Time To Let Go
A NOTE FROM THE DIRECTOR
Dear friends and colleagues,
I am writing to announce my strategic withdrawal from the street paper movement. After much reflection and consultation with friends, I've reached the clear conclusion that it's time to let go and let others carry on.
Despite these things being written in sand, I am proud of my legacy in the street paper movement. A list of accomplishments:
Founder of Boston's homeless-run Spare Change newspaper in 1992, which published off and on for the next thirty years and may not be dead yet.
Founder of Seattle's Real Change in 1994. Real Change grew from a single-staff organization with no budget to 15 staff and a $1.2M budget in just 20 years. We went from a monthly with a press run of 10,000 to a weekly with a high of 830,000 papers sold in 2008 alone. Over my time at Real Change, more than 14,000 people enrolled as vendors, many of whom remain my friends.
I have personally run organizing campaigns that have resulted in significant gains in shelter and human services in Seattle, including the award-winning First things First and Outside/In campaigns.
I led two campaigns that diverted Seattle from further disproportionate criminalization of homeless and BIPOC people, even when both were deemed "unwinnable" by Real Change's own board. We won both, defeating an aggressive panhandling ordinance and making a new municipal jail that was deemed "inevitable" so politically toxic that plans were withdrawn.
I have been a life-long leader in the international street paper movement, and co-founded the North American Street Newspaper Association in 1997 with Michael Stoops of the National Coalition of the Homeless and John Ellis of StreetWise. I wrote the RealNetworks grant that founded the Street News Service. I personally engineered the merger of NASNA and the International Network of Street papers over a period of three years, and have been the North American representative to the INSP board since 2015. Over the past year, I successfully led the INSP-North America non-profit incorporation process.
More recently, with Dignity City, I have worked to innovate a new street paper model that makes street papers viable in smaller communities and increases solution-oriented community dialogue.
I have been named an "honorary political genius" by the Stranger, received the rarely given Society of Professional Journalists' Susan Hutchinson Bosch Award for Outstanding Achievement, appeared on the front page of the Seattle Business Journal as an "unlikely insider" to the Mayor, been on numerous Seattle's Most Influential lists, and appeared in Chase Jarvis' photographic collection, Seattle 100: Portrait of a City. When I resigned from Real Change, Seattle City Council declared January 11, 2021, "Tim Harris Day."
I have been fictionalized in "What You Pawn I Will Redeem," a short story by Sherman Alexie that was published in The New Yorker and in the short story collection Ten Little Indians.
I even managed, with the help of friends, to publish an academic article on the 30th Anniversary of Peter Marcuse's landmark essay Neutralizing Homelessness.
Not bad for a deeply ADD guy that basically skipped high school. The work has been mainly joyous, and I am immensely grateful for the honor of working with and knowing so many extraordinary people. You know who you are and I love you.
Serving the street paper movement has been the great honor and privilege of my life.
The Why and When Of It All
A period of personal discernment has brought clarity that the obstacles to further service to the street paper movement outweigh the incentives.This letter announces my intent to expeditiously dissolve Dignity City and withdraw from the boards of the INSP and INSP-NA.
While I am by no means a perfected human, I do my best to live in the light of truth with myself and others. Therefore, I have decided upon transparency, and included addressees from the various circles involved: INSP BoD, INSP-NA BoD, Dignity City BoD, as well as a handful of other deeply valued colleagues.
I have also decided to outline the reasons for my withdrawal without regard for the keeping of secrets that some may prefer or even require. I think this is a matter of personal and movement integrity, and realize that all truth is subjective. In the interest of brevity, I shall address each area of withdrawal as directly and briefly as possible.
As I've mentioned, there is a proposed plan of action associated with each. and I am open to feedback over the next week as I build my next 13-week workplan.
Dignity City (dignitycity.org)
In light of my decision to withdraw from the street paper movement, my ongoing ambivalence here has reached its conclusion. I required and received no compensation over the time I worked to create Dignity City and am fine with that. While I continue to believe in the project, I do not have the commitment required to carry this work forward.
Over the remainder of 2023, assuming board approval, I will work toward the administrative dissolution of Dignity City. As part of that process I will request the Dignity City board authorize transfer of remaining assets (An apple computer and about $6K) to INSP-NA.
International Network of Street Papers - NA
At this point, INSP-NA is essentially an empty vessel with 501c3 non-profit status, and must decide under different leadership whether to set sail or not. My decision to withdraw from leadership of INSP-NA is related to my relationship to Real Change, the leading street paper in NA, unless that's Street Roots now. I don't know. It's neck and neck.
As a now 63-year-old white male, I have been out of progressive fashion for around a decade and have wearied of fighting that. I started Real Change with the values of prioritizing vendor success, strategic organizing, and cross-class alliance building. Strategic differences in each of these areas led to my resignation from that organization.
To my mind, staff desires took priority over vendor needs. An obsession for "racial equity" led to a banishment of class from the discussion and the political targeting of myself, and a generational preference for radically horizontal structure led to disdain for whatever vision I had left to offer. It was clearly time for me to go.
Unfortunately, Real Change has erased all public history of my leadership and would be an uncomfortable ally, at best, in my carrying this work forward. They have made it clear, by a variety of means, that my leadership continues to be unwelcome.
I believe it is better for INSP-NA to continue without the distraction of me so that the entire network, including what are presently the strongest papers, may own that process. My deepest thanks to those of you that supported the creation of INSP-NA.
I shall remain engaged, as is determined useful to the board, while I assist in the transfer of corporate ownership and assets.
I sincerely believe that a regional strategy, with regional networks positioned to collectively leverage locally available strategic and funding opportunities, remains the way forward for what is left of the international street paper movement, which I address now.
International Network of Street Papers
As most of you have seen but may not have fully realized, the INSP is in the process of collapsing. We have, over the past year, lost the North American Director, the Development Manager, the admin position, the comms manager, and the Street News Service editor, leaving Mike the new CEO as last man standing.
As much as it goes against my nature to bail from a perhaps sinking ship, in this case, the decision makes sense. Over the last four years of my board service in particular, I have pushed hard for the INSP board to adopt a public-facing posture, to pursue regional strategies of consistent member engagement, and to better support the organization by being a fundraising board that highly values all of its staff. Each of these has been met with resistance ranging from subtle to nearly unforgivable.
Over the past year, as I have confronted board officers on board integrity issues and deep staff dissatisfaction, I have been silenced and sidelined, sometimes politely and others not. There is a rich documented history of this, and I don't need to prove anything here.
While I do have allies on the board, they have mostly been timid critics of business as usual and reluctant to confront. The utter failure of this board to authentically address concerns raised in staff exit interviews and Israel's epic farewell letter have led me to conclude that further efforts here come unacceptably at my own expense.
To that end, I have included several long-time street paper movement leaders in this email, because most people outside the INSP board have no clue, and the heroic and heart-led INSP membership deserves better.
My resignation here is effective immediately.
Next Steps for Tim
It's all good news. As soon as I came to the conclusion that it was time for me to let go of my identity as a street paper movement leader and embrace whatever is next, the apparent love of my life immediately materialized. Pure fucking kismet. I shall be moving back to Seattle to be nearer my love and my twenty year-old twin daughters. I have never been happier.
I am 95% done with the 40,000 word biography of Real Change vendor Donald Morehead. It is the remarkable story of a Black man from Chicago who struggled with homelessness and the various traumas of race and class all his life, and found community, stability, sobriety, and housing over his 15 years as a Real Change vendor. The as-yet-untitled book derives from two years of interview transcripts and is told in Donald's voice.
I have also been engaged in the Tacoma Pierce County Coalition of Homelessness for the past two years and will remain so for at least the foreseeable future.
I am looking for a "job-job" at which I might while-away the remaining 3.5 years until retirement on full social security. I'm thinking that working at a library might be nice. Something for a paycheck while I work on the memoir that I began 15 years ago.
I still have a passion for fostering authentic community dialogue on issues related to homelessness, and will likely find a way to continue that work. I am considering the idea of opening a Patreon account to subsidize both that work and the writing of my memoir.
My life is an open book, with many unwritten chapters. I wish all of you well.
The $50,000 Dignity City start-up goal covers our first six months of expenses.
outfits one vendor with a vest, face mask, and badge
buys food for one vendor meeting
keeps the phone on for 3 months
pays for a color printer and a badge laminator
prints 1,000 Dignity City magazines
purchases the iMac we'll use for layout