Bill Sharpe, the publisher of the South Tampa Community News looked around the storage facility parking lot in downtown Tampa, and chuckled.
“Must be a slow news day,” he drawled, nodding at the many reporters and cameras and camera trucks of the Tampa news outlets who were assembled there to greet him, and the debut of his newbie newspaper, “The Tampa Epoch.”
The Tampa Epoch being a newspaper about the homeless community, and largely put together by the homeless community of Tampa.
And the first issue, given to reporters in advance is impressive, indeed. Impressive and put together at lightning fast speed by Sharpe and his employees and members of the homeless community.
Nearby to where Bill Sharpe was greeting the reporters, Brooks Morgan, who works as a marketing consultant for the parent company of the South Tampa Community News, and has taken on the role of distribution manager of the “Tampa Epoch,”was reciting the rules of the road…and rules of engagement -for the new vendors who would be selling the paper starting this very day.
Vendors. Entrepeneurs. Something new for the group who had signed up to work selling the Tampa Epoch from the very corners they had been banned from working as panhandlers on November 1.
And an end run around the mayor, and city council and the police and the citizens who had wrestled with the panhandling situation for two years and then come up with the only solution they could agree upon.
Get rid of the panhandlers.
And a Hail Mary Pass for those panhandlers, mostly members of the 9,500 homeless community in Tampa, who had lost what to them was their only cash income to be used in what for them, has become a hard scrabble life held together only by the kindnesses of strangers.
Vendors. Entrenpeneurs. Somebody.
And for the people ground down by the life lived, sometimes for years, on the mean streets of the homeless life, Somebody means….something.
All of this was being explained by Brooks Morgan, as he addressed the people gathered around him, in an improvised recital that was part pep talk, and part gentle warning about previous, let us say, multi-tasking activities which would not be tolerated by the Tampa Epoch.
A recital which reflected both the troubles the city has had with many of the panhandlers in the past, and the hope which one could see growing in the tired eyes of those people listening, now as Brooks exhorted them to think of what this could all mean to them.
Savings. A security deposit on a “place” versus the “spot” most of them have been living in.
“Spots” like the place where Cynthia Ramos, one of the newly minted vendors and her companion, Sonny, live. A “sort of tent,” in a swamp.
“At least, they’re doing something, for us,” she said.
Once the brief orientation was done, and all agreed, and signed papers saying they agreed to abide by the rules set down, photos were taken for the ID badges required, and each vendor was issued a spiffy blue t-shirt, a safety vest, a bag for the papers and a sign noting that the vendor was selling the Tampa Epoch.
Each vendor was allowed to choose their own corner. Something new in newspaper distribution on the street around here.
And each vendor was given 25 papers, which he or she will sell for one buck. And then, can buy 25 more papers at the cost of .25 cents each and sell them every day of the week if they wish. And maybe soon, have savings, and a security deposit.
Vendor. Entrepreneur. Somebody.
25 of those vendors went on their way, finally, after all the signing, and recitin’ and hugging.
And Bill Sharpe watched them go. And probably held his breath.
Earlier, he had said, when asked if he had any doubts at all about this new venture, this big chance he was taking, this,in some quarters, unwelcome chance, he had smiled and said, “Once I had decided upon this, I absolutely knew this was the right thing to do.”
In show biz, it is unlucky to say “Good Luck.” so thespians have a long history of saying instead, “Break A Leg.”
So maybe we can say to all of these new vendors and entrepeneurs in the news biz… “Break A Story!”