I saw a beggar
leaning on his wooden crutch,
he said to me, “You must not ask for so much.”
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
she cried to me, “Hey, why not ask for more?"
-- “Bird on a Wire,” by Leonard Cohen
"Indio" Washington, 67, is editor-in-chief of Street News (SN),
a longtime New York City publication that focuses on issues
of homelessness ... primarily written and sold by homeless New Yorkers.
This wasn't always the case. In the late 1980s, Indio was homeless. "In
December 1989," he recalls, "I was riding on the #3 train 'n I saw this
Black sister selling SN. I asked her if I could help sell the paper
'n she could hit me with whatever she wanted to give me for helping her.
She instead took me downtown to SN headquarters 'n they gave me 5
or 10 free papers to sell. I never looked back."
Those were the days
when homelessness was the cause du jour in the Big Apple and SN's
circulation was close to 100,000. Then, says Indio, "The Mayor and or
President of Transit or both, directed the Transit Police to arrest anyone
selling our paper on the subways. The Port Authority, Grand
Central Terminal, Staten Island Ferry 'n other agencies jumped on the
bandwagon. We loss nearly 80% of readership."
In April 1996, Indio took the reins at the troubled newspaper. "I became
the first Native American Indian Editor 'n Chief of SN," he says.
"Sales went up to 20,000 per issue thanks to our staff of reporters,
vendors 'n of course, our readers! We are still the only for-profit
homeless paper in the United States."
On September 11, 1997, in Seattle, Washington, SN received an award
from The North American Street Newspaper Association for "inspiring the
modern street newspaper movement. More than eight years later, Indio and
SN continue their mission. "We still have more pages than any other
active homeless newspaper on this planet!" Indio declares. Maintaining the
tradition of 16-plus years, SN still gives out 25 free papers to
all new vendors to get them started.
I have been writing for Street News for well over a decade and am
fortunate to call Indio a friend. I asked him a few questions via
Mickey Z: How long were you homeless?
Indio: Two years.
MZ: What would you say is the biggest myth about homeless people?
Indio: That they don't want to work!
MZ: The Coalition for the Homeless just released a report that
found the number of homeless in NYC to have risen. Is this a surprise to
Hard to tell if it's true or not because reports can be padded to go in
the direction told to take it. I do not respect "reports" 'n
other negative stuff. You have to be on the streets to know the real deal!
They think about getting more funds 'n generally go by their work load.
Same think goes for the places that feed us 'n give out food 'n so on.
Plus there's a lot of reports 'n books that say it's hard to get an
accurate account of homeless in the streets. I think they call it,
MZ: What measures do you think must be taken in the short term to
deal with homelessness?
There is no short-term solution unless the definition has changed.
We could do with more media about the beating 'n killing of homeless to
get people to starting caring, but that need to be done everyday as much
as possible. There is no short term answer to homelessness. Jesus said,
"The poor will always be with us." So many people use this as a cop-out to
not give a damn.
MZ: What's the state of Street News in 2006?
Indio: We still are the voice of the voiceless, the heart, soul 'n
spirit of the streets that tells the Real Deal like 'tis! Still in the
Street News website:
can be found on the Web at:
His latest book is
American Revolutions You're Not Supposed to Know: Reclaiming American
(Disinformation Books, 2005).
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