After a five-month hiatus, Portland's homeless newspaper Street Roots is back with a print edition.

The paper, which operates as a nonprofit, gives homeless people work selling the editions.

"I love selling the paper," says Netti Johnson, a top-selling vendor at Street Roots who also writes for the paper. "When I couldn't find another job, Street Roots picked me up. I'm a hard worker, Street Roots didn't discriminate."

The media business has been hit hard by the recession. Yesterday marked a rare moment: a comeback for one print journalism outlet.

Street Roots terminated weekly print sales in March, early in the COVID-19 pandemic when the virus was just making its way to Oregon.

Before the hiatus, the vendors were considered entrepreneurs who would buy the papers from Street Roots and then sell them at a profit.

The absence of the paper endangered the mission of Street Roots, but the organization found new ways to employ their unhoused vendors. Street Roots found them work staffing the office, distributing mail and coffee, and working other odd jobs, and they also distributed donations to vendors and helped them access government stimulus checks.

Out of the 183 vendors, each one received some level of assistance from the paper during COVID-19, executive director Kaia Sand says. That was made possible by community support and fundraising that allowed the paper to continue its mission of paying homeless people, Sand adds.

The decision to shut down the print edition was motivated by an effort to help vendors. Because the paper is sold and distributed by people with housing insecurity and employs vendors who have health conditions and seniors, the staff decided to move all of its content online indefinitely.

"We were from the very beginning just thinking about public health and unhoused people," says Sand. "At that point, our model was not safe. We absolutely did not want to be contributing to the spread of COVID-19."

March 13 was the last print edition. All new content since then has been uploaded to the Street Roots website.

"It's been five months of hustle to make sure that money gets into the pockets of unhoused people," Sand says.

Vendors lined up down the block from the Street Roots offices in Old Town on Aug. 12.

Vendors expressed excitement but also trepidation about hitting the streets in a pandemic to sell a paper.

"I'm a little scared because of the virus," Johnson says. "We've been getting so much misinformation about how this thing is spread, so I don't want [anybody] closer than 6 feet at any time. But I'm just excited to get Street Roots back."

Netti Johnson
Netti Johnson

There's a new way to buy a Street Roots paper that's designed to keep vendors (and customers) safe.

Street Roots has given vendors a stick with a claw at the end to hand out papers contact free. They also now accept Venmo for cashless transactions by requiring customers to include the name and vendor number in the Venmo comment section.

"Given what we now know about the spread of COVID-19 we can make our model manageable," Sand says.