Spreading the News

By Richard P. Morin / July / August 2000
May 3rd, 2007
Growing up in an affluent Boston suburb, Claudia Solari '00 witnessed class prejudice firsthand. As a child she watched school officials push her older siblings into less-challenging classes because, as the children of working-class Italian immigrants, they were assumed to be not as capable as their peers. The experience left an indelible impression on Solari, steering her not only toward a concentration in sociology, but toward volunteer work at a Providence drop-in center for the homeless.

"People who are homeless are often treated as if they don't exist," she says. "To me that is just an extreme form of classism." Believing that much mistreatment of the homeless is a result of ignorance and fear, in February she launched Street Sights, the first newspaper written by and for Rhode Island's 4,000 homeless people. The idea grew out of Solari's research last semester with Professor of Sociology Hilary Silver on the effectiveness of street newspapers.

"What Claudia has done," says Catherine Rhodes, the formerly homeless executive director of the People to End Homelessness, "is give a group of people who often do not feel any connections to their communities a forum for their voice to be heard, and that is invaluable."

Working with local agencies and representatives from Spare Change, Boston's homeless newspaper, Solari developed and launched Street Sights with thirty Brown student volunteers. Articles for Street Sights are submitted in drop boxes at six shelters throughout Providence. Students and other volunteers then work with homeless individuals to edit and lay out the newspaper. Solari hopes this work will not only provide some homeless people with tangible skills, but will help them "begin to trust members of the non-homeless community."

Solari has put into place the organizational structure to ensure that Street Sights continues after her graduation and departure this past May. She started the newspaper with a grant from the Brown Creative Writing Council, and has secured funding from several area churches and homeless agencies. Now all the paper needs is readers.

"A lot of people think, 'Why don't these people just get a job?' " says Solari. "It's not that simple. This newspaper can show many people the real side of homelessness in Rhode Island."

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July / August 2000