personal.” With this, she encourages all to both give directly and to learn about vendor stories.
For me, this advice has held especially true. As an undergraduate student here at UofM, I often passed vendors selling Groundcover News on my way to class, and in an effort to make it to my classes on time, I found myself staring straight ahead hoping to not have to make contact. Only after I was introduced to Groundcover News by a friend (a medical student at the time) did I start to pay attention to the people calling themselves vendors and the newspapers in their hands. With time, I started to buy copies and encouraged my friends to buy them as well. I stopped to have conversations with vendors and read each newspaper completely, embarrassed to think of times when I had ignored vendors in the past. Now, as I end my 6th year of living in Ann Arbor (my second as a medical student), I feel lucky to contribute to the paper as a writer and am thankful that I live in a city like Ann Arbor that allows the paper to thrive. Although finding the time to write is challenging – especially during this past clinical year – writing for the paper and taking part in the Groundcover News community has allowed me to take a much needed break from the hospital complex and my shelf study books. Through writing, attending meetings, and speaking with staff members and vendors, I’ve learned so much about a community outside of my own, and I have even started to think about how writing could be a part of my career in medicine.
And as for Shelley? Thanks in part to Groundcover News, Shelley lives in the same apartment that she almost was evicted from 8 years ago. In addition, she works two part-time jobs and supplements her income by selling Groundcover News to three local churches.
If you would like to buy a newspaper from a Groundcover News vendor, look for them at the Kerrytown Farmers Market Wednesday and Saturday as well as in front of the People’s Food Co-op all day Wednesday. In addition, there are almost always vendors on the corner of East Liberty and Main St. during the day as well as in front of the Ann Arbor Library. All vendors selling Groundcover News have certified vendor badges.
Susan Beckett (left) and Shelley Deneve (right) pose with newspapers in the Groundcover News office.
Rasna is a third year student at UMMS. She enjoys writing, community organizing, and working with children! One day she’ll be an Emergency Medicine physician.