Knoxville's 'homeless newspaper' continues to grow

12:43 AM, Feb 6, 2013   |    comments
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If you've ever visited downtown Knoxville Market Square you've probably seen a man or a woman on a street corner selling newspapers.

They're licensed solicitors, offering people their paper in exchange for a donation.

The publication is called 'The Amplifier'. It's a monthly paper written and sold by people who are currently or formerly homeless.

Modeled after other street-papers in Nashville and around the country, The Amplifier started in Knoxville in November 2010 and has been growing ever since.

Michael Davis may be one of the paper's most recognizable faces. He regularly sells papers from a bench outside Cafe Four and The Tomato Head on Market Square.

After spending an afternoon with him, it's clear most people pass him by.

But Davis' constant chorus of "good morning ma'am," and "have a good day," have garnered him a regular client base that greet him by name.

A Vietnam veteran, Davis says he became homeless shortly after returning from a 10-month tour and with the exception of the 10 years he lived in New Mexico, has been on the streets ever since.

He doesn't just want you to buy a paper. He wants to sell you a story, lots of them, many first hand accounts of what it's like to live without a home.

"We're not all drug addicts and alcoholics. Give us a chance. We'll do the right thing," says Davis.

Founder Pastor Eddie Young says when the paper began they sold around 1,000 copies a month. Since then they've doubled sales and have about 15 regular vendors.

"It's not giving a voice to the homeless, they already have a voice," says Young. He describes the paper as simply turning up the volume.

"Once you meet someone, once you speak with someone, then it's easier to start seeing things from their point of view," says Young.

Vendors buy for a quarter, sell for a buck, and get to keep what they make.

On a good day (sunny, first week of the month) Davis says he can sell around 30 papers and some people offer more than $1.

"Lot of people don't realize it's really a job to us," says Davis. "It's how we make our living, eat."

But Young says it's not intended to provide.

"We say to these guys, 'look, if you're signing on to the paper to make a lot of money, you're going to be disappointed,'" says Young. "These guys are ambassadors for the homeless community. That's first and foremost."

Davis says he does find that aspect rewarding.

"I get to interact with people, I get to talk to people all day," says Davis. "I'm selling a product which is myself and the paper. It's to help the homeless, and that's what I am-- homeless."

And that's always been the goal- a connection between those who have and those who have not.

But recently the paper brought on two UT interns majoring in social work to help the vendors recover documents and make phone calls with goal of finding housing.

Next month will make their 29th publication, but Young says each one should be their last.

"Idealistically, we're trying to work ourselves out of a job," says Young. "I think it's possible to end homelessness. I really do. Or we would not be participating in this whole endeavor."

Until then, Young says they're hoping to continue to increase circulation and possibly distribute the paper outside Knoxville.

Davis says he'd like to find a place to sleep at night, other than a sleeping bag on the ground.

"I'd prefer having housing," says Davis. "[It would] give me a place to count on to sleep at night instead of camping out."

And he's hoping to use The Amplifier to write himself a new story.

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