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Betsy Charron and the New Orleans Street Exchange

Would you like to read about New Orleans from a totally new perspective, help give homeless persons a “hand-up” as micropreneurs and promote literacy and social awareness in the city? All of this can be accomplished for the small price of a newspaper. New Orleans’ newest publication, The Exchange, is a street paper designed to empower the city’s homeless population. Just launched in February 2013, this startup is already changing the way that New Orleanians interact with the city’s homeless individuals.

After reading Tactics of Hope by Paula Mathieu, Betsy Charron was inspired to learn more about the culture of street papers. Newspapers that are sold by homeless individuals, street papers typically feature articles that shed light upon the unique plight of the homeless. In October 2011, Charron attended a street paper conference, and she soon decided to launch the first (and only) street paper for New Orleans.

The Exchange, published quarterly, features articles that pertain to the city’s homeless population, as well as stories about service organizations, local environmental news and artistic and cultural movements. Each vendor is asked to purchase the papers for a nominal fee and then sell them to locals, thereby earning an income. In this transaction, everyone wins: the paper’s contributors get a venue for expression, the vendors earn an income and interact with potential customers throughout the city and the readers learn about the marginalized homeless population.

According to Charron, the most rewarding aspect of her job comes from her interaction with the vendors. The sellers are positive about their jobs, and the customers have begun to recognize their local vendors. In fact, Charron would like to make the newspaper a monthly publication in order to increase this success.

As a new startup, The Exchange is still facing some challenges. The company needs more “hands on deck,” such as volunteers to work with vendor distribution and retention. Furthermore, the paper itself needs more contributions, from articles about homelessness to creative work.

The Exchange is a part of New Orleans Street Exchange, Inc., a nonprofit organization that also houses UpStart, the newspaper’s vendor program, as well as Between the Lines, a literacy and writing program. To get involved, visit their website at NolaStreets.org.

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