By guest blogger Joseph Jacques
They stand in front of the grocery store and on highway entrances. They are our nation’s homeless population. Over the last twenty years, homelessness has increased significantly in the US. On any given night, approximately 750,000 men, women, and children are homeless, many of them veterans, most of them unemployed, some of them with families. Some progress has been made across the United States, however, through government subsidized low cost housing, residential health care and substance abuse programs. But, more is needed.
One solution is to help the homeless create income for themselves.
Local street newspapers like The Real Change in Seattle and the Street Sheet in San Francisco and others that operate in large cities offer a product that vendors can find expression in and sell on the street to create income (and hopefully more stable housing) for themselves. San Francisco has had a street sheet for 20 years now – vendors buy the paper for 35 cents and sell it for $1, keeping the profit. The Director of The Coalition on Homelessness –Street Sheet-, Bob Offer-Westort says,
“The generosity and ingenuity behind what these guys do is amazing. We are lucky that they’ve been so devoted to this project, and have been able to provide Street Sheet vendors with another opportunity. And it’s not just any old opportunity: They put out there in another format a big part of what we try to do with Street Sheet; they get homeless people’s voices heard.”
The newest addition to the support of the homeless in Seattle and San Francisco uses the same structure but adds a profit potential 10 times that of the papers, yet supports the papers and vendors in a way that creates a win-win for everyone. It’s a CD, produced by Al Barber, AKA, Alchemy Jah Lovewins, of Harmonic Humanity. The CD of conscious music donated by local musicians (pros and homeless) is purchased by vendors for $2 and resold on the streets for $10, giving those on the street an opportunity to create more income, helping them to move towards a more stable life – one where they do not have to move every night in search for a safe space to sleep.
Lovewins never thought he’d be homeless. In 2001 he found himself in a drug-induced haze that lead him to two years on the streets of San Francisco.
“I didn’t see it coming… I thought I was in control…then I lost it all. My life in the fast lane was risky, and I met up with the consequences. It was the hardest couple years of my life. I came to know what it feels like to be detached from humanity and my own sanity,” said Lovewins.
The ex-screenwriter, musician and actor spent the next 5 years, getting clean and diving into healing spiritual practices. He also did something one might not have expected. He started a music program at a local soup kitchen, reaching out to bring musicians to perform during the weekly meals.
As a transformational activist from the San Francisco area and long time friend, I watched Lovewins go through the changes over the years. I became an instrumental ally in his return to a sustainable and balanced life. I had spent 15 years studying all the great transformational heroes of our time and I could share my knowledge to help my friend rebuild his life.
After completing workshops at Landmark Education in 2008, Lovewins took his vision to the next level. He and I embarked on an innovative mission to produce a compilation CD of original songs by conscious musicians (both housed and un-housed) who wanted to make a difference with their gifts. Our intention was to distribute the CDs to homeless individuals so they could sell them and keep the profit.
The first stop was the Real Change News paper in Seattle with issues and insights in it about life for low income people. “We knew the paper had relationships with the demographic we wanted to reach and would support our vision of trying to get our music CD’s to them,” said Lovewins.
The experimental project was a runaway success, helping vendors raise $40,000 in the first two months of the program. With positive results in hand, the two social artists decided to launch the concept in San Francisco (the city Lovewins was homeless in for 2 years), joining the Street Sheet, part of the Coalition on Homelessness in the Bay area, to reach the 100’s of homeless vendors that paper and organization serves.
Our hope is that SF will support us, like Seattle did in this fine effort to raise consciousness and provide the poor with a legit, real avenue to rise up. Our goal is to bring the social healers and social artists together to make a difference in the world where it’s needed. Harmonic Humanity aims to be a long term catalyst for that vision that supports unity in diversity.
Weekly, you can find us in downtown San Francisco on the rough edge of the Tenderloin district, at the Coalition for Homelessness’ office, working with vendors of the Street Sheet.
Although slow for now, the program is working: Vendors are given two CDs for free, then some coaching on how to sell this new “free speech /song” concept. Then they are invited to return to purchase more CDs for $2 each, that they can sell on the streets for $10 and keep the profit. Harvey Jackson (72 years young) a Street Sheet vendor for 10 years says, “I personally listened to this Harmonic Humanity CD and I really enjoy it, some people that I have talked to are really enthused over just the title alone. I find the music has a very powerful message. They are selling very well for me”. You can find Harvey in San Francisco on the corner of Mission & New Montgomery most days, weather permitting.
Currently, about 50% of the San Francisco vendors are returning to take advantage of this innovative model. “Our hope is that this project will take off in other cities across the nation” says Lovewins. “We are also planning to create an alliance of musicians world-wide, called “Harmonic Humanity Rock Star Alliance,” with high profile rock stars, among up and comers, to expand awareness, about the potential of music in healing the world via humanitarian projects.”
Harmonic Humanity is also in early discussions with Andy Freeze of NASNA (North America Street Newspaper Association), creating awareness for all street papers in America about this proactive free speech/free song concept. Harmony Festival organizer Sean Ahearn, is also resonating with the concept of Humanitarian outreach projects being spearheaded by the music world.
Ahearn is an early supporter of Harmonic Humanity and shares a larger vision for the organization. “I love what Harmonic Humanity is doing, utilizing the power of music to inspire hope and healing and provide a new economic model to empower individuals. This represents an amazing opportunity to take the concept of street team outreach and micro-finance to a whole new level. Imagine the power of empowered individuals on the streets collaborating with a sense of purpose on common goals that have day-today economic impact.”
Harmonic Humanity is also creating a 42 day follow along journal, entitled The Hero’s Game Book. It is being designed to aid homeless individuals in creating a new story and new perspective on life. The journal is being inspired by the books Abounding River by Matthew & Terces Engelhart (Cafe Gratitude), Conscious Language by: Robert Stevens & The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.
Harmonic Humanity hopes to introduce the Hero’s Game book in early 2010.
To find out how you can support the cause contact harmonichumanity.org.