After 25 years, homeless newspaper Street Sheet to unveil redesign and new donation price 

click to enlarge Lonny Butler, 62, offers Street Sheet at the Powell Street cable car turnaround. The suggested donation is set to rise to $2 next week. - GABRIELLE LURIE/SPECIAL THE THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Gabrielle Lurie/special the the s.f. examiner
  • Lonny Butler, 62, offers Street Sheet at the Powell Street cable car turnaround. The suggested donation is set to rise to $2 next week.

Lonny Butler, 62, is a regular at the cable car turnaround where Powell Street ends at Market Street. There, he can sell upward of 70 Street Sheet newspapers each weekday morning to help him purchase food and other items while living in a low-rent apartment with his girlfriend in the Divisadero Street area.

Come next week, Butler might have a new sales pitch for selling the publication that is produced almost entirely by homeless residents of The City.

After 25 years, Street Sheet on Monday is poised to launch a redesign and increase the suggested donation for a copy from $1 to $2.

"I do it because I like doing it," Butler said one morning this week, having only a few copies of the publication remaining under his arm. He added that his choice of where to sell the paper, in San Francisco's shopping district and one of its most popular tourist destinations, means he meets a lot of people, "and you learn about their problems too in other countries."

To prove his point, Butler reached into his pocket and pulled out coins from other countries.

"You see, I get a lot of money from different countries," he said.

Butler is a big fan of the publication, particularly the poetry.

The former Muni bus driver said that for the past three years, the money from selling Street Sheet has helped him make ends meet, along with general kindness from others.

"I went and got my hair cut the other day and [the barber] whispered in my ear, 'Just give me $5,'" Butler said. It was an $8 discount.

Butler is among more than 100 vendors who distribute copies of the paper, which the nonprofit San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness first started publishing in 1989. The organization spends about 10 percent of its total annual budget of $300,000 to produce Street Sheet. Vendors keep all the proceeds.

Copies are available to those who have signed vendor contracts with the Coalition on Homelessness for pickup between 9 a.m. and noon Mondays through Fridays at 468 Turk St. Street Sheet is published twice monthly for a total circulation of 34,000.

It is estimated by the Coalition on Homelessness that more than $8 million in sales have been generated by the newspaper since its launch 25 years ago.

This year, vendors were provided with photo badges. And as part of the anniversary, vendors will be provided new logo-printed aprons and T-shirts.

The redesign is based on work dating back to 2007 when students of San Jose State University professor Jean-Benoit Levy had an assignment to improve Street Sheet's look.

"We finally get to freshen things up after 25 years," said Matthew Gerring, editor of Street Sheet. Gerring said the intent behind the redesign is to increase readership, noting that Street Sheet provides a unique voice for the homeless and poor not found in other media outlets.

The price hike to $2 seemed reasonable considering general inflation over the past 25 years and a climate in which voters in November approved a minimum-wage hike in San Francisco and other cities and states nationwide, explained Gerring.

New York City is often credited with launching the first homeless publication in the U.S. with Street News in October 1989, but San Francisco's started about the same time. Similar publications are now widespread throughout the world.

At 5 p.m. Thursday at Harrington's Pub on Larkin Street, not far from the Coalition on Homelessness' Tenderloin offices, the nonprofit will celebrate Street Sheet's anniversary and unveil the redesign. The suggested donation increases from $1 to $2 on Monday.

Correction: This story was updated Dec. 10 to correct the amount the Coalition on Homelessness spends to produce Street Sheet and the paper's monthly circulation.

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