I am sure the world has been breathlessly waiting for me to weigh in on The Contributor controversy. Wait no more.
The City of Brentwood has been trying to stop vendors from selling The Contributor, a newspaper focusing on the issue of homelessness, on medians or street corners in the city. It has cited an ordinance that prohibits anyone from selling anything in such a fashion. The ACLU has taken the city to court on behalf of the Contributor.
Much has been made of the people of Brentwood and their supposed disdain of the homeless vendors and homeless people in general. And it is true that seeing a homeless person in Brentwood is a little jarring because of its unusual nature. However, I am a person of Brentwood. I have lived there for almost 18 years. And I think both sides have some valid points.
The same types of ordinances that would prevent Contributor vendors from selling newspapers also cover things like building facades (they must be brick) and lot sizes (except for rare occasions, they must one acre) and billboards (there are none except a couple that were grandfathered in). The idea of the founding fathers was that strict controls would be placed on Brentwood from the beginning to exclude anything that would sully the aesthetics of the place. Now, I won’t even go into the fact that the closest thing to a “downtown” is a strip shopping center which is hardly aesthetically pleasing. But you get the idea. Too restrictive for you? Don’t move to Brentwood. There are plenty of other nice places to live.
On the other side of the coin is the First Amendment. Pesky thing, that. If you’re not up on the First Amendment, part of it involves freedom of the press. The Contributor is a legitimate and well-read newspaper. The reason it is sold by vendors rather than in newspaper boxes is that it’s a better business model. The vendors buy each paper for a quarter and sell it for a dollar (sometimes more if the buyer tips). That money has gotten many vendors off the streets and into affordable housing, something Metro government has failed to do for years. Vendors must be well dressed, clean and respectful. There is no pan handling. They don’t need to – they have a good product to sell.
The vendors do not approach motorists. They wait until someone rolls down their window and sticks a dollar out, thereby signaling the vendor to approach. Many Contributor customers get to know their vendor and might bring him or her a bottle of water or a snack. They do not run between lanes of traffic, endangering themselves or others. So what is wrong with this picture? Nothing that I can see.
And why am I writing this on the CRC blog? Because many of those vendors who are now making a self-sufficient life have been the recipients of donations from CRC. I am personally thrilled to think we had some small part in getting them on their feet with the shampoo, soap, clothing and other items so they could be clean and well-shaven out there on those mean streets of Brentwood.
So I guess where I really come down on this is that these men and women trying to better their lives are somebody’s son, daughter, father or mother. Cut them some slack. It’s not so bad. Really.