2009 Annual Report: Letter from the director

Welcome to the Street Roots 2009 Annual Report. (View the entire report here.) There’s no question, it’s been a hard year. Like many small grassroots organizations and small businesses, the economy has effected the organization and its ability to maintain an aggressive growth strategy. Saying that, we’re still growing, but we’re being more cautious about how we grow and our planning for the future.

For nearly three years, Street Roots has maintained a humble budget (under $200,000) for publishing the newspaper, the Rose City Resource Guide, and providing a morning drop-in center and running the vendor program.

When times get tough, like they are now, the margin of error for a small organization that is trying to grow is narrow. One wrong move, and it could be detrimental. Thanks to the community at large, Street Roots was able to navigate through some rough seas in 2009, while still staying on course. By no means is Street Roots (nor the community) out of the woods yet, but with smart planning we believe we will continue to raise the bar for grassroots media, while providing immediate income for those in need in the Portland region.

What we accomplished in 2009

At the forefront of Street Roots is the vendor program. More than 300 unduplicated people accessed the vendor program in 2009, with an average of 50-70 vendors selling the newspaper at any one time.

Street Roots helped stabilize scores of individuals to prevent or get out of homelessness through sales of the newspaper. The organization saw and dealt with more people in trauma from becoming homeless this past year more than any other time in our 11-year existence. Tensions ran high and continue to do so, with a mix of individuals who have been in and out of homelessness for years and many who experienced the unfortunate circumstance of losing everything and faced with sleeping outdoors for the first time in their lives. Our doors remained open 365 days this  year — maintaining a morning drop-in center and access to the newspaper to empower people through gaining income and building relationships on street corners throughout the region.

We published more than 200 pieces of poetry, artwork and opinions directly from those living outdoors and in low-income housing, created a vendor advisory panel that works to create better conditions for vendors, and voted vendor and columnist Leo Rhodes the vendor liaison on the organization’s board of directors.

The organization also worked with vendors, neighborhood groups, foundations, police, social justice organizations and other non-profit partners to plan the opening of an East Portland vendor office, that opened this week on Northeast 81st Avenue and Halsey Street.

The new office will allow vendors sleeping on the streets or living in East Portland or Gresham to access the vendor program and gain a viable voice through the newspaper and by selling the newspaper. Even through the recession, we were able to maintain the foundation to create access to the newspaper for people experiencing homelessness and poverty in a rapidly changing socioeconomic environment in Portland, specifically in East Portland and Gresham, where we’ve seen poverty moving  for years. We did this in partnership and support of Visions Into Action, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, The United Way of Columbia-Willamette and our non-profit partner JOIN.

The newspaper itself has become a critical media outlet for a range of issues concerning not only poverty and homelessness, but also social justice issues in our community and beyond.

In 2009, mixing investigative reporting, commentary and advocacy, we were able to help 300 families in Northwest Oregon avoid becoming homeless, helped City Hall gain traction for maintaining housing and homeless dollars in the city budget and have been pivotal in pushing Portland and Multnomah County to move on a housing levy that most likely will land on the ballot in 2010 or 2011.

The newspaper has incorporated the voices of new Portlanders from around the world, highlighted the civil rights of poor people in the region and has become a trusted watchdog of local government when dealing with poverty. (See the letter from the managing editor.)

The Rose City Resource Guide reached nearly 100,000 individuals and Street Roots partnered with the cities of Portland and Gresham, and private businesses to develop the Rose City Resource website at http://www.rosecityresource.org. The print guide was delivered or distributed to more than 300 organizations, including hospitals, law enforcement agencies, schools, private businesses, neighborhood groups, and non-profits working with people in poverty.

Lastly, it’s both readers and monetary supporters that helped Street Roots grow in 2009. Street Roots increased it’s individual donor base by 15 percent, while partnering with a range of foundations to support the mission of the organizations.

Ultimately, though, it comes down to the relationships on street corners between the people selling the newspaper and everyday Portlanders who support their local neighborhood vendor and the newspaper week in and week out. It’s your support that makes us strong and we thank you. It means the world to not only us, but also to a city and region trying to find its way and do the right thing for Portlanders living in poverty.

Sincerely,

Israel Bayer

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