Seattle media outlets selected July 19 to flood the airwaves, print and online news spaces with content focused on a single issue: homelessness.
Real Change, as an organization, wondered where we fit in.
Contrary to public perception, Real Change is not only about homelessness or the people who experience it, although you’d be forgiven for thinking so. The face of this organization, its inspiration and its mission are the folks who sell it. Not all are homeless. All have experienced some kind of marginalization, be it classism, racism, misogyny, homophobia or an intersection of oppressions, and our news content strives to reflect that diversity of issues.
We try to tell stories about Real Change vendors and the policies that affect them through unique arts coverage, policy analysis and human-interest pieces that bridge the gap between the people who sell the paper and the people who buy it. But no matter how well we do it, those words have been bound to newsprint, their impact constrained by the limitations of the medium.
Welcome to The Undercaste, a monthly podcast that centers the actual voices and narratives of Real Change vendors and explains the gritty details of the systems that impact them.
In each episode, listeners will first hear vendors tell stories of survival, of struggle and of joy.
The initial interview will serve as a jumping-off point for our team. We will track down subject matter experts who can speak to policies and practices at the city, county, state and federal level that create or sustain inequities on our streets. In the third and final segment, our advocacy department will speak to people doing the work to make change, and, we hope, will give concrete steps that the audience can take in their daily lives to move the needle on issues that move them.
The first episode features Donald Morehead, a Real Change Vendor working three jobs trying to get ahead in a city with a cost of living that leaves him and so many others trailing behind. Morehead lives in a recreational vehicle — his “house on wheels” — and is forced to navigate rules and prejudices based on people’s assumptions about his living situation.
Rev. Bill Kirlin-Hackett of the Scofflaw Mitigation Team has been helping vehicle residents like Morehead for decades. He, Jean Darsie and former vehicle resident and Real Change vendor Jennifer Adams work to keep vehicle residents up and running, and away from tickets that cause breakdowns on the road to housing. The system is delicate by dint of its informality — the housed public has fought tooth and nail against city attempts to in some way codify their work.
The kicker will be attorney Ann LoGerfo of Columbia Legal Services. LoGergo and her team won an unprecedented legal victory in the case of vehicle resident Steven Long. Long’s home, along with his tools of trade, were impounded and he was forced into a payment plan to get them back. A judge found that violated his constitutional rights and Washington state law, but the city has appealed the decision.
We must give credit where credit is due. The Undercaste is a marriage of podcast formats and genres.
When you hear Morehead speak uninterrupted by questions from the interviewer that would disrupt the flow of his thoughts, a style inspired by Hrishikesh Hirway’s “Song Exploder.” The middle interview echoes a traditional Q&A format, while the final call to arms derives from the new wave of popular informational-cum-advocacy podcasts such as those in the Crooked Media family.
We might have had some help with the name too.
Many months ago, a team of four Real Change staff and management met up over beer and jalapeno poppers. Clearly, this experiment was off to an auspicious start.
Most other outlets have some kind of audio component, I preached to the choir.
The Blabbermouth. The Overcast.
“The Undercaste,” said Tim Harris, our executive director.
Done and done.
On and after July 19, check it out. We hope you’ll find that Real Change vendors aren’t just the folks you buy a paper from every week. They are people overcoming obstacles in a city that continuously debates their value as humans. Not just how to help them and other people experiencing homelessness or poverty, but if they deserve it.
We know they do.
Check us out on The Undercaste website or SoundCloud. Follow us on Twitter @TheUndercaste
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
Check out the full July 18 - July 24 issue.
Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice. Since 1994 our award-winning weekly newspaper has provided an immediate employment opportunity for people who are homeless and low income. Learn more about Real Change.