Jerry Sedgewick walked up to Montrell and Sky Boogy as they stood near the entrance to St. Paul’s Dorothy Day Center with a simple but attractive offer: “I can give you a job.”
In a small trailer attached to his bicycle was a newspaper — a paper about homeless people intended to help homeless people. For every $2 issue of Prevail News that they sold, they would get to keep 50 cents, money that could get them off the streets and give them something to eat. Money for a stable life.
“I’ve seen where it works,” Sedgewick said. “I know it can work here.”
Sedgewick is a scientist who makes his living writing and editing about biology and scientific testing. But the 59-year-old St. Anthony Park resident has yearned to do something that helps others. When he lived in Nashville, he saw guys standing at the off-ramps not asking for handouts but selling newspapers.
In many major cities, such newspapers are giving homeless folks meaningful work, he said.
“My mission is to provide a means of income for people who are homeless or formerly homeless,” he said. “And I wanted to do something good in my life.”
Sedgewick said he has sunk nearly $4,000 of his own money into Prevail News, a collection of original local content that includes essays, tips for surviving the streets, satire, profiles of homeless residents, even cartoons.
He’s started an Internet campaign to raise at least $8,550 to publish the paper, and recruited a volunteer staff of five to help him write, edit, photograph and cartoon. Now, with the first issue printed, he’s recruiting the sales force that will benefit from the business.
Cliff Hendricks, 31 and homeless, responded to a flier about a photography class when he met Sedgewick and learned about Prevail News. He wasn’t paid for the photographs he provided for the first issue. Hendricks sees the paper as a way to give something back himself.
“It’s one of those things where you help people and you feel good about yourself,” he said. “A lot of people want to give back and it’s really disheartening not being able to.”
He is, he said, interested in selling papers. Sedgewick said a man in Nashville made $15,000 doing that, enough to move into a motel.
“When you are in a circumstance like this, it’s hard to get a job,” Hendricks said. “You can go to as many temp agencies out there as you can, like I have, it doesn’t matter. It is not a steady income and most housing will not accept you without assistance or government aid. This helps people who want to work, want to make their own way.”
Aron Wolde, a recent University of Minnesota graduate, is not homeless. But he leapt at the chance to write and edit for Prevail News — even though he, too, receives no pay. Wolde, who provides the satire, and Sedgewick interviewed people at the Listening House shelter in St. Paul for content that would be interesting, relevant and funny.
“I have been a bit of a class clown my entire life,” said Wolde, who has done stand-up comedy and written plays. “We don’t want the paper to be about pity. We want readers to be genuinely interested.”
Michael Sarafolean owns a company that offers residential support and services to people with intellectual disabilities. He’s known Sedgewick for years and thinks enough about the idea to have donated $1,000.
“Like most of us, I have seen people standing by the roads with signs asking for assistance,” he said. “This seemed like a better way, a project that provides stability and a sense of dignity for people. Knowing Jerry, I am confident he will do everything it takes to make it successful.”
Sedgewick planned to meet with his new contractors Friday. They’ll go through orientation, sign contracts and get started with 15 papers each, selling where panhandlers gather. Sedgewick hopes to eventually get about 40 people working.
As Dwain Wilkerson waited outside the Dorothy Day Center, he called out to Sedgewick: “I’ll do it!” The homeless man from Chicago said he sold the StreetWise newspaper there for years. “I sold a lot of papers. All these guys should do it.”
Jon Farrar might be coming around. The 52-year-old held a sign Thursday at Interstate 35E and Kellogg Boulevard as Sedgewick pedaled up to him.
Days earlier, Farrar had shrugged off Sedgewick’s offer, saying he was only passing through town. On Thursday, he said he wanted to do it. What changed?
In three hours standing at the corner, he said, he’d collected only $3.
“At the library tomorrow, right?” Farrar said.
Sedgewick smiled and said he’d see him there.
For more information, go to www.prevailnews.org/.